In an unprecedented move, five big watch brands have banded together to make a huge announcement about withdrawing from the Baselworld 2021 show. The big five: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard and Rolex sister-brand Tudor. Together they have announced plans to exit Baselworld – heretofore the largest watch exhibition in the world — for 2021. The announcement (distributed by Rolex) comes as no surprise – as open letters about the Fair’s plans and its organizer’s handling of refunds, among other things, have been paramount this past week.
What is intriguing, though, is the fact that Rolex, Patek, Chopard and the other big brands are working with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) to create a new event in April 2021 for retailers, press and key collectors. That show may be in conjunction with, or linked to, the Watches & Wonders exhibit slated to take place during the same time frame. According to the release issued jointly by the brands, other brands may also join this exhibition. The FHH has not yet issued its formal announcement of plans.
The FHH is the group that organizes what, until this year, has been known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). This year, the show was renamed Watches & Wonders Geneva and was supposed to have an exhibition presence at Palexpo and a town component (with boutiques and museums in the city of Geneva open to the public). SIHH had long been considered the most prestigious watch exhibition with the entire Richemont Group exhibiting there, along with key independent brands. The Watches & Wonders 2020 show, which was to take place later this month, was canceled due to COVID-19.Similarly, Baselworld, which was slated to run beginning April 29 and into May, was also canceled due to the pandemic. However, there has been a great deal of contention between Baselworld fair management (MCH Group) and the big brands, with some of it surrounding refund policies for the canceled 2020 show. The head of the Baselworld Exhibitors Committee, Hubert du Plessix, also a Rolex executive wrote a letter last week asking for refunds to be issued to exhibitors and indicating that if they were not, “we fear this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld.”
Apparently, Baselworld management also opted to reschedule Baselworld 2020 for January 2021 without asking the exhibitors. The dates conflict with a host of other exhibitions around the world in jewelry and watches.
In the statement, executives from four of the brands posted their comments.
According to Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour: “We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939. Unfortunately, given the way the event has evolved and the recent decisions made by MCH Group, and in spite of the great attachment we had to this watch show, we have decided to withdraw. Following discussions initiated by Rolex, it seemed only natural to create a new event with partners that share our vision and our endless, unwavering support for the Swiss watchmaking sector. This will allow us to present our new watches in line with our needs and expectations, to join forces and better defend the interests of the industry.”
Patek Philippe has been exhibiting at Baselworld for decades and has long been a pillar of the show community. The decision to leave was not taken lightly. According to Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe, “The decision to leave Baselworld was not an easy one to take for me, being the fourth generation of the Stern family to participate to this traditional yearly event. … We constantly have to adapt ourselves, question what we do, since what was right yesterday may not necessarily be valid today. Today Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore, there have been too many discussions and unsolved problems, trust is no longer present. We need to answer the legitimate needs of our retailers, the clients and the press from around the world. They have to be able to discover the new models from Swiss watchmakers each year, at one time, in one place, and this in the most professional manner possible. That is why, following several discussions with Rolex and in agreement with other participating brands, we have decided to create, all together, a unique event in Geneva, representative of our savoir-faire.”
On a similar note, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, CEO of Chopard, recalled the brand’s history of exhibiting at Baselworld, reaching back more than half a century. He further underscored the brand’s commitment to creating a new show to run concurrent with Watches & Wonders and to continue to showcase the centuries-old craft of watchmaking. “Chopard first exhibited at the Basel fair in 1964 with a stand of some 25 square meters. After careful consideration, our family decided to support the Rolex initiative and retire from Baselworld – a painful decision. The creation of this new watch show in Geneva, in parallel to Watches & Wonders, will allow us to better serve our watchmaking partners and our customers.”
Frédéric Grangié, President of Chanel Watches & Fine Jewelry said, “Like its partners, Chanel shares the same independence and the same desire to protect and promote the values, know-how, utmost quality and precision of Swiss Watchmaking. This initiative marks a key milestone in the history of Chanel watchmaking and is part of a long-term strategy, which began with the launch of this activity in 1987.”
As mentioned, the FHH did not formally comment, yet, indicating that it will make a separate announcement in the weeks ahead. However, Jérôme Lambert, CEO of the Richemont Group, said on behalf of the FHH Council: “The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie is delighted to welcome a new salon which will strengthen the historical Watches & Wonders event in Geneva next year in early April.”