Ten questions to Carlo Enea Naldi, Founder & CEO of the Swiss Creative Lab, a platform for small and medium-sized watch brands that fall through the grid of Baselworld and watches and wonders. About the future of small and medium-sized independent watch brands.
You have been working tirelessly for small and medium-sized independent watch brands for 11 years to give them an adequate platform called Swiss Creative Lab.How did you take this in – after you organized the exhibition in the Hyperon Messeturm – when Baselworld was canceled because of the Corona Virus?
The 2020 edition would have been the best ever, more than 40 brands and partners would have occupied our spaces, which have now become a must-see with independent small and medium-sized companies, but all extraordinary and highly creative.
Of course, it penalized us enormously, as did everyone, but it was something inevitable.
How satisfied are you with Baselworld’s cooperation so far, what could have been done better?
With Baselworld and its current and past management, I have no collaboration. We are a 100% independent structure and we promote our business in a society where market freedom is fundamental. We work intensely, seriously and honestly with everyone and we have always respected the roles of each one, also for this reason no one has ever come to complain to us.
At the beginning of August 2018, Mr. Malikoff, with whom I was already in contact since he was director of MCH in Lausanne, invited us for an appointment during which he proposed us to integrate the Swiss Creative Lab into Baselworld, they told us that they would made a collaboration proposal, we are still waiting for it. Obviously, even if we had accepted a collaboration with Baselworld, my structure would not have undergone changes, we would have only accepted to take care of certain phases within Baselworld according to our vision and philosophy.
Another important aspect, as explained to Mr. Malikoff, is that our structure has allowed hundreds of brands to remain in Basel despite the 1,500 exhibitors who have been kicked out of Baselworld, so our rescue work has always been an advantage for Baselworld, and many brands that have exhibited with us, then decided to return to Baselworld, which does not disturb us and which we respect.
You have been working closely with the luxury goods industry for decades, what experience have you gained?
I am very grateful to the world of watchmaking for the trust they have given me during these 25 years of activity, it has been a real pleasure to conceive, design and make thousands of products, some of which are part of the history of watchmaking. I also saw thousands of people passing by who are no longer part of the industry and often criticize him. But I am an entrepreneur, and in this spirit I stay with my feet firmly anchored on the ground and maintain a realistic view of the market and the world. For this reason, I believe that the future is very difficult for the watchmaking world and serious and equally realistic initiatives are needed to present our savoir-faire and swissmade in a way that corresponds to the reality of the market and above all to the new clientele which is all other than the customers of 20 years ago, the world has completely changed but not the watchmaking, and this is a huge problem that if not addressed will bring sad consequences … but we are still in time!
When Baselworld 2020 was canceled, did you have to think quickly about alternatives for your Swiss Creative Lab exhibition?
Absolutely yes, after careful analysis we understood that this is an extraordinary development opportunity and not a check. We moved immediately, both pending the decisions related to Baselworld, and to new initiatives on Geneva that we immediately put in place by creating the POP-UP WATCH SHOW in various sites in central Geneva in the triangle of the Grand Hotels, and in my art gallery that at available places like LMDH and others, this project is always active, and if all goes well, the first edition will be held from Tuesday 25 August to Saturday 29 August 2020 at the St’Art Gallery, at LMDH and in a other adjacent site that we should receive shortly. This concept will be active all year round.
Then, even before some brands left Baselworld, we had already contacted the rental of 120 hotel rooms, dozens of car parks and more than 3000m2 of exhibition area to create the Swiss Creative Lab in Geneva both in November during GemGenève and in April during the watch shows. Here we have received a lot of resistance and the clear demonstration that a cartel is emerging thanks to the power of the money of some mammoths and their watchmaking ego. We are striving to make public opinion, the watch industry and the politicians involved understand that this attitude is not productive and goes against the foundations of our economy based on freedom of trade and with more than 70% of companies managed family and small businesses that are the beating heart and the charm of our Savoir-Faire.
