The Worn & Wound Podcast Ep. 126: Breaking News: Is this the end of Baselworld?

It’s not often that there’s true breaking news in the watch world. This is an industry, after all, that has existed for hundreds of years and has been notably slow to change. And, of course, watches, in the grand scheme of things, just aren’t as important as the events that are highlighted above the fold in every newspaper over these past few months in particular. Still, this morning we saw something happen in the industry that is genuinely newsworthy, and represents what could potentially be a major shift in how watch brands do business.

As reported by Hodinkee, Revolution, and SJX, it was announced that Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chopard, and Chanel had collectively made the decision to withdraw from the re-scheduled Baselworld fair, currently on the calendar for January 2021. Not only are these major Swiss brands leaving Basel behind, but they’ve announced their own show, in partnership with FHH (the group behind Watches & Wonders, formerly SIHH), for the Spring of 2021.

Rolex has taken part in Baselworld since 1939

The announcement of the new show, to take place at Geneva’s Palexpo Center in April of next year, represents the latest dramatic twist in the Baselworld saga that has played out over the last year. Swatch Group, Seiko, Grand Seiko and other brands have been stepping away from Baselworld in recent years to launch their own brand specific events. Speculation has been rampant that the future of Baselworld is in jeopardy, as brands have displayed an increased willingness to experiment with different methods of interacting with the press, their dealer networks, and end customers. The exit of Rolex, Patek, and Tudor from Baselworld, considered to be pillars of the fair, and their intent to launch a competing show, has many wondering today if Baselworld can sustain itself, and what the next fair in January will look like. 

The FHH issued a press release announcing the new trade show in Geneva, which included statements from principals behind each brand involved. The statements were unusually candid, and underscore the obvious tension between the big Swiss houses and the Baselworld fair. “Today, Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore,” said Theirry Stern, Patek’s President. “There have been too many discussions and unsolved problems. Trust is no longer present.”

The Patek Philippe reference 5531R World Time Minute Repeater New York 2017 Limited Edition

Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour struck a similar tone. “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,” said Dufour in a statement. 

This news has enormous implications for the watch industry as a whole, and there are many unanswered questions. It remains to be seen how this new trade show featuring Rolex, Patek, and Tudor takes shape. The FHH statement, which can be read in full here, indicates that other brands may eventually join the new show, and that it will be targeted to retailers, the press, and VIP customers. The general public, recently welcomed in new ways by Baselworld, seems to be left out.

Of course, here at Worn & Wound, we’re wondering how this will impact many of the smaller brands that we cover. While the Baselworld show is still scheduled for early next year, and we presume those brands who have not already dropped out will participate, it remains to be seen if the trade show will be viable without Rolex, Patek, and others in the longer term. And if not, how will small and midsize brands show their products to press and dealer networks outside of a single, large, centralized trade show?

After the news broke, Zach Weiss, Blake Malin, and I jumped on a call to discuss the implications of today’s announcement and record a quick podcast, which you’ll find below, and in your podcast feed if you’re already a subscriber. 

What do you think of today’s news? How do you imagine it will impact you as an enthusiast, if it all? Please feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts on Baselworld, the newly announced trade show, and the state of the watch industry. 

UPDATE: The MCH Group, the consortium behind Baselworld, has sent an email indicating surprise at the recent developments outlined above. From the email: 

“The companies now “migrating” – including Rolex – spoke out in favour of a postponement to January 2021. They are also represented on the Exhibitors’ Committee, where the future vision of Baselworld has been discussed on several occasions and has met with a positive response, as was also evidenced by countless individual discussions”

Further updates are expected. Again, from the email: 

“In the next few weeks, the MCH Group will be making a decision on the continuation of Baselworld and on investments in its further development, which is geared to the long term.”

Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.