The “Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show” is an annual international watch and jewelry fair, held in the city of Basel, Switzerland. The fair is held in the Messe Basel building, and brings together more than 2,100 participating brands of approximately 45 different nationalities. The fair usually receives approximately 100,000 visitors annually.
In 1917 the first Schweizer Mustermesse Basel was inaugurated. The first fair was a demonstration of the industrial development of Switzerland, and in which there was a small space for the watch industry. By 1931, the part of the fair dedicated to watches and jewelery had its own pavilion and was renamed Schweizer Uhrenmesse (Swiss Watch Show). In the 1970s the fair invited manufacturers from other countries than Swiss. In 1983 the fair adopted the name of Basel for the first time, and in 2003 it was renamed BaselWorld.
In 2018 BaselWorld announced an agreement with the other great fair in the world of luxury watches, ‘Watches & Wonders’ (formally known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH). The statement announces an agreement between the fairs to coordinate the dates of their celebrations between 2020 and 2024.
This year 2020 has been the first time that the fair has not been held, due to the global pandemic of Covid 19.
The fall of Baselworld
In 2018, the Swatch Group announced that from 2019 it would not attend Baselworld. The Swatch Group includes brands such as Blancpain, Breguet, Glashütte Original, Harry Winston, Longines, Omegaor Tissot. This same year 2018 had seen how the fair lost more than 600 exhibitors. Other brands later joined the abandonment of the fair, such as Breitlingor Seiko.
Despite this very hard blow, the fair continued to feature the largest brands (Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, …), and although with one day less, the fair continued in 2019.
But as we already know, 2020 is being a difficult year. Covid 19 broke into our lives and in March 2020 the planet was paralyzed. The fair that was to take place in April was canceled.
Reasons for the fall
When something like this happens, it is without a doubt for more than one reason. But the main reason for the decline of the most prestigious fair can be summed up in one word: Greed.
Going to the fair has a great cost for exhibitors. The fees to participate in the fair were getting higher and higher. For everything, you had to hire staff from the fair itself, assembly of stands, infrastructures, even the WiFi had to be that of the fair itself. Hotels, restaurants and others increased their rates every year, reaching 500% more than in the days before or after the fair. In addition, more and more, you had the obligation to advance the money and hire the hotel room for the entire duration of the fair.
These details were becoming increasingly difficult to handle, both for exhibitors and visitors, who, in a globalized world and with so much online presence, saw less and less need to attend a fair like this. When a new model is announced, the information is available up to the minute on the internet, so attending launches in person is less and less necessary. And if the cost is so high, all the more reason not to go.
With the cancellation of the fair in 2020, the management of Baselworld makes its final and fateful decision. They unilaterally decide to ‘postpone’ the 2020 fair to January 2021, without consulting the brands.
And here is the problem. They do not cancel the fair, which would mean returning millionaire amounts that exhibitors had already paid, if not they postpone it, so that their intention is not to return the money.
This for small brands trying to break through is a disaster. Therefore, the option of reimbursing the money is proposed, to which the Baselword responds with several options, in which in any case it would reimburse a small amount, leaving the rest for the celebration of the fair in 2021.
These measures to brands like Rolex do not sit well at all, and they let the management of the baselworld know: Either the full rates are returned or this may be the end of the Baselworld. Furthermore, the celebration of the fair in January is not an appropriate date for watch companies and it breaks with the coordination with the “Watches & Wonders” fair of holding both on April dates.
The management of Baselworld does not back down and insists on its decision.
And this is when the statement from Rolex, Patek Philippe and Chopard arrives. Those who had been the biggest defenders of Baselworld, above their own interests and out of historical loyalty to the fair, decide to leave and announce that from 2021 they will show their annual novelties at their own fair, in line with the Watches dates. & Wonders Geneva, at the Palexpo exhibition center.
Will this be the goodbye to the largest watch and jewelry fair of the 20th and 21st century? We will see it in 2021, but of course things are not looking good for Baselworld. And, as we usually say in Spain, greed breaks the bag.