Baselworld 2019 – Swatch Group’s Exit

Swatch Group – Exiting from Baselworld 2019

Breaking news rattled the watch industry this past week with the announcement that the Swiss watch powerhouse The Swatch Group will no longer be participating in the Baselworld 2019 fair. Swatch is the iconic show’s biggest client with seventeen brands exhibiting. This includes some of the most prominent watchmakers in the industry like Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Longines, Jaquet Droz, and Glashütte Original. Needless to say, this will make a huge impact on the 2019 event.

Though the news is understandably poignant, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.  Things have been shifting for Baselworld and the watch industry as a whole over the past several years. At this year’s event, Baselworld organizers closed several halls at the exhibition and shortened the event by two days. These modifications came after more than 600 exhibitors, including the Movado Group, left prior to the 2018 fair. The total number exhibitors also dropped from over 1300 to around 650. Plus, over the past three years, attendance has fallen from around 150,000 to around 100,000.

Shifts in the Industry

Baselworld 2019

Whatever issues watch manufacturers may have with Baselworld’s management are less important than the bigger shifts we’re seeing across the industry and the entire consumer market at large. The Internet has completely changed the way people consume information and goods. The rise of digital marketing and e-commerce have called for more transparency and immediacy from every business in the market, including those in the watch industry.

The fashion industry is another great example where we’ve seen somewhat dramatic changes in the past several years. Annual events, like the illustrious New York Fashion week, saw reservation for the industry elite and took place behind carefully guarded, closed doors. Now, most designers livestream their shows and invite digital publications and bloggers to do the same. Sure, they’ve likely seen an impact in attendance. However, it’s offset by the reach they can access in the digital space. They are also able to leverage engagement with their customer base by casting away the proverbial (or perhaps in the case of fashion shows literal) curtain.

The idea of losing all in-person, human connection or the ability to see, touch, and feel goods as we move more and more into the digital space certainly brings up its own concerns. However, the digital space offers both convenience and accessibility. So, perhaps the concept of tradeshows that take place only once a year and require travel to one particular place starts to make less sense than shifting to a more contemporary and progressive alternative. Plus, there’s the growing trend of customers taking a bigger role in product development as opposed to just industry insiders. For example, TAG Heuer’s recent campaign that allowed customers to vote on the design for the new Autavia.

What Could This Mean?

The fate of Baselworld aside, there could be one interesting silver lining in big brands exiting the exhibitor lineup. This could make space for more independent brands to be a part of the event. There are currently a few independent brands on the Baselworld roster, like MB&F and Louis Moinet. However, many other growing independents, like Urwerk and H. Moser & Cie, have had to exhibit at smaller shows in the past. The Swatch Group’s departure presents a unique opportunity for Baselworld. The could potentially leverage the power of these rising independents and modernize the event in a different way.

baselworld 2019

So, is Baselworld doomed as many publications assert in attempts to fuel the fire around the Swatch Group’s recent announcement? They’ve still got around 650 brands signed for the 2019 exhibition. This is comparable to the number who presented last year. Plus, the tradeshow has survived the departure of major manufacturers in the past. In addition to the Movado Group last year, the Vendome Group (now the Richemont Group) left in 1990. At that, the Vendome brands, like Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier, went on to spearhead a competing event: the SIHH salon in Geneva. Baselworld has been around in some format since 1917. After over 100 years, they certainly won’t be closing its doors anytime soon, but, perhaps, they’ll be changing them.

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