PARIS — The Baselworld watch and jewelry show trade show will halve its exhibitor numbers next year in response to a prolonged market downturn, in the most visible sign so far of the impact of smartwatches on traditional watchmaking.
The industry’s leading showcase expects to welcome between 600 and 700 exhibiting companies in 2018, down from 1,300 in 2017 and 1,500 in 2016, organizers said. The duration of the show, scheduled to run from March 22 to 27, has been shortened by two days.
Swiss watch exports fell 9.9 percent in 2016, their second consecutive annual drop, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. The sales slide erased the 15 percent growth achieved during the boom years between 2011 and 2014.
The market is undergoing radical change worldwide as a result of a drop in spending in Asia, the leading market for Swiss timepieces, and the introduction of connected watches such as the Apple Watch. As a result of the downsizing at Baselworld, halls 1.2, 4 and 5 and about half of Hall 2 will no longer be occupied by the fair.
“We were faced with the challenge of either lowering our quality standards or accepting a significant drop in the number of exhibitors,” said Sylvie Ritter, managing director of Baselworld.
“We have decided to maintain the outstanding quality. The show does not rely on quantity, but will remain the leading event for premier global brands. And this in all segments,” she added.
Hermès said earlier this year that it would be switching to the rival Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie taking place in Geneva in January. Dior is also pulling out and will show its products in Paris in mid-March.
Baselworld organizers will publish the exhibitor catalogue in February, but say none of the big Swiss watch brands have dropped out.
Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, copresident of Chopard, put a positive spin on the news. “Baselworld 2018 will be more coherent and more concentrated. I look forward to participating in 2018, and I think Baselworld’s management has made the right decision to initiate change,” he said in a statement.
François Thiébaud, chief executive officer of Tissot and president of the Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee, agreed. “All these measures are positive for Swiss exhibitors. We now focus on the essence of what constitutes our industry,” he said.
The prices for stand rental will be lowered by 10 percent, organizers added, noting that these typically represent only 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of taking part in the fair, with the remaining amount accounted for by personnel, accommodation, catering and logistics.
The changes are likely to have a “substantial” impact on partners and suppliers. Between 2013 and 2016, Baselworld generated annual sales of 1.5 billion Swiss francs to 2 billion Swiss francs, or $1.51 billion to $2.01 billion at current exchange rates, in the Basel region.
Baselworld officials said they did not expect the reduction in the number of exhibitors to have a “huge” impact on the number of retailers attending the fair.
“We assume that those brands that choose not to participate next year were hardly visited by retailers at the last show – otherwise they would not have decided to forgo participation. But certainly, a general concentration and consolidation of the world’s trading landscape can be observed,” organizers told WWD in an e-mailed response to questions.
Baselworld drew 135,000 visitors in 2017, down from 145,000 in 2016.