The tents have been folded and the circus that was Baselworld 2019 has crept out of town for another year. For the Snob, it was a rather bittersweet affair. I have been fortunate enough to attend the show yearly for the better part of two decades, and to see it in its current rather sad condition is an occasion for mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is most depressing to observe the show’s apparently unstoppable shrinkage — until recently there were 2,000 or more exhibitors but this year, there were a paltry 500 or so, with the Swatch Group the most notable absence.
On the other hand, there is an undeniable feeling that the show and the city are both somewhat caught in a cleft stick of their own cutting. Years of predatory pricing for not just stands at the fair, but also for hotels and restaurants, combined with an almost complete disregard for basic amenities, have left both visitors and exhibitors with the feeling that the MCH Group (which runs Baselworld and Art Basel) hold them in casual contempt.
The drastic reduction in exhibitors and a corresponding drop in attendees gave the show something of a ballroom-at-three-in-the-morning-on-New-Years feel. And it may have had something to do with the near-universal sentiment that this was a decidedly uninspiring year.
Rolex introduced nothing new, instead producing variations on existing models — we were treated to a less-exciting Rainbow Day-Date (a bit of a let-down after last year’s Rainbow Daytona) a meteorite dial GMT Master, and a two-tone Sea-Dweller (among other things) all of which will undoubtedly sell well, but none of which rise to the level of excitement Rolex fans had hoped for. A Batman GMT-Master II on a Jubilee bracelet doesn’t quicken the pulse either.
Tudor also produced a new two-tone model, with the Black Bay Chronograph in steel and gold (again, appealing on a certain level, perhaps, but certainly not the new Black Bay that many fans felt they had been led to believe would be unveiled) and instead, we endured the Black Bay P01 – a very odd watch lifted from the Tudor archives, which has at best a very niche appeal.
Patek Philippe’s most talked about watch was probably the new 5520 Travel Alarm, which was, indeed, alarming, with its four very prominent crowns; for all that it is almost certainly a very fine watch from a craftsmanship standpoint, the almost insectoid profile that the crowns and lugs produced will at the very least take some getting used to. A khaki green dial Aquanaut, seems … well, one hardly knows what to say; commercial but unexciting; and the new 5212A Weekly Calendar in steel carried away the palm as the most interesting watch of the lot, at least for enthusiasts.
There were, however, two world’s records set during the show, which should not be forgotten. We had, first of all, from Bulgari, the debut of something really interesting: the world’s thinnest self-winding chronograph (the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic) which broke a record which had stood since 1987, when the F. Piguet 1185 was introduced. The second world’s record was for accuracy — why Citizen does not make a bit more noise about their Eco-Drive caliber 0100 wristwatch, I have no idea but it is accurate to within ±1 second per year. That is a record that seems unlikely to be broken for the foreseeable future.
It says something about this year’s edition of Baselworld, however, that the fate of the show is a more interesting story than many or even most of the watches released. As a trade show more or less purely for the trade, its days are clearly numbered. While Rolex and Patek Philippe are confirmed for next year, Breitling’s CEO, Georges Kern, has been adamant that they will not return and the LVMH Group has made no formal commitment to return either.
Perhaps the most telling fact is that for actual wristwatch customers, the demise of Baselworld would make little to no difference in how they learn about and decide to purchase wristwatches, which must change if the show is to continue to exist at all.