Editorial: Swatch Group Pulls Out of Baselworld, and Why It Isn’t a Surprise

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After more than a year of speculation, it’s finally happened—Swatch Group, one of the most significant institutions of Swiss watchmaking, has pulled out of Baselworld. According to Swiss daily NZZ am Sonntag, Nick Hayek Jr. has stated, “Swatch Group has decided to no longer be present in Baselworld from 2019.” This, of course, continues the exodus of more the 600 exhibitors we saw last year. Having personally attended Baselworld four times now, it will be undoubtedly strange to enter Hall 1 and not see the red glow of the massive Omega logo towering over a long stretch of the exhibition center.

And yet, despite the deep significance of this news for the industry at large, it doesn’t comes as a surprise. It was only a matter of time.

Ironically, the watch industry, like a watch in need of a long-overdue service, tends to lag painfully behind. We still hear from some people within the watchmaking world who question the significance of the Internet—yes, in 2018—and I’m sure that’ll boggle the mind of any business owner—nay, any person really—reading this.

But we’ve also seen signs of evolution, with more industry mainstays eagerly embracing all the things the World Wide Web can offer. From Omega’s two-time collaboration with Fratello Watches to large Swiss firms sponsoring podcasts, I think it’s safe to say the times they are a changin’.

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As a member of the press, I’ve at times felt that the rat race of Baselworld seemed counterproductive. I think we all know which brands get the lion’s share of the coverage, and often well-deserving companies and releases get lost in the shuffle. Heck, even the big players sometimes cannibalize their own coverage, putting out a release or two that overshadows all other SKUs being unveiled at the show. It’s no one’s fault really. Baselworld is hectic, and you can’t cover it all. And even when you try to be more democratic in your coverage, as we often do, limited bandwidth means that things will get left in the dust. It’s just the way it is.

What I’ve personally noticed this year is that some companies are starting to outgrow the show. Brands are starting to save their big hitters for outside of Baselworld in an attempt to leverage hype beyond March. I’ve already met with a few well-known firms this summer to preview some late Q3 novelties, and let me tell you they’re going to blow you away. A few years back, we would have seen these at Baselworld, only to forget about them by the time summer rolls around.Now, I can’t personally speak to the retail side of the fair, but according to Westime President Greg Simonian (who spoke to Suzanne Wong of Revolution), “My honest opinion is that these trade shows are significantly less beneficial than they used to be. The real purpose of a trade show is for brands to get new customers and for guys like me to explore new vendors. This has been happening less and less. I generally meet with people I meet throughout the year on my market.” If prominent retailers feel that way, then that’s a real problem for Baselworld.

And anyone who has ever been to Baselworld as an enthusiast (meaning you don’t have press credentials and you’re not a potential retailer) can attest to the fact that the show can be a bit of a drag. You’re basically window shopping, forced to peer through the overly-lit vitrines to see the watches. At least if you go to a boutique or an AD a few months later you can actually try on the watches. We’re often asked by watch lovers if they should make the trip out to Basel, and we generally reply, “don’t bother.”

So if retailers are finding that the show isn’t really all that beneficial today, and if the show isn’t as useful in terms of sustained press coverage, and if it’s not really for the average enthusiast, then who is Baselworld for? I think that’s the question a lot of industry big-wigs (I’m looking at you Rolex, Patek, and LVMH) will be asking in the months to come, and the answers have the potential to be industry-changing.

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Ilya is Worn & Wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
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