The MCH Group, organizers of the Baselworld, the world’s oldest watch and jewelry exhibition has expressed “great surprise and equally great regret” after five key exhibitors including Rolex and Patek Philippe announced that they were leaving the show in 2020.

The beleaguered exhibition, which has seen a steady stream of brands migrating to other platforms citing mismanagement, is now in existential danger after power players like Patek Philippe, Rolex, Tudor, Chopard, and Chanel announced in a unified statement that they were moving on from Baselworld 2021 after the this year’s edition was cancelled because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

This could be the final nail in the coffin for Baselworld

Additionally, the departing brands announced that they will take part in a newly formed event, in cooperation with the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), in April 2021. The as-yet-unnamed new exhibition will, according to the statement, be “linked” to Watches & Wonders 2021 — the watch salon formerly known as SIHH, organized by the FHH and long considered a competitor to the older, more established Baselworld show — and will take place in the same venue, Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall.

On April 14, hours after this news broke on the internet, MCH put out a public statement putting forth its own take on the issues that led to them. “The objective,” the statement read, “was to find the earliest and best possible date for the industry following the Covid-19 related measures. The companies now ‘migrating’ — including Rolex — spoke out in favour of a postponement to January 2021.

The fair has for years been the bellwether for the industry

As to the actual future of Baselworld itself — a trade show that has been held in some form or other since 1917 — the statement was cryptic. “In the next few weeks, the MCH Group will be making a decision on the continuation of Baselworld and on investments in its further development, which is geared to the long term.

Following discussions initiated by Rolex, it seemed only natural to create a new event with partners. - Jean-Frederic Dufour

The departing brands were represented on the Exhibitors’ Committee, where the future vision of Baselworld has been discussed on several occasions and has met with a positive response, as was also evidenced by countless individual discussions. The intention to move to Geneva has never been mentioned. The MCH Group must therefore conclude that the relevant plans have been in preparation for some time and that the discussions concerning the financial arrangements for the cancellation of Baselworld 2020 are now being put forward as an argument.”

Exhibitors have expressed dismay at the high-handedness of the organizers

The move apparently follows months of behind-the-scenes conflict between the exhibiting watch brands and the MCH, organizers of the Baselworld show. In a joint statement to the press, the watch manufacturers said, “This departure follows 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.”

“We have taken part in Baselworld since 1939,” says Rolex CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour. “Unfortunately, given the way the event has evolved and the recent decisions made by MCH Group, and in spite of the great attachment we had to this watch show, we have decided to withdraw. Following discussions initiated by Rolex, it seemed only natural to create a new event with partners that share our vision and our endless, unwavering support for the Swiss watchmaking sector.”

“Today Patek Philippe is not in line with Baselworld’s vision anymore; there have been too many discussions and unsolved problems, trust is no longer present. We need to answer the legitimate needs of our retailers, the clients and the press from around the world. They have to be able to discover the new models from Swiss watchmakers each year, at one time, in one place, and this in the most professional manner possible. That is why, following several discussions with Rolex and in agreement with other participating brands, we have decided to create, all together, a unique event in Geneva, representative of our savoir-faire,” said Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern.