A few months ago, the excellent editorial team at Chrono24 commissioned me to write an article on the (then) upcoming watch events for 2020. At the time, China’s Hubei Province was dealing with a particularly aggressive virus, but it seemed to be largely confined to that specific area. Fast forward to now, and we find ourselves in a drastically different situation. The virus, known to all of us by now as the “coronavirus” (or, more accurately, SARS-CoV-2), has spread across the world at a frightening pace. Many countries are in full or partial government-mandated lockdowns and social distancing measures are in place in a bid to slow the rate of infection. We haven’t seen anything like this on this scale in over a century.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latest developments surrounding the world’s major watch fairs and their exhibitors are not everyone’s top priority. There are, after all, far more pressing concerns at hand. That said, we could all do with a little distraction; something to help take our minds off the current challenges we face as a global population, even if just for a few minutes. Hopefully, this article makes a small contribution in that regard. Believe me, I understand that there are more important things to worry about than when the next Baselworld might be held – but I’m still a watch lover, and so are you. So, let’s share in our passion to help get us through this incredibly challenging time.
On that note, let’s get down to what’s happening as far as watches are concerned in 2020.
The short answer, at least so far, is not much. The year started off strong with LVMH’s Watch Week in Dubai, followed by Inhorgenta Munich in February. Since then, all the major watch events for 2020 have been either cancelled or postponed until 2021. At the time of writing, what was supposed to be Baselworld 2020 will not take place until January 28, 2021. The Watches & Wonders Geneva website, meanwhile, still shows the original dates for this year’s show. However, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), the fair’s organizer, announced its cancellation back in late February. So far, new dates have not been set, but given that both Baselworld and W&W Geneva committed to aligning their schedules, it seems likely the show will take place in early January 2021.
Meanwhile, Watches & Wonders Miami is scheduled for February 12, 2021. It’s worth noting, however, that the Miami edition had already been postponed prior to the COVID-19 situation so that the FHH could focus all its attention on the Geneva show.
A silver lining – if such a thing can be found in such challenging times – is that this proposed schedule will be much more attractive to watch sellers and buyers alike. Now, instead of having to wait until almost mid-year to see the new releases, which likely meant they wouldn’t be available for consumer purchase until the end of the year, most big launches will happen at the start of the year. That said, you can be sure most brands will hold a few things back that they can launch throughout the year.
This extra time also gives both fairs a chance to substantially work on their offerings, while also giving exhibitors respite from the considerable fees involved. It’s no secret that even before COVID-19 derailed 2020, the major watch fairs were on the back foot. Major exhibitors were pulling out, they were seeing declining visitor numbers, and there was a growing sense of not having kept up with the times and being out of touch with the needs of the market. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yet, in some ways, the inability to hold a fair at all this year might present the biggest challenge to their continued existence.
After all, luxury watch brands – all brands in fact – have new ways to communicate with their audiences that don’t involve bringing large masses of people together in the same place, a practice that is actively discouraged (if not outright banned) at the moment. No one yet knows how we will emerge on the other side of this crisis, how long it will take for things to get back to some semblance of normal, or what normal will even look like. One thing is for certain: The companies that survive will do so largely because they innovate and find new ways of doing things. Of course, this is going to be a process of trial and error, and not everyone is going to take the same approach.
For example, Swiss watchmaker Rado has presented their new 2020 releases on its YouTube channel, featuring CEO Matthias Breschan. At the time of writing, these had only attracted a few hundred views, but presumably that will increase as more people become aware of the videos. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that brands might also consider making personalized video presentations of their 2020 product lines for retail partners and the press or live online presentations using tools such as Zoom or even Instagram. Likewise, advances in augmented reality make it possible to get a very realistic idea of what the watch will look like on your wrist, even without seeing it in person. Check out the Chrono24 Virtual Showroom to see what I mean.
However, this type of thing requires large-scale organization, meaning lots of people working together. To some degree, this can be done online, but brands generally only make very limited quantities of models to be displayed or “presented” at trade shows. If these weren’t photographed or recorded prior to the lockdown, it’s unlikely the marketing teams will be able to create these materials now. Instead, high-quality renders will probably be the order of the day.
Other brands seemingly believe nothing replaces seeing the watch in-person. Following the cancellation/postponement of Baselworld and W&W, a new exhibition of sorts has been announced with Bvlgari leading the way. Called Geneva Watch Days, the event was first proposed to take place in April, but has now been (optimistically) rescheduled for August 26 to 29. Described as a “decentralized and self-managed multi-brand watch event,” a number of notable names have already signed up. These include Breitling, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux, Gerald Genta, Urwerk, H. Moser & Cie, De Bethune, MB&F, and of course, Bvlgari. The idea is that these brands would all present their new releases at the same time, but not in the same place. They will be spread across Genevan hotels and boutiques to avoid having large crowds.
The 4-day program will include appointments, retailers, media, and multi-brand dinners, as well as a GMT magazine evening and exhibitions. The steering committee has also indicated that it expects a further 15-20 brands to join. Initial discussions are already being held with regard to making the Geneva Watch Days a full-fledged watchmaking fair supported by the Genevan state authorities. Of course, it’s still way too early to tell how successful this event might be, or if it will even be able to go ahead in 2020 at all.
It seems some big names have decided it would be better not to present any new watches at all in 2020. After all, most authorized retailers around the world have had to shut their retail locations indefinitely. Recent – although still unconfirmed – reports coming out of Switzerland suggest that Patek Philippe may not present any new watches in 2020. Rumor has it that Rolex might follow suit, but it is just speculation at this point. Like all of us, the people behind the brands we know and love are grappling to come to terms with a rapidly evolving situation. There’s no single best solution; everyone has to make a decision based on what is the right move for them. One thing is for certain: The luxury watch fair landscape will look very different on the other side of this.
If you’ve gotten this far, hopefully I helped distract you from the real world for a few precious minutes. If you’re still craving more, head over to the Chrono24 Facebook page and keep the conversation going. And for the love of watches, stay inside and stay safe.