With 22,000 visitors, a record 38 participating maisons and an interactive new phygital (physical and digital) format, it is safe to say that this year’s Watches and Wonders Geneva was a resounding success, exceeding all expectations. Welcoming into its fold brands that once exhibited at Baselworld, held in April instead of January and for a longer period of time than before, the new incarnation of what was once called Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) provided the watchmaking industry a chance to unite and communicate with its stakeholders on a common platform, generating an energy and enthusiasm that confirmed the importance of this annual get-together.
This is ironic considering how, in pre-pandemic times, we were wondering if fairs of this scale were in fact necessary at all. “You miss what you don’t have,” Watches and Wonders president Emmanuel Perrin told euronews.culture. “In 2019, people were questioning if fairs still made sense and now, they can’t wait to be back.”
That was the same year Baselworld opened its doors for the last time amid intense criticism of its mismanagement and inability to adapt to the needs of attendees. The following year, SIHH went on digitally and, last year, it was relaunched as Watches and Wonders based on a digital format since travel was still very limited. This year, the organiser pulled out all the stops and the fair was held in full swing with an expanded list of participants. Held from March 30 to April 5, the fair’s hybridised format was designed to support those who were able to attend as well as those for whom international travel remains a challenge, notably attendees from China and Japan.
A year to celebrate
“We are extremely happy to have succeeded in setting up this major fine watchmaking event in a difficult health and human context,” Perrin adds. “After two years of pandemic and 100% digital editions, it was important to be able to gather again the main actors of our industry. For the first in-person event under its new name, Watches and Wonders Geneva inaugurates the largest watchmaking salon ever organised here. We should see it as a symbol of a new era, inviting us to look serenely to the future. I would like to thank all the people, actors, partners and participants for their work and their unfailing commitment to ensure that the salon takes place in the best possible conditions.”
The heritage maisons participating in the fair included the who’s who in watchmaking, from SIHH stalwarts — not to mention, Richemont’s biggest brands — such as Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Montblanc, LVMH Watch Group’s Hublot and TAG Heuer, Kering’s Ulysse Nardin and independent brands like Rolex, Tudor, Grand Seiko, Chanel and Hermès.
“A major event for professionals in the sector, the long-awaited salon unites 38 exhibiting brands in Geneva for the first time physically under one roof,” said the president of the Watches and Wonders exhibiting committee Jean-Frédéric Dufour, who is also Rolex’s CEO. “It is an important opportunity for us to get together each year and be heard, with one strong, collective voice. The aim of this international event is also to showcase the world’s watchmaking capital. Whether historic maisons, young brands or independent watchmakers, it is an honour to represent the exhibitors here, and through them the industry in all its forms. So many faces with a single passion, so much know-how, inventiveness and optimism for future challenges that we will face together.”
While one side of the hall hosted Richemont brands, another side looked like Baselworld was being replicated in Geneva, with design-driven booths from Patek Philippe, Chopard, Rolex and Tudor holding court. The two sections of the halls felt very disparate, and that is one thing we hope to see done differently next year — a more harmoniously designed space that does not highlight the differences between the maisons quite so starkly but, instead, celebrates their shared values. In between both sections, the tradition of giving room to independent labels continued with the Carres des Horlogers, 11 brands making up this particular enclave.
Malaysian retailers were also in attendance at the fair, including the Valiram Group (which owns Swiss Watch), Cortina Watch and The Hour Glass.
“It was exhilarating to once again gather at a physical exhibition like Watches and Wonders, after the pandemic halted our annual pilgrimage to Switzerland for the last two years,” comments executive director of Valiram Group Ashvin Valiram. “With an emotional product like watches, it is all about touching, feeling and trying these beautiful and innovative works of art in person. It has never been more exciting for us to gather with brand partners from all over the world to witness the latest breathtaking designs and cutting-edge engineering that the world of horology has to offer.”
Top trends at the fair
In terms of trends, there were a few that stood out. Many maisons released smaller case sizes of existing models — most notably the two-tone Tudor Black Bay 31 in stainless steel and gold, dubbed root beer by collectors — while colour was the rule of the day with shades not ordinarily seen in watchmaking sweeping across dials, straps and bracelets. Still on the topic of colour, green was a dominant pick once more, spotted in both subtle hues and bold tones. Platinum was used quite heavily alongside yellow gold, which is still very popular, while titanium was increasingly widespread for its scratch-resistant and hypoallergenic qualities.
