GENEVA • Watch out, Baselworld.
Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group is quitting the annual watch and jewellery trade fair, calling time on an event that has been a fixture of the luxury industry calendar for a century.
Omega maker Swatch is the most important exhibitor at Baselworld, which traces its history back to 1917, but more and more brands are deserting the fair held every year in March, blaming high costs and insufficient returns.
"The Swatch Group has decided not to be present at Baselworld from 2019," the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag quoted Swatch chief executive Nick Hayek as saying.
The portfolio of Swatch, based in Biel in western Switzerland, spans the expensive Breguet, more affordable Longines and plastic Swatch timepieces.
Some of Swatch's high-end competitors have left Basel for a rival fair in Geneva, but Mr Hayek said traditional annual watch fairs were no longer useful in a more transparent and fast-paced world.
Major exhibitors such as Swatch budget about 50 million Swiss francs (S$69 million) for each Baselworld, to cover travel and hotel expenses for staff and guests, the paper said.
Mr Hayek, a famously outspoken and flamboyant character in a staid and conservative industry, cited the cost of the fair's 430 million Swiss franc exhibition building as a reason for the decision to withdraw.
"We are not there to amortise an expensive hall designed by (Swiss architects) Herzog & de Meuron," he told the paper.
Mr Michel Loris-Melikoff, who took over as managing director of Baselworld at the beginning of last month, said the event intended to keep its status as the most important one for the watch industry.
"It would be a great disappointment if the Swatch Group were to leave Baselworld," he told the paper. "We are doing everything we can to keep them in Basel."