Swiss company Breitling is among the watch brands that have agreed to return to Baselworld in 2019 but, like exiting Swatch Group, says it wants show organizers to start making changes.
Basel, Switzerland—Organizers of the beleaguered Baselworld show released a detailed list of planned changes Monday in response to Swatch Group’s announcement that its brands would not exhibit in 2019.

News of the company’s decision to skip the watch and jewelry trade show broke over the weekend, with CEO Nick Hayek outlining the reasons behind it in an interview Monday with CNBC.

Chief among them is that the Swiss watch industry and Swatch Group are thriving right now and Swatch feels it doesn’t need to spend money to exhibit at a faltering trade show that refuses to change.
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“When you look at these old traditional watch fairs, it doesn’t make sense anymore. We are present in the whole world with our brands, close to the consumer and to the retailer,” Hayek told CNBC.

He called the Baselworld organizers “a little bit arrogant”—the same term used by Stephen Webster in an interview for a story on the future of jewelry trade shows—and said they are “not able to do something new” while dismissing the idea that Swatch Group’s exit was about “settling old scores” over the multi-million-dollar renovation of the halls completed in 2013, an expenditure not welcomed by all exhibitors.

Hayek, however, did not close the door on the possibility of Swatch Group returning to Baselworld in the future, as long as the show is willing to change.

“They have to reinvent themselves,” he said on CNBC. “We are ready to help them, but for 2019 we are definitely out.”

WATCH: Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek on CNBC

Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung first reported the news about Swatch Group leaving Basel on Sunday in an interview with Hayek. From there, word spread quickly online as numerous business publications and watch-specific websites picked up the story.

On Monday afternoon, Baselworld organizer the MCH Group issued a lengthy statement expressing displeasure with Swatch Group’s decision while outlining the changes it has planned for 2019.

“We extraordinarily regret Swatch Group’s decision. The cancellation is all the more surprising for us because this news reaches us at a point in time when new management has arrived with a new team, new spirit and many new ideas,” said MCH Group CEO René Kamm.

Among them: the addition of a retailer summit that will take place in Hall 1.2, a first for Baselworld; bargaining with Basel-area hotels and restaurants to not inflate prices during the show (the high cost of staying and eating in Basel is a common complaint among both exhibitors and retailers); an exhibition about the art of watchmaking in Hall 1.1; and expanding and bringing the on-site catering into the middle of the show floor, instead of having it on the periphery and outside the halls. 

MCH Group also disputed claims made by Hayek both in the NZZ article and on CNBC that exhibitors had not been notified about its plans to change up the trade show in 2019.

It said that a “collection of ideas” was presented to the Comité Consultatif (advisory board) in early May with a more fully formed concept presented at another committee meeting held July 4. A “high-ranking” Swatch Group executive was present at both meetings, MCH Group said.

20180801 Breitling watch insertA Navitimer 8 Automatic on a stainless steel bracelet with a black dial, one of the models introduced by Breitling at Baselworld 2018. The Swiss watch brand said it had a successful show and will return in 2019, but wants to see Baselworld organizers start to make changes.
In its statement, the trade show organizer also said that the “other big Swiss watch brands” are returning to the show in 2019.

So, which companies are in for next year’s Baselworld, scheduled for March 21 to 26?

A show spokesman declined to release a complete list of companies that are set to exhibit in 2019, saying that the watch and jewelry trade show is “still in the sales process.”

But he did confirm that all other brands in Hall 1.0, outside of Swatch Group, have signed on.

This includes companies like Patek Philippe; Rolex and Tudor; Bulgari, TAG Heuer and Hublot (all three of which are LVMH-owned); Chopard; and Breitling, which issued a statement regarding its return immediately following the close of the 2018 show.

In it, CEO Georges Kern committed the brand to one more year at the watch and jewelry trade show but, like Hayek, said organizers need to make changes.

What Breitling wants to see at the 2019 show and beyond includes a platform for watch collectors, the addition of a watch service center, for Basel-area hotels to upgrade and for restaurants to not raise their prices during the show, a point that organizers have said they are addressing.

The Swiss watch brand also said it wants Baselworld organizers to coordinate with the “dates of the largest watch trade shows in Switzerland,” presumably meaning the SIHH show in Geneva. 

That is not happening, at least not in 2019.

The set dates for next year’s SIHH are Jan. 14 to 17 while Baselworld will take place in March.  

“We hope that our points are heard because we are convinced that with a few new ideas and the goodwill of everyone involved, Baselworld has an extremely promising future,” Kern said.

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