2018 has been a rather eventful year in terms of the number of shocking press releases being spewed out by major institutions in the watch industry. In the last few weeks of 2018 things seemed a little quiet… until the incumbent grandpa Baselworld unveiled a bombshell of a press release that has caught the attention of many: from 2020, SIHH and Baselworld will be scheduled directly alongside each other – resulting in SIHH now taking place from the 26th to 29th April and Baselworld from 30th April to 5th May.
The news should spark the interest of all stakeholders in the watch industry – from watch brands, retailers and distributors, media outlets and private collectors. I thought it would be fun to have a few words on the matter.
I’ll start off by saying that this year has already been packed with a number of surprises but the cooperation of Baselworld and SIHH seemed to come out of nowhere. I feel that SIHH has been viewed as the closest thing to an alternative to Baselworld – having built something of a reputation as a friendlier platform for independent watch labels under the “Basel Boycott” movement. The two fairs are quite distinct in their trade show offerings with SIHH being lauded as coming across as a lot more focused with its offerings in terms of showcasing brands and the support infrastructure for potential clients and media outlets. It also comes at a time where the decline of Baselworld has raised the ongoing question of whether or not watch fairs are even significant to an apex – with SIHH faltering with major brand dropouts as well.
I’m sure all industry stakeholders can agree that in order to maintain the significance and relevance of watch fairs, the current superstructure system will need to be radically reformed. I explored in my last article that the dated practises of watch fairs and the consolidated nature of the watch industry as a whole are being met with the challenges of the internet as an unfathomable hub of information, geopolitical/economic volatility and listening to the demands of consumers. With all these variables in mind, I can’t help but wonder: “Is this really the kind of solution we need for the scale of the problems raised?”
I think the first thing people will welcome is the fact that both events will be happening in April – nearing the end of Ski season and approaching warmer weather (I was pleased to see that many pundits also agreed the same thing). I’ll be honest; visiting Geneva in January doesn’t sound too appealing to me (although I’ll be going to SIHH 2019 next month). There is also the idea that instead of two separate trips to Switzerland across the year, industry stakeholders can plan around a space of two weeks within a single year at the same time. I’ve been made aware however, that the action of coordinated watch fairs isn’t a new phenomenon and is just something that’s been regurgitated as a policy of ye olde.
SIHH has been subjected to reforms in its own right with enhancing its accessibility by opening its doors to the public for the first time in 2019. Whilst it would have seemed obvious to do so – SIHH has heralded its exclusivity to industry insiders since its founding – the move makes way for a much more flexible and adaptive trade show. It also means that the business ideologies of the fairs are slightly more in line – the sheer footfall of Basel is what pays the bills in the end and SIHH can seek to benefit from that – if executed in the right manner.
Having said that, I can’t help but feel that there are more opportunity costs than rewards. The resource strain for the parties involved will still be immense. For media outlets, it’ll be about moving to move physically from opposite ends of Switzerland. Larger magazines and blogs can afford to split up their press teams across both fairs, but small to mid-size outlets will struggle considerably. My experience with Baselworld this year reminds me of how incredibly cramped transport facilities become when commuting to or within the tiny city. The end of the SIHH fair will result in a rush of people trying to get from Zurich to Basel – I have my faith in the Swiss railway network but the thought of making the journey makes me a little nervous. For a tiny independent blog such as the Watchrant, the physical and mental commitments will be immense – six days of running around Switzerland put my resilience to the test this March.
As an additional note, booking accommodation in Basel has always been a nightmare. Baselworld management has promised to work alongside hotels and residence services to provide fairer accommodation for the 2019 year – though a lot of my industry contacts are sceptical over the proposal. It pains me to think that I practically have to take out a mortgage to be able to afford to spend a couple of nights in the city. I also imagine that the dates running between the two fairs will also demand the highest fees given the popularity (my bets are 28th April to the 2nd of May)
For exhibiting watch brands that are used to appearing at both fairs, it’ll be a debate about cost and reward. It wouldn’t be efficient to set up shop at both fairs – especially for boutiques – so judgement calls about value will have to be made. Whilst I mentioned that the lines of business ideologies between Basel and SIHH are blurring, the strategies required to showcase at each fair vary immensely.
I had some comments on my previous article about how watch fairs can only be seen as “worth it” if the cost of participation is decreased and there were more mechanisms in place to counteract or at least compliment variables such as social media and online watch markets. It would be nice to have some reliable Wi-Fi and sit down to produce content instead of hiding away at restaurants and bars which I can barely afford to eat at…
I still feel that the watch industry – at least on the boutique side of things – still relies on deeply entrenched interpersonal client relationships and that’s what separates it from other areas of luxury. A new class of showcases and events has appeared in the last two years: private showcases by watch labels and collaborations with watch enthusiast groups. Breitling under the management of George’s Kern demonstrated what mid to large size brands can achieve if they strategise their brand showcase effectively – famously citing Kern’s statement how it was cheaper to host private shows in 3 continents, rather than a single stand at Baselworld. The Watchmakersclub managed to host 16 brands in a single night – many of whom made more sales and gained more traction within the space of a few hours, than a whole weekend at alternatives such as SalonQP – I can imagine it cost a lot less as well. The dynamism required to move with the times is happening, and I can only imagine that it’ll start spreading to other watch brands. I’ve heard whispers from reliable sources that Swatch Group isn’t going to stay dormant with their Baselworld Exit….
To summarise the answer of the question I raised earlier – I’m going to say no. The actual promised changes of Baselworld and the effectiveness said promises are still elusive and some slightly warmer weather isn’t going to change much. Industry veterans have raised scepticism on all accounts and all I can see forward is a whole new set of challenges to face.