Basel Who? Swatch Group’s ‘Big Six’ Give International Media Something to Write Home About
After Swatch Group made the announcement about their mass exodus from the 2019 edition of the Baselworld Fair in Basel, Switzerland, it seemed as if time stood still for just a little while. Watch journalists, collectors, and connoisseurs posted to social media pages and online forums, discussing scenarios and sharing their ideas about what could or should happen now that the group would be saving millions of dollars in revenue (the booths, alone, were often as large as houses). Questions such as, “Will the brand start a fair of their own?” “Will they attempt to do an event in Geneva during the SIHH in January?” and “Will they ever consider returning?” began circulating amongst members of the watch community, yet when those same questions were asked of some of Swatch Group’s marketing teams, they seemed about as much in the dark about the future as everyone else (or were they?). That is, until this past May, when a small group made up largely of print luxury, lifestyle, and watch journalists from around the world was invited to attend a three-day, Swatch-group event in Switzerland aptly named, “Time to Move.”
For this inaugural press event, the Swatch Group chose to focus on new releases from just six of its seemingly higher-end watch brands: Breguet, Jaquet Droz, Glashütte Original, Blancpain, Harry Winston, and Omega; all of which are manufactured in Switzerland (except, of course, for Glashütte Original which is located in Saxony, Germany). Groups of journalists from around the globe were not only treated to scenic views, fine Champagne, and a first look at the novelties that would eventually be released to the public, but they were also invited to take a peek behind the curtain in order to get a more hands-on experience with each of the six luxury Swatch Group brands. But what is the benefit for Swatch Group in hosting an event like this as opposed to exhibiting at a potentially reconfigured and improved Baselworld? Well, for one thing, it sets the group apart, and that alone gets them additional exposure.
“Overall, it’s hard to view Swatch Group’s Time to Move event as anything other than a success.” Stated Adam Craniotes, President and co-founder of the world’s largest watch collector’s group, RedBar. “At first blush, the itinerary seemed overly ambitious, but they pulled it off with Swiss precision. Two manufactures per day? Done. And unlike with, say, Baselworld or SIHH, there was plenty of time to handle the novelties and ask questions. Curious about the details of a particular Blancpain? Mark Hayek is standing right next to you. Want more insight into the design of the 50th Anniversary Speedmaster? Oh, hello, Raynald Aescheliman. What’s more, the insight gained from being at the brand’s respective manufacturers placed their novelties in the right perspective.”
As it stands right now, there are two major watch fairs that exist: SIHH and Baselworld. One is primarily occupied by watch brands under the Richemont umbrella and the other – while having anchor brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, and those owned by LVMH – is home to just about everyone else. So when watch enthusiasts think about a major brand, they can almost immediately separate that brand into one of two “watch fair” categories (unless they’re a high-end indie brand that happens to exhibit at both shows). But what Swatch Group accomplished by creating Time to Move was a separate category altogether. They’re no longer tied to a show or fair, thus largely preventing them from being overmanaged or underappreciated. The other upside to doing their own thing is that they get to pick and choose which members of the press they wish to invite, as opposed to being at the mercy of those in charge of determining which social media influencers get press badges (which, in Basel, seems to be almost all of them these days). And finally, a press event like this speaks not only to journalists who are veterans in the watch industry, but it also reaches out to newer, younger writers because it offers their generation something they understand greatly: experiences. By providing not just extraordinary timepieces to be shared with the world, but also Instagram-worthy lab coats personalized with each journalists’ name or embossed wooden toothbrushes ready to be photographed for Snapchat, Swatch Group came across like that one relative with whom you stay when you’re traveling throughout Europe. They’re the 2nd cousin who opens their home, cooks you a meal, and makes sure you have fresh towels, even if you only see them once per year.
As more and more consumers turn to the internet for their information and eventual purchases – yes, even for luxury items – the idea of the traditional-style trade fair seems like one that’s a bit old-fashioned, so when a company comes along that is willing to shake things up, or, as in the case of the Swatch Group’s departure from Baselworld, willing to throw an old-fashioned idea into a blender and run it on the liquify setting until it forms a palatable smoothie, people take notice. Because think about it, if at the end of the initial experiment what is left is what the company had in mind and actually set out to accomplish and more, then there’s a pretty good chance that others – other brands, other groups, or even other industries – will soon follow in their footsteps. “It was definitely information overload for the three days of the event, but it was an overload of the good kind.” Quipped Craniotes. And while this could make it harder for a large percentage of the world’s watch enthusiasts and/or collectors to see new watch novelties as they’re released (keep in mind that the Baselworld fair is open to a ticket-purchasing public), it will also assure that big shows never again lose sight of what matters most to those exhibiting and those attending: good products, nice people, fast wi-fi, decent food, and above all else…experience.