New calendar forces watchmakers to choose between fairs

Fairs are where watch brands show off savoir faire and new models.

The decision by Switzerland’s biggest watch fairs - the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and Baselworld – to run back to back next year has made life complicated for watchmakers. 

This content was published on January 17, 2019 - 12:52
Anand Chandrasekhar in Geneva,

On the penultimate day of the SIHH watch fair in Geneva an uninterrupted stream of Japanese, Chinese and European watch distributors and retailers keep the watch brand stalls busy. 

The latest collections are unveiled to them in private rooms attached to the stalls. If sufficiently impressed, the international buyers will make the orders that will keep the Swiss watch industry afloat – that is until they have to do it all over again at Baselworld in March. 

However, from 2020 onwards both fairs will be held back-to-back: SIHH from April 26-29 in Geneva, followed immediately by Baselworld (April 30 to May 5 in Basel). This new arrangement will continue until 2024.

“We have sought dialogue with the SIHH and together have found a solution, which benefits visitors, the media, and the entire watchmaking industry enormously,” Michel Loris-Melikoff, Managing Director of Baselworld said during the announcement in mid-December. 

It’s a good solution for many international buyers. 

“It is tough to attend two watch fairs in a span of three months. It is also difficult for the brand to produce novelties for both fairs within such a short span,” says Kunhiro Tanaka of East Japan, a distributor of the Swiss watch brand H. Moser. 

Given the recent decision of many watch brands to pull out of Baselworld, buyers appear pleased that they will not miss out on interacting with companies as they can catch them at SIHH during the same period. 

“When you come from other parts of the world, the more people you meet the better it is for business. The watch business works on relationships and it is difficult to build them if watch companies are not present at the fairs,” says Ankur Jhunjhunwala of Nepal-based Swiss Timepieces. 

Watches are Switzerland’s third most important export after pharmaceuticals and machine tools generating close to CHF20 billion in 2017. The majority of exports (53%) are destined for the Asian market. 

Watchmaker’s dilemma

While buyers might be rejoicing at the synchronisation of the two fairs, watchmakers are uncertain.  

Boutique brand GrönefeldExternal link – whose latest model Grönefeld 1941 Remointre will set you back at least €45,000 - has been forced to choose and has plumped for SIHH over Baselworld next year. 

“We are not robots who can work at full throttle for two consecutive weeks. It is also a waste of money to see the exact same people at two different places,” watchmaker Bart Grönefeld told 

It is a view shared by counterpart Christophe ClaretExternal link – whose SIHH debuting watch Angelico costs over CHF200,000 - who will also attend only SIHH next year. 

“There is no real benefit in participating in both fairs. I've done it once and it didn't really make much of a difference for us. Even less now that they are scheduled back-to-back,” he says. 

There is also the question of having enough staff and display models for clients to handle. 

“The second fair [Baselworld] will be unlucky as everyone will be exhausted and the watches will be blemished from handling during the first fair [SIHH], says watchmaker Romain GauthierExternal link who will also be choosing only one fair in 2020. 

One thing the watchmakers could agree on was that they are happy not to have to prepare for SIHH next January.   

“We prefer SIHH to be held later as we are busy during the Christmas period followed by preparing for the end of the fiscal year,” says Kari VoutilainenExternal link who makes watches under his own name. 

Voutilainen is also keeping his cards close to his chest about which fair he will opt for next year.

“It depends on what the exhibitors are able to propose to us,” he says. 

Baselworld and SIHH 

Baselworld, the world’s biggest watch and jewellery fair opens in Basel from March 21 to 26 this year. It can be traced back to a Basel trade fair in 1917 called the Schweizer Mustermesse Basel where a few watches and jewellery merchants had stalls. In 2019, the fair expects around 700 stands and over 100,000 visitors. 

SIHH came into existence in 1991 when the Richemont luxury group decided it was time for a separate platform to showcase its brands away from Baselworld. Since then, SIHH has become an important part of the Swiss watchmaking calendar. The 2019 edition had 35 brands and is expected to attract around 20,000 visitors. 

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