The Rolex booth at the Baselworld 2019 fair

PARIS — In a setback for Baselworld, Breitling has opted out of next year’s edition of the fair, citing the event’s timing, which was moved in coordination with a rival show in Geneva.

Moving quickly to demonstrate there are also signs of life at the fair in Basel, Switzerland, Baselworld organizers said that Rolex plans to expand its own stand into space previously occupied by its sister brand Tudor, while setting up an additional stand for Tudor in the central Hall 1.0.

The “decisive factor” in Breitling’s decision to skip the fair next year was “first and foremost the new Baselworld date at the end of April, which cannot be reconciled with our planning,” said Georges Kern, Breitling’s chief executive officer, in a statement. The executive has decided to hold a summit event and a series of roadshows to drum up business normally conducted at the fair.

Seeking to stem an exodus of brands that have left Baselworld over the past two years, show organizers, in a coordinated effort with the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, rescheduled the events to take place back-to-back, allowing international visitors to hit both fairs in one trip. SIHH is scheduled for April 26 to 29 while Baselworld will take place on April 30 to May 5.

“We will decide at a later date whether to return to Basel in 2021,” said Kern.

Both Baselworld and SIHH are facing questions about the relevance of splashy trade shows at a time when watch brands are increasingly communicating directly with consumers, tightening their grip on distribution channels and releasing new models year round.

In an interview with WWD in the run-up to this year’s Baselworld fair, Kern laid out these tensions, noting that the traditional role for fairs was an opportunity to sell timepieces, but the company is now in direct contact with clients. The company holds Steve Jobs-style summits with big screens in spring and fall around the world, wrapping up a product launch in as little time as an hour, then making the product available online, he explained. What is the use of the fair if a brand can sell without it, he asked. It could be interesting as a communications platform, he offered as an answer to his own question, at the time.

Baselworld organizers have been leaning on this idea for a while and are working to push it further into the so-called experience realm, with aims to inject more entertainment into the event.

“The path Breitling is taking to present the brand as an experience is perfectly in line with our strategy of transforming Baselworld into an experience platform,” said Michel Loris-Melikoff, managing director of Baselworld, in the statement revealing Breitling plans to opt out next year.

Meanwhile, Rolex’s expansion gave organizers a “boost for the task ahead,” Loris-Melikoff added.

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