2015 and 2016 were years when the tide went out for the Swiss watch industry, leaving smaller and weaker businesses painfully exposed. The industry started to recover in 2017 and the early signs for this year are that an accelerating global economy will generate demand for more prestigious timepieces, particularly in Asia and — hopefully — America.
These macro-economic trends are important to put this year’s watch launches in context. Conceived in a time of austerity, the 2018 collections are being born into a world of growing optimism and confidence. WatchPro editor Rob Corder considers what this has meant for design, pricing and business strategy for exhibitors in Basel last month.
TREND No.1 STRAIGHT TALKING
Too much of the talk at Baselworld was about whether the show will remain as important in the future as it has been in the past. Rumours were rife about the biggest brands pulling out in future years, which seem ridiculous when the show this year was as successful as ever for exhibitors.
Shortening the show by two days, combined with several hundred exhibitors from last year not rebooking this year, made the event more condensed and navigable. The main Hall 1.0 was constantly busy with buyers buzzing around Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling and the mega brands of Swatch Group and LVMH.
The other halls, as ever, were quieter but executives at every stand we visited were constantly engaged in meetings with distributors, retailers and press.
This year’s exhibition was the right size, and I expect it to continue in its current format for the foreseeable future.
Although retailers such as Breitling like the idea of more personal events around the world, it is hard to see how this could work if the top 10 brands all did the same.
Retailers simply do not have the time to devote to individual brands in this way. Baselworld may not be perfect, and should certainly take lessons from the five-star service that SIHH delivers, but it does allow busy executives to see all the main brands in two or three days. Movado invited all of its partners to an Alpine retreat in Davos this year, which may have been effective, but imagine the diary congestion if Swatch Group, Citizen Watch Company, LVMH, Rolex, Breitling and Patek Philippe did the same. Retailers would never be in their shops.
Brands should also keep in mind the psychological effect of Baselworld in reminding people that Switzerland is the epicentre of the world market. Along with SIHH, the two exhibitions make every other event around the world look parochial, and that is an advantage that Swiss watch brands would be crazy to give up.