Business News: Baselworld Inches Towards Calamity [Updated]

Watch brands, including Rolex, push back.

Writing in a manner graceful yet irate, the president of the exhibitors committee of Baselworld – mostly made up of brands that exhibit that the event – has penned a quietly scathing letter to the organisers of Baselworld. [The fair’s response to the letter can be found in the addendum at the end of the article.]

The letter, which I received a copy of, expresses the exhibitors’ dissatisfaction at well, everything, from the new date for the event to the proposed refunds for the “postponed” fair, while asking for a refund of fees paid for the cancelled event. Significantly, the letter ends with: “we fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld…”.

While on the surface this might seem to be a group of exhibitors pushing back, it is a more nuanced – and perhaps more uplifting – picture. The president of the exhibitors committee, Hubert J. du Plessix, has a day job: head of investments and logistics at Rolex, in addition to being the president of the watchmaker’s pension fund. If there was ever a sterling example of the philosophy “speak softly and carry a big stick” in watchmaking, this is it.

Seen in that light, Mr du Plessix, and by extension his employer, are standing up for the little guy: defending the interests of exhibitors who can ill-afford Baselworld even in the best of times, in an attempt to help the wider watch industry that is now on the edge of the precipice.

The central atrium of Messe Basel, the convention hall designed by Herzog & de Meuron and owned by MCH Group where Baselworld takes place. Photo – Baselworld

A polite letter dated April 6, 2020

Sent yesterday to the director-general of Baselworld, which is owned by Swiss events outfit MCH Group, Mr du Plessix’s letter was made its point in several ways, including being copied to a swathe of the watch and jewellery industry, namely the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), the watchmaking employers’ association of the Vallee de Joux (Apiah), the Swiss jewellers and goldsmiths union (Ubos), and the transnational committee of European watchmaking (CPHE).

The letter covered several topics, starting with the proposed refunds to exhibitors for this year’s cancelled event. In an announcement sent to exhibitors a week ago, Baselworld offered exhibitors two possible, but non-binding, options for refunds – while stating that the exhibitors’ contracts do not compel it to provide any refunds:

Option A:
– 85% of the amount for Baselworld 2020 carried over to cover fees for Baselworld 2021
– the balance 15% retained by the organisers to help cover the out-of-pocket costs of Baselworld 2020

Option B:
– 30% of the amount reimbursed
– 40% of the amount carried over to Baselworld 2021
– 30% of the amount used to help cover the costs incurred by Baselworld 2020

Mr du Plessix’s letter pointedly noted that even though the Swiss government, at both federal and cantonal level, is tweaking regulations and laws to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, MCH is relying on a “rigorous reading of contractual provisions to justify its position” of only making partial refunds.

The letter continued to say that MCH Group is actually majority owned by state bodies, including the cantons of Basel and Zurich, which hold 49% of its equity. And the letter also stated that Dr Ulrich Vischer, chairman of MCH group, made a public statement on March 26 noting that MCH Group had “abundant liquidity”.

Exhibitors received reminders in February, asking them to pay outstanding fees for Baselworld 2020, making them “feel like they have been trapped”. And to add insult to injury, the exhibitors have now been given a deadline of end-April to accept either of the partial-refund proposals.

“This lack of consideration on the part of the leaders of the MCH Group unfortunately recalls an era that we thought was over,” writes Mr du Plessix.

Mr du Plessix politely asks for full refunds of fees paid for Baselworld 2020 as an “elegant solution [that] would be the best way to encourage exhibitors to participate in a future edition of Baselworld”.

He adds, “Otherwise, we fear that this will be the end, pure and simple, of Baselworld, especially since the dates chosen in January 2021 are not suitable for the jewellery, gemstones and pearls sector, and that coordination with Watches & Wonders (SIHH) no longer exists.”

Voice of the industry

Even though Mr du Plessix wrote the letter in his capacity as head of the exhibitors’ committee, he is also one of the most senior managers at Rolex, which also owns a second brand that exhibits at Baselworld, Tudor.

To describe Rolex as well capitalised would be a severe understatement. Even though its factories are now completely shut, Rolex will remain the world’s largest luxury watch brand after the pandemic-induced crisis.

In fact, it is imaginable that Rolex could freeze production for a year, pay all salaries, and not blink an eye. A refund from Baselworld will not make an iota of difference to the company’s finances – but it will to almost everyone else in an industry that is foundering badly.