Already in February we opened the negotiations for an exhibition of 500m2 during Inhorgenta in Munich in Germany, the negotiations are progressing and could be a strategic action with excellent results. We are proposing another initiative in Brazil with our partner on the spot with branches in Mexico, Argentina, Chile and the Miami region. A very important project, but that will take longer, we are following it in Berlin together with our local partner, this activity will touch various sectors and will make a lot of talk about it. The Swiss Creative Lab has already organized a major exhibition in China, in Tianjin, and new initiatives are also being prepared in this region.
How was the feeling when you also found out that the watches and wonders 2020 in Geneva was also canceled?
Again, these are inevitable decisions that would have redesigned the future, as is happening.
We immediately understood that big changes would emerge, many of them dictated by the fear of the future and by the obvious reactions of the markets. We believe that maintaining a realistic and positive vision of the future gives us the necessary stimulus to go ahead and treat the people who trust us in a friendly way and to see in them not customers but partners, this attitude has been successful for decades, and now that reality takes over has become the only right attitude to operate.
How did you find the idea that the watches and wonders 2020 only took place digitally?
I believe in only relative effectiveness of these means and in any case it must have already been done since 2008, the year of the great crisis. Online communication must be well structured and followed professionally and permanently throughout the year, with one real general lighthouse event per year and then real spot events in the various markets.
Now you are planning a Swiss Creative Lab for 2021 for your customers, what experience have you had during the planning?
Well, I wasn’t expecting anything different from what’s going on. My clear impression, as I have had the opportunity to write on several occasions and as it has been widely published, is that a sort of ‘cartel’ is being defined with a diktat of the big brands and their economic power. This is not right! In Geneva, unlike when the only one to organize the exhibition was the Richemont group with some invited brands and paying huge amounts, now a sector exhibition is looming and this must allow everyone to be able to present themselves in a dignified and depending on their economic potential, as I have always done at the Swiss Creative Lab. As I said, I have taken various initiatives, but for now I am waiting to receive the definitive answers and above all the dates, not yet announced, of both Baselworld and GenevaWorld. They are poking me in the wheels, but by dint of beating the nail, I’m sure it will come in!
To what extent did the Geneva government, the authorities, the hotels and the watches and wonders accommodate you in the planning?
For now I have not been contacted by anyone, even if they know my position and I confirm that they have read both my ‘open letters’ and the various publications that have cited them. As it was written yesterday (May 3, 2020) on Le Matin Dimanche, you have to sit at the table with the various actors, both the brands and the independent organizational structures, and I am available for it, to establish an ‘ethical charter’ to make sure that the Geneva watch show has a beginning and not an early death. Politics must take this into account, but without too much pressure, but it seems to me to be very condescending to the big egos, and less to the freedom of trade, but as I have been told several times ‘bienvenue à Genève’ … I hope this is not the case and reasonableness prevails!
What is the current status of your Swiss Creative Lab 2021, when and where will it take place, which brands will participate, which media partnerships have you entered into and which will be the highlights of the 2021 issue?
As mentioned, and to summarize, always according to the pandemic developments:
August 2020 • Swiss Creative Lab Pop-Up Watch Show Geneva during Geneva Watch days
November 2020 • Swiss Creative Lab during GemGenève
January 2020 (to be defined) • Swiss Creative Lab during Baselworld
February 2020 • Swiss Creative Lab & Inhorgenta München
April 2020 (to be defined) • Swiss Creative Lab during GenevaWorld
I am sure all the brands already had exhibited with us will be part of them, a very large selection.
My goal is that the exhibitions are also open to the public, for a fee and limitedly, but so that everyone can enjoy the charm of swiss made.
About the media, we are a marketing structure and we allow all the media that want it to be our partners and to be able to participate as they best believe in all our activities and editorial initiatives, united we are stronger and we will all give a better service together to the whole watch sector.
Thank you very much for talking with you and all the best!