Breaking News: Baselworld 2018 Will Be 50% Smaller! Half The Exhibitors Gone And 3+ Halls Closed
In 2015 Baselworld’s many spacious halls held 1,500 exhibiting brands.
Baselworld’s management did not release exhibitor statistics for 2016 and 2017.
According to an announcement released today, the upcoming 2018 edition of the show will have only 600 to 700 exhibitors with precise numbers to be released in February 2018 along with the official catalogue.
Three and a half halls are due to be closed for the 2018 edition: Hall 1.2, Hall 4, Hall 5, and half of Hall 2.
Baselworld has been the world’s leading watch fair for 100 years (see 1917-2017: A Brief Retrospective Of 100 Years Of Baselworld) – and in that century it has played witness to the many phases that watchmaking has gone through.
In my opinion, it really has been the one thing steadfastly centered in the industry; a lot like death and taxes, Baselworld has been excruciatingly hard to get around – a position, one might argue, that the fair management has taken advantage of in recent years, perhaps even to the detriment of the industry.
Does Baselworld reflect all the needs of the watch industry?
The gargantuan Baselworld has apparently been unable to modify itself enough to keep pace with all the changing needs of watchmakers, buyers, and the buying public.
First, an apparent lack of attention to the needs of an important part of the industry in 1991 led to Cartier heading off to create its own fair expressly aimed at the upper crust (both buyers and sellers) of watchmaking. While at the beginning the SIHH was taken less seriously than later became the case, a continuously improving understanding of what luxury brands and buyers want have seen this Geneva-based trade-only exhibition persist and grow as much as it has more or less wanted to (see Celebrating 25 Years Of SIHH).
Another need – that of the many boutique brands and independent watchmakers and their very solvent collectors’ circles, a powerful and well-funded stratus of the watch-buying public – was not recognized to be quite as important as it was.
In the 1980s Baselworld offered the A.H.C.I., a grouping of independent creators, many of whom make only a handful of timepiece each year, a free booth in the first years of its existence. However, neglecting to understand the powerful draw of this creative group of international artists, the show management placed the A.H.C.I. booth in out-of-the-way positions that are almost never near the other independent watchmakers of the group’s ilk.
Positioning all of these indie entities together would have been a win-win for everyone. Was it too hard? Too much trouble? Who knows, but tellingly the number of independents exhibiting in the dedicated Carré des Horlogers at the SIHH continues to grow year on year with 16 now taking part in January 2018.
The non-A.H.C.I. independents eventually ended up in Baselworld’s Palace (while the A.H.C.I. and other independents were oddly placed in Hall 2.0, a hodge-podge of various watch and jewelry manufacturers), a tent-like temporary structure, which very soon became a hopping draw for the well-heeled. This, too, seems to have largely gone unrecognized.
In 2017 Baselworld closed the Palace, moving the majority of indies to the newly founded Les Ateliers in Hall 1.2, a very worthy solution if a little hard to find the first time. The independents at the A.H.C.I. continued on in Hall 2.0, a good 15-minute walk away from the independents at Les Ateliers.
Hall 1.2 is being closed as one of three and a half halls. However, the fair management has indicated that Les Ateliers will remain as a coherent entity, though exactly where is not yet clear.
The move will almost certainly necessitate the cost of new booths for the independent creators, who had just invested for the 2017 show; that’s a needlessly exorbitant expense for a small company or independent creator.
Other possible causes for Baselworld’s shrinking exhibitor numbers
It is no secret that the watch industry is at a turning point in its long history. Electronic and smart watches are attacking the lower end and mid-priced segment of the traditional watch business, while the luxury industry has been experiencing a wild downswing since 2008, with 2014 through 2016 especially bleak.
These two events have surely played a larger role in affecting Baselworld’s results.
Additionally, the fair underwent a major renovation between 2011 and 2013 that expanded capacity and saw a completely remodeled Hall 1, the luxurious showcase of the fair (and the industry). Five years in the planning and execution, yet completed after only 22 months of actual construction work, the renovation costing 430 million Swiss francs has recently come under fire in the press for nepotism.
After the renovation, the fair management raised exhibitors’ fees by a substantial 20 percent – though to be fair, the square-meter price had not been raised since 2006; additionally, the fair created the Basel Brand Book, a mandatory-purchase object for exhibitors, which cost another 15,000 Swiss francs.
For Baselworld 2018, which has now also been shortened by two days, the square-meter cost of booth space has been lowered by ten percent. Nonetheless, the damage was certainly already done.
Another cause for the drop in exhibitors is also certainly further fragmentation of the traditional business model (manufacturer-distributor-retailer) due to the new appearance of local fairs, various new consumer fairs, and the tsunami of online sales outlets – which has decreased the need for traditional buyers. See Bricks And Clicks, Bricks Or Clicks, Just Clicks? There’s A Watch Retail Tsunami Coming, But How, What, When . . . And Why? for more on that subject.
What this shocking news of a 50% smaller Baselworld means
This news is shocking to say the least. Can Baselworld truly continue to be called “the global event” now?
While you decide, perhaps remember that while the absolute number of Baselworld exhibitors in 2018 is now between 600 and 700, the brands among them represent the majority of Swiss watch exports according to fair management.
Baselworld’s management is sure the “paring down” will represent better quality, but I’d like to see the new fair – and make no mistake, this will be a new place we visit in March 2018 – before I pass judgment on that.
The 2018 edition will be a new interpretation of Baselworld, one that is possibly learning to finally go with more real market conditions and – above all – the times.
For more information, please visit www.baselworld.com.