Rolex headquarters in Geneva. Photo – Rolex

For many, if not majority, of the exhibitors in Baselworld, which are small- or medium-sized brands, the six- or even seven-figure sum spent on Baselworld 2020 is meaningful. In fact, for the smallest brands, the money might even be the difference between staying surviving or sinking during the downturn.

This discreet application of influence for the greater good that is why Rolex remains incredibly well respected within the industry, despite being an unusual hero, a vastly-profitable and secretive enterprise.


Two days after Mr du Plessix sent his letter to Baselworld’s organisers, the director general of the event, Michel Loris-Melikoff, responded in an interview published by Le Temps, a leading Swiss newspaper.

The essence of Mr Loris-Melikoff’s response was simple: partial refunds help Baselworld, now in “survival mode”, cover some costs already incurred for the cancelled event. A full refund would “jeopardise Baselworld”, which already incurred a substantial loss in 2019.

Mr Loris-Melikoff put forward that allowing brands to carry forward the fees paid for 2020 towards the 2021 fair is the best option for allowing brands to continue to exhibit at the event, while ensuring the survival of Baselworld, something that is good for the watch industry as a whole.

He also stated that though Baselworld 2021 will take place in January, while Watches & Wonders (formerly known as SIHH) will be in April – a source of tension between the organisers of both events according to industry sources – it will be ideal if both fairs can coordinate their dates in 2022 and beyond.

Update April 8, 2020: Including the response of Michel Loris-Melikoff given in an interview with Le Temps.

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Jaquet Droz Introduces the Grande Seconde Skelet-One Plasma Ceramic

A modern skeleton in plasma ceramic.

A contemporary take on the brand’s iconic watch – itself based on a 18th century pocket watch – the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One Plasma Ceramic is a sleek and modern open-worked wristwatch, now in a new, high-tech case material.

Originally available in ordinary ceramic, the watch has now been given a case of “plasma ceramic”, an unusual material that’s best described as a ceramic that resembles metal.

The material begins are white ceramic that’s treated with a plasma gas, essentially ionised gas created at 20,000°C. The process of plasma carburising transforms the surface layer of the white ceramic into a metal oxide, giving the ceramic a grey, metallic finish while retaining all of the desirable properties of ceramic including hardness, low density and scratch resistance. Though plasma ceramic has been a hallmark of the Swatch Group and its many brands, including Rado, Omega and Blancpain, it is being used for the first time by Jaquet Droz.

The case measures 41.5 mm across and 12.48 mm high, making it a tad larger than its gold counterparts, which is typically the case for ceramic cases due to the necessities of construction in an ultra-hard, but potentially brittle, material. Unusually for ceramic that is typically mirror-polished all round, the case is finished with contrasting surfaces – the bezel and top surfaces of the lugs are brushed while the case band has a polished finish.

A clear sapphire disc forms the Grande Seconde dial, with the hours and minutes chapter ring on top, and the outsized seconds at the bottom. Interestingly, the sapphire disc is secured to the main plate by screws that are all perfectly aligned with the hour and minute markers. That’s because the screws are actually bolts secured by screws on the inverse side, because sapphire crystal is too fragile to be tensioned with screws.

The movement is the self-winding cal. 2663 SQ with double barrels that offer a 68-hour power reserve. Though it is based on a Frederic Piguet caliber, the movement has been significantly modified technically, and further customised for Jaquet Droz. The technical upgrades include a silicon hairspring and pallet fork, along with a decorative, solid gold rotor.

For the Skelet-One, the bridges and base plate that have been skeletonised in a modern, geometric manner, and then finished with frosting on the top surfaces and straight-graining on the undersides. More importantly, the movement has been customised for the large watch case: the base plate and bridges have been enlarged to fill the case without the need for a movement ring. This results in an incredibly airy look with wide openings surrounding the moving parts.

Key facts and price

Grande Seconde Skelet-One Plasma Ceramic
Ref. J003525542

Diameter: 41.5 mm
Height: 12.48 mm
Material: Plasma ceramic
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: 2663 SQ
 Hours, minutes and seconds
Winding: Self-winding
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 68 hours

Strap: Hand-made grey fabric with steel and ceramic folding clasp

Availability: In boutiques from July onwards
Price: 22,500 Swiss francs

For more information, visit

Correction April 22, 2020: A more accurate description of the plasma carburising process used to create plasma ceramic was added.

