Watches & Wonders – the Swiss watch get-together formerly known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – has been cancelled. Without mentioning the coronavirus by name, the organizers made their decision “to protect the health and wellbeing of all our guests” (statement below). It’s only a matter of time – and not much of it – before Baselworld bows out. What does that mean for the Swiss watch industry? First, consider what would have happened at Watches & Wonders . . .
To differentiate itself from Baselworld, W&W had a new raison d’etre: Disneyland for watch addicts. Visitors would have gone hands-on with new timepieces in convention halls and tour local watchmaking facilities. Immediately after the high rollers left Geneva, industry bigwigs and retailers would regroup at Baselworld to quaff champagne and cut deals.
Whether or not Watches & Wonders and Baselworld will be able to serve-up that two course meal in 2021 remains to be seen. Watches & Wonders’ plan to bring their Richemont Group-heavy spectacular to the Miami Yacht Show – punted to 2021 even before the coronavirus outbreak – is equally uncertain.
Even though it’s toast for 2020, Watches & Wonders existence highlights a large philosophical/strategic shift within the watch industry – from Baselworld’s B2B dealer schmoozing to Watches & Wonders’ “high-touch” consumer contact.
Watchmakers are waking up to the fact that authorized dealers no longer need rule the roost. It’s all Internet, all the time. Then maybe a visit to a dealer. Then back to the internet. Then data capture by the mothership (via product registration). Then B2C marketing – cutting out the dealer.
Of course, all of this means very little right now. Coronageddon has pulled the rug from under the entire Asian market, which accounted for half of all Swiss watch exports last year. Right now they need to figure out what to do about enormous amounts of excess inventory, manufacturing capacity and labor.
In fact, Swiss, German, American and Japanese watchmakers might well view the Watches & Wonders and upcoming Baselworld cancellations as something of a relief – this is not the time to be spending big bucks on marketing events with a questionable return-on-investment.
Large scale industry lovefests won’t be back for years, if ever. If Watches & Wonders and Baselworld do return, they’ll be scaled down affairs. Lest we forget, the traditional watch industry is shedding market share like an itchy labrador retriever shedding fur. Apple sells more Apple Watches than the entire Swiss watch industry combined.
It truly is the worst of times for traditional watches – especially mass market Swiss watches. But out of this chaos will come change and innovation that will redefine the industry for all time. Watch this space.
WATCHES & WONDERS CANCELLATION STATEMENT
In view of the latest developments concerning the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it is the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie’s duty, as organizer of Watches & Wonders Geneva, to anticipate the potential risks that travels and important international gatherings could entail.
Therefore, in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all our guests, press, partners and teams, the decision has been taken to cancel the upcoming edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly known as the SIHH) and its ‘In the City’ program, initially due to take place in Geneva from April 25th to 29th 2020.
The Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie understands the disappointment this year’s cancelation may cause, and remains at the disposal of its partners and guests for any queries they may have.
The FHH is already working on the organization of 2021 edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva.
UPDATE: Statement from Baselworld: “The show is currently maintaining its planned timetable and the teams are continuing their preparations for the event to open as scheduled on the 30th of April 2020. Baselworld remains the must-attend beacon event it has always been, as is evidenced by the high public interest and number of tickets sold so far.”