By Michelle Graff
A shot from the 2018 edition of Baselworld taken inside the Swatch Group pavilion. The Swiss watch giant announced that it won’t be exhibiting at the watch and jewelry trade show “from 2019 onwards,” meaning the show will lose 17 brands. Image courtesy of Baselworld.
Biel/Bienne, Switzerland—Swatch Group is leaving Baselworld indefinitely, dealing another blow to a watch and jewelry trade show already facing an uncertain future.

The Swiss watch company made the announcement over the weekend, calling out Baselworld organizer The MCH Group for putting profit above innovation despite the need for watch and jewelry trade shows to change to adapt to the market today.

“Today everything has become more transparent, fast-moving, and instantaneous … In this new context, annual watch fairs, as they exist today, no longer make much sense,” Swatch Group said in a statement emailed to National Jeweler Monday morning. “This does not mean that they should disappear. But it is necessary that they reinvent themselves, responding appropriately to the current situation and demonstrating more dynamism and creativity. At the moment, the trade fairs are failing to do so.

“The MCH Group, which organizes Baselworld, is clearly more concerned with optimizing and amortizing its new building—which, incidentally, is largely financed by the watch industry during the fairs—than it is in having the courage to make real progress and to bring about true and profound changes. For all these reasons, Swatch Group has decided that from 2019 onwards, it will no longer be present at Baselworld.”

Swatch Group has a total of 18 watch brands, ranging from high-end labels like Breguet and Blancpain to its Swatch watches, which retail for as little as $50.

Seventeen of its 18 brands exhibit at the show each year (Swatch is the only one that doesn’t) in a pavilion that serves as the centerpiece of Hall 1.0.

The brands leaving Baselworld are: Breguet, Harry Winston, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, Jaquet Droz, Léon Hatot, Omega, Longines, Rado, Union Glashütte, Tissot, Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Calvin Klein and Flik Flak.

In addition, Swatch Group had another booth at Baselworld 2018 that was shared by two of its production units, ETA and Renata.

MCH Group CEO Rene Kamm issued a statement Monday afternoon that the company “extraordinarily regrets” Swatch Group’s decision and that the cancellation is “surprising” given the new team—Baselworld apppointed a new managing director in May after Sylvie Ritter resigned—and new ideas, which it says have been presented to the show’s exhibitors.

Swatch Group’s exit comes at a difficult time for Baselworld. The 2018 edition of the watch and jewelry trade show was smaller by half and two days shorter. Key exhibitors lost for 2018 included Movado Group, which skipped the trade show in favor of holding its own summit in Davos, Switzerland.

Immediately following Baselworld 2018, veteran watch journalist Joe Thompson wrote an article for questioning if the show would survive past 2019.

Swatch Group’s assertions about the show—that organizers put making money above doing what’s best for exhibitors—are similar to those expressed by designer Stephen Webster, who pulled his eponymous brand from the show a few years ago.   

Interviewed by National Jeweler earlier this year for a story on the future of jewelry trade shows, Webster talked about the skyrocketing costs of exhibiting at Baselworld, but said when he took his concerns to show organizers, “they made it very clear Baselworld was no longer a place for me. I think now that would be quite different, but I would never go back.”

Citing similar concerns, this year a pair of fine jewelry exhibitors who had showed at Baselworld for decades partnered to create a new trade show called GemGenève, touting themselves as an exhibitor-led effort.

One of the GemGenève founders, Thomas Färber of Faerber Collection, told National Jeweler, “We thought that we know better what our sector of the industry needs than the big organizers.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated post-publication to add a statement from The MCH Group, the company that runs Baselworld.

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