For the uninitiated, Baselworld has been the premier exhibition of the world’s finest watches and jewellery since 1917. The event served as a rich tradition to the Swiss city of Basel alongside the luxury names that have taken part over a century.

This week that all changed when major brands Rolex, Chopard, Patek Philippe, Chanel and Tudor formally announced their exit from Baselworld 2021. The departure is unprecedented and follows the Swatch Group’s controversial exit back in 2018, which included big ticket names like Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Longines, Rado and Tissot.

The reason for the latest mass exodus? The watchmakers aren’t too happy about the way Baselworld organisers (MCH Group) have handled refunds to brands for the cancellation of this year’s event due to the pandemic, according to a press statement. This comes among other past concerns for watch brands, including the ROI for setting up exhibits against the backdrop of dwindling Baselworld attendee numbers.

“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,” the statement read.

Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe was even more blunt in his view of Baselworld and the MCH Group.

"The decision to leave Baselworld was not an easy one to take for me, being the fourth generation of the Stern family to participate to this traditional yearly event. We constantly have to adapt ourselves, question what we do, since what was right yesterday may not necessarily be valid today.”

“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.”

The silver lining came in the form of an additional announcement that the brands will soon be working with the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) to deliver a new watch trade show that will be linked to Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) in April 2021.

The new show which will take place in Palexpo aims to offer brands the best professional platform to meet future challenges in the watch industry while showcasing the sector's expertise and innovations for retailers, press and key collectors.

Prior to its renaming, SIHH was considered the world’s most prestigious watch exhibition as it showcases brands from the entire Richemont portfolio. This includes names like A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin just to name a few.

Other prominent brands may soon join the new exhibition however the FHH has yet to release a formal statement on the plans.

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