As you have likely already read, the world’s two biggest watch shows — Baselworld and Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) — have been postponed or canceled until January 2021, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Watches & Wonders was originally scheduled to take place April 25th – April 29th and the organizers made their decision to cancel prior to the Swiss government’s ban on gatherings of 1,000 people or more. The next edition is tentatively scheduled for some time in January 2021. Baselworld was scheduled to take place April 30 – May 5 and followed suit with a postponement until January 28th, 2021 – February 2nd, 2021 — but only after the Swiss government made the official ban.

One reason for the difference in responses is that Baselworld — which is managed by an exhibition group — may have had no choice but to wait until it was a decision that was “out of their control” in order to receive an insurance settlement for the loss. The reason Baselworld was “postponed” instead of “canceled” was to ensure this year’s exhibitors are contractually committed for 2021 (which we’ve confirmed with multiple sources).

Interestingly, 2020 was the year that rival shows Baselworld (the largest watch show) and Watches & Wonders (the second largest watch show) were supposed to run consecutively for the first time in over a decade (since 2008). Running the events back-to-back allows showgoers to attend both shows with just one roundtrip airline ticket. It was a good idea to spark interest in the Swiss watch shows that have been declining in attendance in recent years.

Baselworld Corridors 2017
Baselworld Corridors 2017

Then the virus struck. Some people have even suggested that the cancellation was the final nail in Baselworld’s coffin. Baselworld has operated for over 100 years without ever being canceled — until now. Whether this means the end of Baselworld is near, only time will tell.

Most large trade shows from the Geneva Auto Show to South by Southwest have been canceled for the year. Having a show and then hearing about many people getting sick would be a PR nightmare. Not to mention, it’s just morally wrong.

Now many watch brands that have relied on international shows face the dilemma of how to best launch their 2020 timepieces. Though it seems most have already created solutions. Whether via LVMH’s private show in Dubai (which took place in January before the virus propagated to the extent it has now) or small meetups at retailers around the world (perhaps one of the best solutions considering these are the places that will be selling the watches to the end consumers) or through digital distribution — watches have indeed been launching all year despite no big international show in January and they will continue to be debuted even without any large shows in the Spring.

“Being an entrepreneurial brand means having to adapt, no matter the odds. The current situation has pushed us to become more reactive and creative in how we adapt to sudden and unforeseen developments,” says Julian Tornare, CEO of Zenith. “Following the postponement of Baselworld until January 2021, we at Zenith have decided to do things a little differently this year. I believe this will be an opportunity for us to get closer and more intimately engage with our partners, clients, and press in key markets as we travel in the coming months to meet them and present our latest creations. Our industry has gone through many crises and difficulties over the last centuries and we will recover from this.”

Considering the adverse luxury watch climate already created by political unrest in Hong Kong that’s being compounded by the growing problems associated with the virus worldwide — launching new watches impactfully this year is perhaps more critical than ever. Whatever solution each watch brand chooses, one thing is clear: the show will go on.

Jason Pitsch
Posted by:Jason Pitsch

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