【GMT Insights】The End of Physical Watch Events?

With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much ongoing, all major trade shows for watch industry events face a simple question; do they postpone, cancel or diversify their events?

Watches & Wonders Geneva, the annual trade show scheduled for April 7 to 13, 2021, will be a digital-only event, show organizers announced earlier. 

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, which owns and organizes the show,  comes up to a season of exclusively virtual events. As they have noted that the spontaneous interactions they get at a physical event will be lost. This piece will consider how the organizer can regain that spontaneity by incorporating an element of novelty to their events. By doing this, the virtual event will not only mimic and replicate their physical counterparts, but they will also offer an utterly unique experiences for visitors. 

For 2021, the show says it will “roll out an upgraded version with additional services and features. Including live chats and streaming, so that the event can be enjoyed all over the world.

Jaeger-LeCoultre was among the brands to showcase new products online with Watches and Wonders 2020.

The cancellation of the physical show in 2021 is the latest twist in a series of COVID-caused setbacks for Switzerland’s two major watch trade shows. Hardest hit was Baselworld, which also canceled its show scheduled for March this year. An attempt to reschedule the show for January 2021 turned into a fiasco when Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chopard, and Chanel shocked show management by abruptly withdrawing from the show to join Watches & Wonders Geneva for 2021. That forced Baselworld’s owners, Basel’s MCH Group, to cancel the 2021 show and ultimately abandon the show entirely after 103 years, retiring the Baselworld brand.

HourUniverse, the new watch and jewelry show MCH created to replace Baselworld.

HOURUNIVERSE offer a hybrid platform that serves the watch, Jewellery and gemstone community with a year-round digital combined with a live event at the former Baselworld venue from 8th to 12th of April 2021. It is scheduled to be held at the same time as Watches & Wonders Geneva. With the cancellation of physical show in Geneva, we’ll soon see what are the impacts to HourUniverse.

This newfound impetus on virtual innovation in the industry begs the question; what lasting impact will it have, and what will it be like once the world finds its feet again? Virtual events will never truly replace that physical presence, right now they are vital to keeping industry stakeholders engaged and foster client/vendor interactions. What is clear, is that companies will need to be prepared to have a strategy for both as they strive to balance business continuity and innovation.