To Mr. Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari: Geneva Watch Days In August 2020 Isn’t Optimistic, It’s Delusional!
by Ian Skellern
Dear Mr. Babin, I’m speaking as a fan, but you are sure making it difficult. It gives me no pleasure to take shots at you like this, but if you keep standing up and saying insensate things, I’ll keep rebutting you.
Since you have been CEO of Bulgari, my view of the brand’s watches has gone from just another jewelry brand trying to look like a serious watch brand to a serious watch brand with a watch I want to buy.
I dream of owning an Octo Finnissimo and I’m not even a watch collector!
I think that Bulgari’s chief designer Fabrizio Buonamassa is a genius. And I applauded your Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2019 speech lambasting the watch industry for being so risk-averse and admonishing it to start being bolder.
Even when you first announced that Geneva Watch Days would go ahead after both Watches & Wonders (SIHH) and Baselworld were canceled, I thought, “great play.” There’s at least a chance, even if small, that the coronavirus crisis is over by late April; the costs are largely sunk whatever happens; and there’s good marketing as the plucky upstart fair that dares go where stodgy traditional fairs don’t. Nothing to lose, everything to gain, and I (first) thought, “a great move, a genius move.”
However, I quickly started to realize the implications of running any type of fair, distributed or not, with the express purpose of encouraging people, prospective clients, collectors, journalists, and retailers from all over the world to mingle and interact with each other and the people of Geneva, was not just poor judgement. It was dangerous and risked people’s lives.
And this at a time when the scale of the health crisis was becoming ever more apparent by the hour.
Your decision to hold the fair (or leave the possibility open) no longer looked so much a genius move as a very irresponsible one. Which motivated me to write Open Letter To Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin: I’ve Cancelled My Geneva Watch Days 2020, Now It’s Your Turn (But You Should Have Been First) to which you politely replied, making a (misguided to my mind) case for optimism.
And that was that. Despite there being no announcement from you canceling or postponing Geneva Watch Days in late April, most quickly assumed it would be canceled from the day it was announced anyway. (Ulysse Nardin ended up sending out the announcement of postponement to August 2020.)
Now things have ramped up, and the last thing on anyone’s minds for the next 6-12 months is Geneva Watch Days. We all have much more important and urgent matters to consider these days.
You could have said nothing.
You could have “done a Baselworld” and not “canceled” but “postponed” until 2021 (if that happens).
But you didn’t. You doubled down! I simultaneously applauded your audacity while sobbing at the absurdity.
Let’s imagine that a miracle cure is found in the next week, no more new infections at all worldwide. Even in that fantasy scenario, the Geneva hospitals and health care system will require many months to get back to normal.
And then there’s the ever-increasing backlog of all the postponed hospital and medical procedures and tests that have been put on hold while the medical profession has been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as well as preparing for the next outbreak that is sure to come.
And that’s if we wake up tomorrow and it all goes away. But the coronavirus won’t go away like that.
“The postponement will allow not only to be safer, but eventually to have a bigger and more international event as with COVID now receding in countries such as China or Korea, we might eventually attract besides the European major players, also an important Asian clientele,” you are reported as saying. If you are wondering why I’ve got an angry attitude just read your own words again in the context of the fact that the deaths, not just cases but deaths, are still climbing.
And for what? Your Geneva Watch Days usually works because it runs in parallel with the Watches & Wonders (SIHH) fair that attracts international visitors. Without the attraction of a major fair running parallel to Geneva Watch Days in August, who do you expect to come?
I’m addressing this you, Mr. Babin, because you took the role of front man for Geneva Watch Days, but my disappointment is also with all of the “participating brands” for not taking a stand. It’s shameful not one of them has stood up and said, no, this is wrong.
When I first read the news of you announcing Geneva Watch Week for August 2020, I seriously considered calling on my colleagues for a boycott, but I eventually decided that nobody will be taking Geneva Watch Days August 2020 seriously anyway.
It’s not just your own reputation you are dragging down; you are making the Swiss watch industry look irresponsible.
I’m Swiss and I would like nothing more than to get the Swiss and Genevan economies up and running as soon as possible, but nobody will die if we stop having watch fairs for a year (or two).
I wish you all the best in the turbulent times ahead.
Regards, Ian Skellern
P.S. My original title to this article was “Mr. Babin, Geneva Watch Days In August 2020? Are You F*cking Sh*tting Me?”, but I didn’t think I’d get that passed by my editor-in-chief.