Is the watch honest debate lastly over? Organisers and exhibitors appear to suppose so. After years of mud-slinging and uncertainty — peaking with the very public demise of the Baselworld Swiss megafair — the clock might not be ticking for the survival of the watch present. However, whereas the mud has settled, divisions stay.
“There’s huge momentum in Watches and Wonders,” says Matthieu Humair, chief govt of the Watches and Wonders Geneva Basis (WWGF), the non-profit organiser of what’s now Switzerland’s solely main watch honest, opening on March 27. “It’s the style week of the [watch] business.”
Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier and Tag Heuer can be among the many exhibitors at this 12 months’s occasion, which is anticipated to interrupt attendance information. The 2022 gathering recorded virtually 22,000 guests however, not like final 12 months, the honest will now be open to the general public on the weekend, when Humair expects 10,000 paying prospects to indicate up.
Final 12 months’s honest was closed to the general public however, following an outcry from exhibitors and the success of watch occasions designed to achieve exterior the business — such because the biennial Dubai Watch Week hosted by retailer Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons — the inspiration has modified tack.
“We need to contain most people and speak about watchmaking not solely in Palexpo [the host convention centre] however in Geneva,” Humair says. Tickets to the general public days will value SFr70 ($76), which may herald significant revenues however, given exhibitors are paying tens of millions, the affect on the organisers’ backside line will not be as vital.
Over the identical week, one other honest referred to as Time to Watches may even return to Geneva. Final 12 months’s debut occasion attracted 36 smaller watch manufacturers, comparable to Corum, Vulcain and Louis Erard.
Exhibitors consider the tide has turned. “Earlier than the pandemic, everybody was questioning the festivals,” says Jean-Marc Pontroué, chief govt of Panerai, one of many Richemont group of manufacturers exhibiting in Geneva. “There was a common settlement and, to be cool, you needed to say the present was ineffective. However we want this.”
Some critics admit they bought it fallacious. “I used to be satisfied that, after Baselworld, the manufacturers would go over to digital content material,” says Oliver Müller, founding father of Swiss luxurious consultancy LuxeConsult. “However the first W&W . . . that occurred digitally . . . was a catastrophe. Even technology-driven manufacturers like Apple or Tesla want public occasions to create an environment. Festivals nonetheless can create the magic of bodily encounters.”
If exhibits comparable to W&W are actually helpful, it’s as a result of they’ve reorganised. The old style business-to-business gross sales mannequin is all however gone, changed by a stronger deal with the tip client.
“In the present day, I don’t care in regards to the gross sales outcomes, as a result of I’ve them earlier than the present begins,” says Pontroué, including that the Geneva honest prices him “tens of millions” and is one among his enterprise’s “prime three investments for the 12 months”.
“What I care about now’s the press and media protection,” he says. “I’ve that suggestions daily [at the fair]. And it pays for the funding in W&W Geneva huge time. The actual fact you’ve one present offers you a magnitude of protection you wouldn’t in any other case have.”
Different exhibitors share his view. “It’s a pleasant stage to indicate what we do and it’s very constructive when it comes to picture to be there,” says Julien Tornare, chief govt of Zenith, one among three LVMH watch and jewelry division manufacturers that can be at Geneva. “That’s what we pay for.”
However, regardless of newfound confidence in watch festivals, loads are staying away. Some manufacturers that exited Baselworld and W&W’s precursor, the Salon Worldwide de la Haute Horlogerie, earlier than the pandemic are but to return.
Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Breitling and the Swatch Group of manufacturers, which incorporates Omega and Longines, have stayed away. Swatch Group left a gaping gap in Baselworld 5 years in the past, when its chair Nick Hayek famously said he had higher methods to spend $50mn.
One other W&W outlier is Bulgari, which can be exhibiting in Geneva on the time of the present, however not as a part of it.
“W&W stays a high-cost occasion,” says Bulgari chief govt, Jean-Christophe Babin, who additionally reveals at LVMH Watch Week every January and was the founding father of Geneva Watch Days, a decentralised mini-show attended by round 20 manufacturers that’s scheduled to run for a fourth consecutive 12 months this August. “My three occasions value me about half what W&W would value me. And we acquire complete freedom of doing what we wish.”
Babin additionally says he is not going to exhibit on the occasion whereas LVMH is excluded from the board of the WWGF, which was established in October by Rolex, Richemont and Patek Philippe. “The query is extra whether or not the inspiration is able to acknowledge LVMH as a serious actor in watchmaking and, as a consequence, whether or not it deserves the house and affect a serious participant ought to have in that organisation,” he says. “If these circumstances have been met, in all probability there can be a gap on our aspect.”
Based on Humair, there are not any plans to increase an invite or to vary the board’s make-up. Massive exhibitors are invited to affix an organising committee, however not the board.
Some analysts have steered Babin’s demand is unreasonable, although. “LVMH just isn’t a member of the board as a result of it doesn’t want the honest,” says Astrid Wendlandt, editor of luxurious information website Miss Tweed. “It has its personal occasions for which it masters expenditures, timing, format and communication.”
Others seem nearer to a return. “Audemars Piguet may simply return if the format have been to be modified,” says François-Henry Bennahmias, the corporate’s outgoing chief govt, including he want to see extra frequent client-focused occasions organised throughout the 12 months in east Asia, the Center East and the US, in addition to Geneva. AP pulled out of SIHH after the 2019 occasion. It now mixes on-line launches with in-person displays, both at its manufacturing centre in Switzerland or in its world community of what it calls AP Homes.
Bennahmias says that, whereas he’s in favour of a good, his circumstances are unlikely to be met. “The entire watch business needs to be concerned and we shouldn’t see totally different festivals the place one model goes this manner and the opposite one’s going that manner,” he says. “It needs to be everybody underneath the identical roof. ”
Humair says he would love nothing extra. “All 12 months lengthy, every model can do their very own initiative, however for one week they’ve a standard venture with the identical mission to speak collectively about watchmaking,” he explains. “That is for future generations.”
Is the talk over? “I hope it’s,” says Mark Toulson, head of watch shopping for at retailer Watches of Switzerland Group. “Rolex and Patek Philippe see the worth in it, and smaller manufacturers piggyback on that. All of them need to promote mechanical watchmaking and drive curiosity in the entire business.”
Zenith’s Tornare believes manufacturers must take a long-term view. “We need to be sure future generations are keen on mechanical watches. So my dream can be to have a large-scale occasion the place all people can be a part of.”
Some consider it’s less complicated than that. “Promoting luxurious is all about relationships,” says Rob Corder, founding father of the London occasion WatchPro Salon. “That may embrace WhatsApp and social media however, if 2022 taught us something, it’s that folks need to spend time with others with shared passions.”