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Glashütte Original Introduces the Sixties and Sixties Chronograph “Glacier Blue”

Dégradé blue.

A yearly tradition starting two years ago, the Sixties annual edition is a limited-production run of Glashütte Original’s well-liked, retro Sixties. In contrast to the sedate, Teutonic colours of the regular models, the Sixties annual editions are characterised by dials in bold colours and elaborate patterns, all produced the traditional way at its sister company located just several hours away.

The annual edition began in 2015 as an experimental collection of watches with dials in over-the-top colours, before becoming an annual edition, first with a green dial patterned after water droplets, followed by an orange version of the same motif last year. Now Glashütte Original has gone in the opposite direction with the Sixties and Sixties Chronograph featuring pale-blue, dégradé dials finished with a simple, radial brushing. Decidedly more restrained than the earlier editions, the new “glacier blue” dials are still nuanced and striking.

Subtle blue

As with all of the dials found on the Sixties annual editions, the new “glacier blue” dials are produced by the what was once the Th. Muller dial factory in Pforzheim, historically the heart of the German jewellery and clockmaking industry, and now owned by Glashütte Original’s parent company, Swatch Group.

The blue dials are finished in a dégradé, or graduated, colour that darkens towards the edges – an effect that requires multiple steps to achieve. It starts with a dial blank made of German silver that is first given a sun-ray finish using a rotating brass brush. The blank is then pressed to achieve a domed profile – a key element of the retro style – before undergoing galvanisation, a chemical process that gives it a protective, zinc-based coating.

Finally, to achieve the smoked finish, the dial is coated with dark blue lacquer that’s thicker around the periphery, giving it a darker edge. Then the surface is then coated with pale-blue lacquer, creating the distinct, two-tone finish. The finishing hour is engraving the hour indices with a milling machine, revealing the zinc-coated German silver beneath the blue lacquer.

Sixties Annual Edition 

The Sixties is a time-only automatic inspired by the Spezimatic produced by East Germany’s state-owned watch factory – the legal predecessor of Glashütte Original – that was first released in 1964. While the Sixties retains a lot of the original’s retro charm, its fit and finish is distinctly 21st-century, capitalist quality.

The case is stainless steel with a 39 mm diameter, making it larger than the vintage Spezimatic, but nonetheless a modest size by modern standards. Entirely polished, it is fitted with a domed sapphire crystal on the front to complete the vintage aesthetic.

Inside is the automatic cal. 39-52, an in-house but slightly dated movement with a frequency of 4 Hz and a 40-hour power reserve.

The architecture of the movement was descended from the East German Spezichron cal. 11-26 from 1978, but substantially improved over the decades. The calibre has been revised twice to create the latest-generation cal. 39, which has a higher jewel count, swan’s neck regulator, and is space-optimised to accommodate more complex modules.

The cal. 39 is equipped with a skeletonised rotor with 21k gold oscillating weight

Sixties Chronograph Annual Edition

The Sixties Chronograph measures 42 mm across but relatively slim at just 12.4 mm high, with a two-register layout.

The Cal. 39-34 inside is essentially a cal. 39 with a no-nonsense Dubois-Depraz module on top. As with all Debois Depraz modules, it is equipped with a vertical clutch, and like most modular chronographs, it relies on a cam in order to minimise its height.

While it is not an integrated chronograph, it is remarkably slim, measuring just 7.2 mm high. In comparison, the integrated and robustly-constructed Valjoux 7750 is 7.9 mm.

Because the chronograph module sits on top of the base movement, the crown sits one level below the pushers

Key facts and price

Glashütte Original Sixties Annual Edition 2020
Ref. 1-39-52-14-02-04

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 9.4 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 39-52
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Nubuck calfskin

Availability: Only at Glashütte Original boutiques starting around May or June 2020
Price: €6,600, or 10,500 Singapore dollars

Glashütte Original Sixties Chronograph Annual Edition 2020
Ref. 1-39-34-04-22-04

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.4 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 39-34
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds; chronograph
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Nubuck calfskin

Availability: Only at Glashütte Original boutiques starting around May or June 2020
Price: €8,100, or 12,900 Singapore dollars

For more, visit


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