A rendering of the “Show Plaza” new to Baselworld this year, which is on the same level as the jewelry brands and will host fashion shows. The addition of the plaza is one of the changes new management made in an effort to revive the watch and jewelry trade show.
Basel—Baselworld lowered prices for some exhibitors this year and plans to retool its entire pricing structure for 2020, Managing Director Michel Loris-Melikoff said at the event’s opening press conference Wednesday evening in Switzerland.

It is one of several adjustments he’s made since taking the reins of the floundering watch and jewelry trade show just nine months ago, making it a priority to change the show’s “communication and management style” amid uncertainty about its future.

Sales of Swiss watches are strong—figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry presented Wednesday show exports rose 6 percent in value last year, led by sales of mechanical watches—but the show is struggling, losing exhibitors amid complaints of arrogant management and price gouging, and cries that traditional, business-to-business trade shows have become irrelevant and unnecessary.

When the show opens today in the small Swiss river city of Basel, it will have less than 600 exhibitors, down from nearly 1,500 just two years ago.

Loris-Melikoff said from the press conference stage Wednesday that Baselworld seems to have “reached the bottom” in terms of number of exhibitors, though he declined to provide a figure he sees as ideal.

“If we have 600 exhibitors who do their business well, then we can be satisfied,” he said.

What’s Different So Far
Like Baselworld itself, the opening press conference had a different look and feel this year.

It was done in a more informal, roundtable discussion-style on the show floor instead of in the adjacent Congress Center.

Noticeably absent were a few faces who had been regulars at the event in the past few years.

Former Managing Director Sylvie Ritter stepped down in May 2018, while René Kamm, CEO of Baselworld organizer MCH Group, resigned after Swatch Group announced it was pulling out of the show.

Adding to the list of the show’s executive exits Wednesday was Baselworld Exhibitors’ Committee President Eric Bertrand, who announced he was retiring and would be replaced by Marco Avenati.

Also missing during the opening press conference were these two words: Swatch Group.

The subject of the show’s largest exhibitor wouldn’t have come up at all if it weren’t for the front row-seated journalist who asked, are negotiations ongoing between Baselworld organizers and their former exhibitor?

Loris-Melikoff said he has been emailing with CEO Nick Hayek and, though he did not address Hayek’s recent statements signaling Swatch Group’s pullout is permanent, he gave no indication the Swatch Group chief was expected to change his mind either.

“He will have to decide if he wants to return to Baselworld or not,” Loris-Melikoff said, “and he will decide when is the time for him to return.”

2020 and Beyond
What Baselworld will look like—and who it will attract—next year is the question that looms large as the 2019 edition of the show opens.

Loris-Melikoff said more details about Baselworld 2020 will be shared at the closing press conference, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

What we do know based on comments made at Wednesday’s event is that exhibitors—or at least some exhibitors—still see value in Baselworld as a business-to-business trade show.

Organizers do too, and are working to repair relationships with current exhibitors while finding a way to appeal to watch collectors and other consumers and to enhance the show’s digital capabilities.

Baselworld took steps to knock down costs for both exhibitors and attendees, reducing the cost of exhibiting but also negotiating with local hotels and restaurants to ensure they don’t raise prices during the show.

Organizers also want to improve their relationships with jewelry brands, which, in the past, have complained of show organizers treating them like an afterthought.

The jewelry brands have been moved to Hall 1.2, where show organizers have installed a “Show Plaza” for multiple jewelry fashion shows to take place each day, a first for Baselworld.

How these will be received and what role jewelry brands will play in the show going forward remains as much a question mark as Baselworld’s future itself.

“I don’t know,” Picchiotti’s Giuseppe Picchiotti said from the stage Wednesday when asked if jewelry brands would benefit from the fashion shows. “It’s the first time ever that there’ll be a fashion show [at Baselworld] so it’s difficult to say what way it’s going to go.”

Changing Date Pattern
In addition to changing its format and lowering its prices, Baselworld 2020 is shifting from March to April 30-May 5, meaning it will wrap up less than a month before the Las Vegas jewelry trade shows kick off.

It will follow the other major Swiss watch trade show, SIHH, which is moving from January to April 26-29.

Those on stage in Basel Wednesday emphasized several times that there is currently no bad blood between the two trade shows. The decision to change dates was mutually agreed upon, and is seen as beneficial to both shows as well as to the watch and jewelry industry as a whole.

Loris-Melikoff also rejected the notion that organizers moved Baselworld because they feared the show would “disappear” otherwise.

The agreement between SIHH and Baselworld to hold their shows back-to-back extends through 2024.

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