For This Week in Watches, a pre-Christmas edition, we’ll go in a slightly different direction and make Baselworld the primary focus: there was little in the way of news otherwise. Since the announced exodus of the Swatch Group, the Baselworld organization has been running in overdrive as far as sending communications, online interviews, and news in order to reassure us all that the show as we know it is still and alive, and perhaps more importantly, relevant.
Baselworld & SIHH Team Up
This week, we received news that Baselworld & SIHH will collaborate on a back-to-back schedule beginning in 2020 and running through 2024. Instead of the typical January SIHH and March Baselworld dates, SIHH will shift to late April and Baselworld to immediately thereafter in the beginning of May. Apparently, this is a return to the way things were a decade or so ago and when considering the logistics savings for those traveling from outside of Europe alone, it makes a lot of sense. But, and while I have absolutely no proof of this, it’s a move that I doubt either wanted to make. After all, the separation of the shows kept them – well, separate.
News of brands leaving Baselworld has been the subject of articles since the end of the last show, but SIHH hasn’t been immune to departures either. Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille are both set to leave after 2019, so all is not well in Geneva either. The Audemars announcement is a big deal in my opinion as the brand’s Royal Oak series is the poster child for the opulent lifestyle that SIHH portrays. Ditto that when discussing Richard Mille. RM’s are so expensive and seemingly so exclusive that it sends a sour message when they don’t see the benefit in remaining at such an exclusive show. So, perhaps, joining with Baselworld is at least a step in the right direction.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and I do read a lot of opinion (much like this one you’re reading) about the watch industry and, as it’s a popular topic this year, the marquee shows. All the opinions are interesting and they all may be correct. What they center on, though, is that “everything will be alright” and that Baselworld simply needs to drop its prices in order to attract more brands. I’m simply not so sure. Regarding the latter point, I’ll admit that I’m not intimate with the financials of Baselworld, but dropping price to the point of losing money just doesn’t seem to be the way forward. If the amazingly expensive renovations done to the “Messe” in Basel aren’t yet paid for – and it seems they’re not – there’s debt that’s owed. Can Baselworld become more competitive? Sure, but it’s a slippery slope to begin offering bargain basement, elementary school science fair style booths when million dollar plus booths are not far away. And, does Baselworld really want to become a haven for every fly by night Kickstarter or Asian start-up brand? Trust me, I’ve been to trade fairs related to other industries and the hall of start-ups is often a very sad affair that does little to bolster a show’s standing. Simply put, it gives the feeling of “they’ll let anyone in here”.
Regarding the sentiment that everything will just turn itself around, I also have real concerns that I’ll share in This Week in Watches. First off, the general interest in attending or exhibiting at trade fairs feels like it lessens with each passing year. The greatest plus in these shows is the ability and convenience of seeing a lot of contacts within one venue, but with fewer contacts there, the rationale to attend weakens. Plus, and I’ve experienced this in other industries, large companies often feel that these shows offer very little in the way of attracting new customers. They feel that they know their base, so why spend up to millions to cater to those who are already buying from them anyhow? There’s also the argument that such a show allows for a “big splash” of a reveal, but with so many brands providing pictures and info months before the real reveal, the surprises have become fleeting. Take, for instance, the onslaught of Pre-SIHH mails we’ve received. Similarly, Oris hosted skiing events on multiple contents months before Baselworld and showed off many of its upcoming releases under embargo. And finally, brands continue to build small, curated temples in major cities called “boutiques”. They’re sales outlets, but they’re increasingly becoming the site of invite-only events. In fact, I’ve spoken to more than a few people who decided to eschew Baselworld last year – due to costs or other obligations – but knew that the novelties would soon be shown at a boutique nearby. (When looking at SalonQP, for example, the increasing number of beautiful boutiques within London can’t be of help to the show.)
Second, when expecting that time will heal all, I bring up the fact that the world has been damn healthy for some time now. At time of writing, the stock market, while still well above its historical highs, seems seriously shaky. There are all sorts of major macro thunderheads on the horizon, though, that may or may not develop. Brexit, tariffs, and several more exist, but no one knows what the effect will be when and if these things occur. In my experience, at the least, they engender conservatism and waiting when it comes to spending money. So, if we’ve been dealing with a healthy economy and these shows are suffering, what will occur if the world goes into, at the very least, a slowdown? Lower spending by brands on advertising, which affects the ability of jounalists to attend or decisions by the brands to simply stop investing in shows could be an outcome. The real result is anyone’s guess, but it flies in the face of a self-healing prophecy for the Swiss shows.
So, bitching about something without providing potential solutions is not a good trait. Therefore, I have at least one opportunity to mention. Where Baselworld, in my view, gets things very wrong is its style of access to the public. I’ve discussed it several times and it’s purely “look but don’t touch”, which feels sooooo outdated. In this day and age where brands, online publications, and the like are increasingly more in touch with individual potential buyers and fans, Baselworld is an antiquated institution of hands-off stoicism. The solution? It’s easy, develop an app for visitors that require them to sign up, provide some contact information, but allow them to schedule hands-on time with the brands and perhaps even specify the models they’d like to see. Think of it like “OpenTable” for Baselworld and it would give brands new leads, by model, to provide to the boutique nearest the booth visitor. For boutique owners and distributors who also visit the show annually, I’d think that they’d gain something positive from seeing all the foot traffic and responses from potential customers that they don’t get to see today. Yes, the show would need to reformat its booths, and possibly staff them differently, but why not directly interact with those who will actually buy the watches?
Finally, we’re huge fans of Baselworld and we’ll be there once again in 2019. We’ll miss seeing some of our favorite brands, but we’ll be sure to cover the “remainers” exhaustively. It is a great time to see a lot of our friends, readers and fellow journalists. Let’s simply hope that the Baselworld organizers continue to make bold changes in order to keep the show moving forward and relevant.
If you’re celebrating Christmas, we wish you a safe and joyful one. We’ll be back with TWIW next week – enjoy the week!