From the two newcomers to the fair, for which there was the most anticipation, Rolex and Patek Philippe did not disappoint. Although a GMT was expected from Rolex after last year, no one could have anticipated the GMT-Master II with firstly, a green and black bezel, and secondly, with its crown protruding from the left side of the case. In watch parlance, this is a destro, which means it is designed for those who wear their watch on their right wrist, something often done by southpaws. Right across Rolex’s booth at the fair was Patek Philippe, where another surprise greeted us: the Annual Calendar Travel Time, which combines the Travel Time complication with the annual calendar, originally launched by Patek in 1996.
In other news, Hublot launched a new shape with the Big Bang Square Unico; Chanel unveiled its first flying tourbillon in the form of the J12 Diamond Tourbillon; TAG Heuer released its first ever solar-powered watch, the Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph; Grand Seiko brought to the fair its most complicated watch ever, the Kodo ref. SLGT003; Hermès harnessed the spirit of travel with the Arceau Le Temps Voyageur Dual Time Zone; Oris’ Propilot X Calibre 400 featured a refined in-house movement; and Chopard debuted three striking updates to its award-winning Full Strike Repeater.
In considering the Richemont stalwarts, chronographs, minute repeaters and annual calendar watches were seen extensively in the meeting rooms of A. Lange & Söhne, Zenith, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC Schaffhausen, whose Top Gun range was bathed in a series of desert-inspired colours developed together with colour institute Pantone. For a dose of history contemporised for a new generation, Cartier revived its Tank and Pasha collections and Vacheron Constantin relaunched its 70s-era 222. For a walk on the wild side, Ulysse Nardin unveiled a new edition of its award-winning Freak, and Roger Dubuis’ Knights of the Round Table Monotourbillon actually features 12 pink gold figurines within its case.
Meanwhile, the Submersible QuarantaQuattro represents two firsts for Panerai: sustainably-sourced case material eSteel being used in the Submersible line; and the implementation of a highly polished, glossy ceramic in its watches. For the ultimate expression of femininity and technical savoir faire, Piaget’s Limelight Gala High Jewellery is hard to beat — as is the mastery required to animate the flowers that open and close to tell the time in Van Cleef & Arpels’ Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier.
More than meets the eye
Alongside booths from the maisons, visitors were able to view an exhibition titled Time Design, which explored the history of the wristwatch through 100 iconic designs of the 20th and 21st centuries and a celebration of leading watch designer and artist Gérald Genta, who passed away in 2011. His work, spanning five decades from the 1950s, included partnerships with Omega, Audemars Piguet, Cartier and numerous other high-profile makers, He also created his own watch brand. Time Design included interactive augmented reality points to immerse visitors in the world of watch design. Time Design will be showcased to the public from April 14 to May 8, at the Pont de la Machine in Geneva.
Technology was also the focus in the Lab area of the event, where 15 innovative projects were on display. From new sustainable developments to the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFT), this section was the place to discover the future of watchmaking.
But the most enjoyed activity of all was simply mingling and taking pleasure in the remarkably festive atmosphere of the fair — there were many reunions as stakeholders met after so long, reigniting the passion they harbour for this industry. Champagne flowed over convivial conversations, and joyous rapprochement resulted in much laughter and merriment.
“Seeing the biggest watch trade show happening again following the pandemic has brought excitement to many,” says Cortina Watch managing director Tay Liam Khoon. “I can’t really describe the emotions of being physically back at the fair and catching up with friends from other regions, but it was like a big family reunion. What I observed were watch brands continuing to elevate their creativity and innovation in every piece they showcased and some are aiming towards high horology and more complicated pieces. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I am already looking forward to the brands launching the collections locally.”
Focused on creativity, innovation and sharing, the 2022 Watches and Wonders Geneva ended on a very positive note. With its hybrid format, the salon has made it possible to reconcile the demands of an ultra-connected age with in-person meetings, proving that both are possible. Onwards and upwards, we say, and we can’t wait for Watches and Wonders to open in Geneva again next year.
This article first appeared on Apr 11, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.