By Michelle Graff
This shot of Baselworld 2019 shows the fountains and seating areas that replaced the space once occupied by Swatch Group, which left the show in 2018. The trade show sustained another blow this week when Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Chopard and Tudor pulled out. (Photo courtesy of Baselworld)
Basel, Switzerland—In the coming weeks, MCH Group will decide whether Baselworld—once the annual event for the global watch industry—has a future or if it is out of time.

After news surfaced Tuesday morning that five huge brands were pulling out of the show and reorganizing around FHH-run Watches & Wonders Geneva, MCH Group followed with a statement in which it expressed “great surprise and equally great regret” over the loss of Rolex and its sister brand Tudor, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Chopard.

The brands said they are leaving Baselworld “following a number of a number of unilateral decisions made without consultation by Baselworld management, including the postponement of the watch show until January 2021, as well as its inability to meet the brands’ needs and expectations.”

But in its statement issued Tuesday afternoon, MCH Group reiterated earlier claims that it consulted exhibitors when choosing 2021 dates and said the companies now leaving Baselworld—including Rolex—were in favor of a postponement to January 2021.

The company also said the exiting brands have representatives on the Baselworld Exhibitors’ Committee, where “the future vision of Baselworld has been discussed on several occasions and has met with a positive response.”

“The intention to move to Geneva has never been mentioned,” MCH Group said, leading it to conclude that plans for this new show have been in the works for a while and the brands are using the row over its refund policy as a cover for something they’d planned all along.  

Rolex and its fellow departees either declined or did not respond to request for comment on MCH Group’s statement.  

Tuesday’s announcement that Baselworld would be losing its remaining keystone brands could be the death knell for a once-massive trade show that’s seen more than a few key brands exit.

In 2018, watch behemoth Swatch Group, which had 17 brands in the show, announced it was pulling out and would not return in 2019, dealing a major blow to Baselworld.

Following the 2019 show, Breitling said it wouldn’t return in 2020. 

This year, the major cancellations have been piling up, due at least in part to the coronavirus.

Baselworld lost Gucci, Bulgari, Seiko and Grand Seiko, and Citizen and Bulova before announcing in late February that it was “postponing” Baselworld to Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, 2021 after Switzerland put a ban on large public gatherings because of COVID-19.

Last week, the remaining exhibitors—backed by a Rolex executive—blasted MCH Group for its 2020 show refund policy, which they view as unfair, particularly in light of the fact that the show is moving from April to dates in January that don’t work for a lot of them.

Baselworld 2020 was scheduled for April 30-May 5, right after Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly SIHH), which the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie organizes.

In 2021, Watches & Wonders is sticking with April dates while Baselworld is scheduled for Jan. 28 to Feb. 2.

That means it is no longer coordinated with Watches & Wonders, and it also conflicts with VicenzaOro, The Original Miami Beach Antique Show and the Tucson gem shows.

MCH Group said it will decide on “the continuation of Baselworld and on investments in its further development” in the next few weeks.

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