The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie has just sent out a press release that got my attention in a hurry: From 2020, the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) in Geneva will be held from the 26th to 29th April in Geneva, followed immediately by the Baselworld fair from 30 April to 5 May in Basel. This arrangement will, for now, last till 2024.

Now, this piece of news will be of interest to those in the watch industry that regularly attend these two fairs every year, the SIHH (for Richemont brands mainly and some selected independants) and Baselworld (for everyone else but with Rolex and Patek Philippe as the anchor participants), as well as for industry and business watchers.

In the past few years, the relevance of these trade shows in the industry has been questioned by many pundits, with the status quo largely remaining in place, resisting most attempts to undermine it until this year when the floodgates of dissent started to burst.

It has been a wild ride certainly, with announcements from many brands on their pending exits happening. Even though it seemed at the onset that Baselworld had suffered a greater blow with the news of the Swatch Group exit, SIHH was not spared, with marquee brands like Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet also announcing their imminent departure.

While one of the reasons for the Swatch Group departure from Baselworld might have been due to the ever increasing costs and rampant price-gouging in the face of poor support from the Baselworld management, there is another big picture reason that has been on the lips of many – the actual relevance of the fairs in the first place.

Certainly, with key brands exiting from every corner of the industry from the fairs, it is not merely just an issue of expensive sausages at Messeplatz and 1000 CHF hotel rooms. Fairs like these have traditionally been attended by the press, retailers and some VIP collector-buyers. Yet in the era of the internet, when information travels instantaneously to the other side of the world, it has become unnecessary for many to attend the fairs in person, since every key aspect of the new products can be known about online, which is what possibly accounts for the steady decrease in attendance over the past few years.

From the perspective of the brands, their objectives are better met by pursuing new strategies – perhaps starting a new smaller fair that is adjacent to the main one with a friendlier pricing structure, or showing their wares locally around the world via a road show format like the new Breitling under the leadership of Georges Kern.

Something had to give, and the two big fairs have responded in a surprising way with a “Back to the Future” move to this new, yet old format. In fact ask any friendly industry veteran you know to regale you with stories of how they endured this back to back arrangement a long time ago, and the words will flow.

How will this new move benefit? Well, on the cost side, it removes the need to take two expensive trips to Switzerland every year, so close to each other in January and March. Further, attendees won’t have to experience the Geneva cold in January, since April will be warmer.

I foresee quite a few disadvantages however. The first will come from the big rush from Geneva to Basel when everyone gets on whatever mode of transportation they can to get to another city, and then try to manage, with only one day in between, to get settled to start the second leg. Further the total time will stretch to a much longer 10 continuous days, which will surely be a greater mental and physical challenge than it is to cover both fairs individually. Lastly, with more arrivals in Switzerland at one time (with more people from the brands coming in together), I wonder how much more crowded the flights will be.

Then of course, there are quite a few unknowns For example, what about the brands that show at both fairs, what will they do? Also, what will happen to the brands that have exited either fair? Will they return under this new arrangement or will the exodus continue?

One thing is certain and much appreciated however, that the announcement has come today and not late next year. At least, the 2019 schedule is unaffected, and it will give everyone some time to adjust to the new reality.