The taxi drivers may have been on to something. According to Joe Thompson’s excellent story from this April, the end of Baselworld as we know it is nigh. Today, it may have been dealt its first and most critical blow, when Nick Hayek Jr, the CEO of Swatch, the show’s largest exhibitor – this includes 18 different brands such as Swatch, Omega, Breguet, and Longines, as well as several suppliers they own – announced it would not return for 2019.
The news should not come as a total shock, the show had lost some 850 exhibitors over the last few years. Most, however, were small brands with little name recognition – one exception being Hermes, which jumped to the SIHH. Still, this comes as a surprise to many, myself included, as I did not expect Swatch to be the first to make the move. The rumor was that if any of the larger brands would jump first, it would be Breitling. New CEO Georges Kern spent a fraction of what it costs to appear at Basel on an international road show last winter, and many tell me he was far more impressed with the results seen there, than after ten days and many millions spent at Basel.
With Swatch out and Breitling eyeing the door, one must wonder what LVMH, Patek Philippe, and Rolex think about all this. Losing Swatch is a tragedy for Basel, but will it lead others to follow? Not necessarily. I can say that knowing my peers in this industry and what drives page views and sales, as long as Rolex, Patek, and the LVMH group travel to Basel each March, so too will the world’s international press, retailers, and collectors.