It was probably no surprise that the Geneva Watches & Wonders event scheduled for April 2021 has been cancelled. Formerly known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, it will mean that the show will not have taken place for two years given that this year’s event was also cancelled earlier this year.
An official announcement explained: “In the light of uncertainty amid the current health crisis, the Watches and Wonders Geneva Exhibitor Committee has taken the decision not to hold the physical Salon, scheduled April 7 to 13, 2021.
“An all-digital edition will be proposed on the same dates at watchesandwonders.com with new services and features, where participating brands will be able to present their new watches for 2021 and interact directly with their audiences.”
Watches & Wonders is dominated by Richemont group brands, which include A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc as well as many others.
Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chanel and Chopard have also confirmed that they will cancel their brand exhibitions also scheduled for next April, having withdrawn from Baselworld earlier this year and announcing they would appear at a Geneva show concurrently with Watches and Wonders.
There can be no doubt that 2020 will be remembered beyond any other year for its political and health upheavals on a truly global scale. The year can also be seen as a culmination of an inglorious period for the watch and clock industry.
The traditional upmarket Swiss trade fairs – by whatever fancy names they have been called – have lost their way, and with that goes an abrogation of responsibility for safeguarding the Swiss ‘brand’ identity.
Maybe division and fragmentation is not a particular problem for the large and established, wealthy brands but with the compounding arrival of the global pandemic the Swiss majors have been reporting some very poor COVID-19 related trading results.
For the first quarter of 2020 the Richemont Group retail and wholesale divisions reported a fall in sales by 43 and 65 per cent, respectively, due to “temporary store closures, severely reduced tourism and generally weak consumer sentiment”.
But the Richemont specialist watchmaker sales also decreased by a whopping 56 per cent due to the aforementioned negative factors, comparatively low exposure to China and low penetration worldwide in online sales.
Similarly, Swatch Group’s first-quarter results took only a slightly smaller sales contraction of 46 per cent which eventuated in an operating loss of CHF327 million ($AU491 million) compared with an operating profit of CHF547 million ($AU822 million) in the same period of 2019.
In Switzerland, of the 23,000 Swatch Group employees 6,000 were on reduced hours and pay – but top marks to Swatch policy, they did keep their jobs.
Background reading » The rise and fall of Baselworld: A complete timeline
On the other hand, LVMH Group, with its TAG Heuer, Zenith, Bvlgari and Hublot brands, reported a relatively modest contraction in first-quarter revenue of only 26 per cent.
All companies have expressed optimism for a return to positive trading for the remainder of the year, however; this was prior to the rapidly deteriorating COVID-19 second-wave now sweeping Europe and the USA.
It’s not all bad news for the category. Retail results vary wildly and contrarily; it appears that, after all, not everybody needs a new watch?
Second hand watch sales have been booming in the auction market.
The UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that online retailer WatchBox has seen sales of branded vintage wristwatches (up to £100,000) increase by 48 per cent in 2020.
In June, Phillips’ London vintage watch auction raised £25million ($AU45 million), a record for a timepiece sale and watch buyers now account for 46 per cent of all new auction buyers at Sotheby’s.
However for the industry’s global media, which has provided decades of reader/buyer access to new releases, the job is now very much harder with the demise of Baselworld and the cancellations of many trade fairs due to the global pandemic.
It was only a few years ago when as many as 4,300 media representatives attended Baselworld alone.
And with the demise of the trade fair format the collective buyer attendance for the smaller watchmakers no longer exists and their selling platform has more or less evaporated.
This creates a very big opportunity for Inhorgenta Munich to capture the smaller exhibitors who feel the Swiss industry has let them down. And lately Inhorgenta has been working aggressively to expand its coverage and presentation of watch brands.
The Baselworld management MCH Group recently announced a decision to return to the Basel Exhibition complex with its newly named HOURUNIVERSE show, also in April next year.
The German Inhorgenta show made a strategic move this month to move its traditional February dates to coincide with the HOURUNIVERSE April dates and, the now cancelled, Geneva W&W arrangements
It remains to be seen whether Inhorgenta and the new HOURUNIVERSE will tough it out by not cancelling their shows in the hope a vaccine is developed, made and administered widely enough to open up global travel for watch and jewellery brands, retail buyers, agents as well as for the international media.
It should be noted that the September Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair was cancelled following pandemic and political instabilities in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council made the following official announcement concerning the show: “After consultation . . . a decision has been made to migrate the Fair online, consolidating with other fairs into HKTDC Autumn Sourcing Week – ONLINE. The online exhibition will be held from 16-27 November 2020, enabling the industry to continue exploring business opportunities.”
Of course, given the circumstances Hong Kong simply had no choice. But we must hope for a return to more stable times as virtual trade fairs simply cannot compare with the competitive interaction of all the exhibitors present at a face-to-face, traditional trade fair, whether it be in bustling Asia or in more conventional Europe.
After all, a ‘digital event’ is what you call an event when you are not having an event.
Top L to R: Patek Philippe Ref. 6301P Grande Sonnerie Repeater; Christophe Claret X-TREM-1; NOMOS Stainless Steel Lambda with calibre DUW 1001; MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual; Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept with Cal. 900P-UC
MCH Group and Baselworld; it’s all in the numbers
The rise and fall of Baselworld: A complete timeline