As if global headlines have not been exciting enough recently, the watch world has been dealt a blow with the announcement that Watches & Wonders Geneva 2020 is cancelled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Formerly known as the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), the prestigious trade show organised by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie would have marked its 30th edition this year from April 25 to 29.
Thirty-one brands were expected to hold court at the Palexpo exhibition centre, among them 10 Richemont brands (Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC included), Kering’s Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, and independent watchmakers such as Parmigiani Fleurier, H. Moser & Co and MB&F. The 2019 event attracted over 23,000 visitors, including an international cohort of 1,400 journalists and 3,000 members of the public.
Watches & Wonders Geneva 2020 had all the makings of an extraordinary affair with the industry’s shake-ups in recent years. Fellow Swiss watchmaking show Baselworld was leading the controversy with exasperated partners decrying its exorbitant participation costs and dismissive attitude towards their concerns. Individual brands began pulling out to stage their own shows across regions, but it took primary tenant Swatch Group’s exit in 2018 to highlight the fallout.
As a conciliatory measure, Baselworld 2019 addressed complaints such as deplorable internet speeds and side-lined media services but it might have been a case of too little, too late. Swatch Group organised its own fair in Zurich, pointedly titled Time to Move, while other manufactures discovered the advantages in cost-effectiveness and brand image and experience enjoyed by hosting individual presentations in key cities around the world.
This year, Watches & Wonders pushed back its usual January dates to immediately precede Baselworld 2020 in early May, eliminating the hassle of having to travel to Switzerland twice in the span of a quarter. Despite complaints that this was rather late in the year to be introducing novelties, the two fairs might have seen record attendance had the COVID-19 outbreak not disrupted proceedings.
In a statement, the FHH announced:
“In view of the latest developments concerning the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it is [our] duty, as organizer of Watches & Wonders Geneva, to anticipate the potential risks that travels and important international gatherings could entail.
Therefore, in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all our guests, press, partners and teams, the decision has been taken to cancel the upcoming edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly known as the SIHH) and its ‘In the City’ program.
The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie understands the disappointment this year’s cancelation may cause, and remains at the disposal of its partners and guests for any queries they may have. The FHH is already working on the organization of 2021 edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva.”
The news was hardly surprising, given that Swatch Group had called off Time to Move 2020 in March and Bulgari, Citizen and Bulova had reneged on their participation in Baselworld for the same reason. Swatch told the AWP news agency that it wanted to “avoid partners having to make international flights during a period of insecurity.
This is a time of grave uncertainty for the horological industry as a whole, with major ports closed and demand for luxury goods low, particularly in the dominant Chinese market. Pundits anticipate an upswing and complete recovery once the unfolding pandemic stabilises.
Meanwhile, stakeholders wait with bated breath to see if Baselworld makes a similar move, thus effectively wiping out the calendar of major Swiss watchmaking events this year. The only brands to escape unscathed so far are LVMH’s Bulgari, Hublot and Zenith, which introduced their novelties at the maiden LVMH Watch Week in Dubai in January. Forbes could not resist pointing out a stinging piece of irony: had Watches & Wonders stuck to its original dates early in the year, the show would have gone on as planned.
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