By Michelle Graff
The new RM 25-01 Tourbillon Adventure Sylvester Stallone, a Richard Mille watch developed in collaboration with the action star. The Swiss watch brand said this week it won’t return to the SIHH fair in Geneva after 2019, citing a shift in its distribution model. (Photo credit: Richard Mille Facebook page)
Geneva—Two important independent watch brands won’t be returning to the SIHH fair in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2020.

Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet, a founding member of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), both announced this week that 2019 will be their final year exhibiting at the trade show.

Both cited changing distribution models as the key driver behind their decisions, and on Thursday, SIHH responded with a statement acknowledging the brands’ departure as well as the need for the trade show to evolve.

“The Exhibitors’ Committee, with the support of the FHH’s board, confirms its intention to pursue the SIHH’s core purpose, which now extends beyond a trade salon with a distribution focus to encompass a true culture and experience-led communications platform for all professionals and end customers of [high-end watches].”

Richard Mille shared its SIHH announcement via social media, stating it has “drastically reduced” its representation through multi-brand retailers over the past few years and opened more of its own boutiques.

This shift in distribution makes trade shows like SIHH—where brands pay thousands to show their latest releases to watch-carrying retailers—obsolete and unnecessary for brands like Richard Mille.

“It is with deep regret that we are announcing our withdrawal from the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) following the 2019 edition,” the watchmaker’s statement reads. “The team working alongside Fabienne Lupo at the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie have made it a genuine pleasure for all at Richard Mille … at the prestigious SIHH fair over the years.”

Audemars CEO François-Henry Bennahmias gave many of the same reasons for the Royal Oak maker’s decision to leave the trade show, telling Swiss magazine Le Temps that the brand wants to focus “100 percent” on the end consumer and, like Richard Mille, is cutting back on the number of multi-brand stores that carry its high-end watches. (The link provided here is to an English language version of the article that was translated from the original French.)

Earlier this month, Bennahmias told Reuters that Audemars is looking to cut out multi-brand retailers completely within three to five years.

20180928 Royal OakA Royal Oak model introduced by Audemars Piguet at the 2018 edition of SIHH. The watchmaker said this week that 2019 will be its last year at the show.
The exit of Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille from SIHH follows the bombshell announcement that Swatch Group will not exhibit at Baselworld next year.

The announcements are blows to the organizers behind both trade shows. And while presented differently, the reasons underlying them are the same: trade shows need to change in order to remain relevant, something both Baselworld and SIHH have acknowledged.

After getting publicly blasted by Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek for being arrogant and not nimble enough, Baselworld has said it is working to make the show more experience-oriented.

Outside of the exhibit halls, organizers are collaborating with local hotels and restaurants, which typically gouge visitors during the show, to keep prices down. The Swatch chief has indicated his company will consider returning to the watch and jewelry trade show, as long as organizers make the necessary changes.
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Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, meanwhile, did not indicate any plans to return to the trade fair, as both companies are gravitating away from a third-party distribution model.

But SIHH, like Basel, said it plans to make changes by “building on and extending new services, new experiences and expert content tailored to all audiences in the Haute Horlogerie community, who regard the salon as a must-attend event.”

Started in 1991 by a group of five brands that defected from Baselworld, SIHH was created as a smaller, more exclusive answer to the behemoth in Basel. It takes place at the start of the year and features a select group of watch brands (35 is the current count) and no jewelry.

The 2019 edition of SIHH is scheduled for Jan. 14 to 17 at Palexpo in Geneva.

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