Baselworld coronavirus. Not two words you want to see together. But there they are. In fact, the watch industry schmoozefest is hanging on by a thread. Bulgari announced today that it’s pulling out, blaming both the virus and the success of its recent Dubai watch get-together. The rest of the members of the LVMH group – Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith – are still in. For now . . .
“The Watchmaking Division of the LVMH Group with TAG Heuer, Hublot, and Zenith remains committed to Baselworld in 2020,” Stéphane Bianchi, President of the Watch Division of the LVMH group said. “We believe in the importance of a major event for the Swiss watch industry and look forward to a successful fair, both in terms of image and sales, for our three Maisons. ”
“With regard to the coronavirus, we are monitoring the evolution of the situation closely with the authorities,” Baselworld MD Michel Loris-Melikoff’s finger-in-the-dike press statement concedes. “To date, in Europe, all conferences and shows scheduled to be held around the same time frame as Baselworld 2020 are going ahead as planned, with no cancellations currently on record.”
Notice the phrase “shows scheduled to be held around the same time frame.” The dominos are already falling. Organizers have just cancelled Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress over coronavirus fears. The world’s largest mobile phone showcase was scheduled to start February 24th.
It’s no surprise that events held at the end of April – like Baselworld 2020 – are still on the bubble. Tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. But coronavirus diagnoses and fatalities are still mounting in the People’s Republic of China.
Lest we forget, about half of Swiss watch industry exports go – I mean, went to China and other Asian countries. At this point, Chinese watch execs, retailers and customers are on lockdown – United joins American, Delta in suspending China flights until late April.
As we reported, the Swatch Group’s Time to Move PR fest has announced it’s moving to satellite PR fests in various host countries. In theory. Swatch hasn’t announced any firm plans in that regard.
Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin says he’s in for Baselworld 2021 – maybe.
“We are obviously disappointed not to participate in 2020, but as told already in past, we remain open for 2021 onwards to continue with Baselworld and we will take our decision by June 2020 once Baselworld 2021 concept, dates and costs will be clarified. We also wish to continue to collaborate as much a possible with LVMH Watch Division from fairs to roadshows of events such as we did in Dubai this year.”
Bottom line: the smart money is on a Baselworld coronavirus-related cancellation. The axe may not have fallen, but it IS swinging. IF the outbreak tapers off, IF Baselworld 2020 limps ahead, lingering fear of transmission in crowded scenes like the ones above will no doubt ding attendance. Big time.
This has been the Swiss watch industry’s annus horribilis. Even with the Apple Watch looking down the barrel of a coronavirus caused product shortage, the mechanical and quartz watch industry may never return to its previous heights.
UPDATE: Grand Seiko has just deep-sixed its March 4-6 Tokyo Summit. “As we are all aware, the Coronavirus continues to spread and there is no immediate sign that it is likely to be contained in the near future,” Seiko Prez Shuji Takahashi’s cancellation statement read. “The health of our guests is our paramount concern and, at this moment, we are not able to guarantee that you would be completely safe.”