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CORDER’S COLUMN: Spreading the joy of Geneva

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Rob Corder.

It is hard not to love Geneva in the late summer with a light breeze along the lake and barely a cloud in the sky.

It was an uplifting backdrop to an enjoyable few days at Geneva Watch Days, which is still running until Friday.

The event is bigger than last year, but still manageable in two days of running from one venue to another to see brands hosting private meetings in hotel suites, offices or retail showrooms.

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Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin should be thanked for pulling Geneva Watch Days together at short notice last year. It took a bit of luck to squeeze in an event between the first and second waves of the pandemic, but that is what entrepreneurial leaders do: they seize opportunities where they see them rather than sitting on their hands and waiting for something easier to come along.

Mr Babin could not get the project off the ground without help, and Bulgari was joined by a pool of Founding Benefactor Brands including Breitling, De Bethune, Gerald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie., MB&F, Ulysse Nardin and Urwerk.

They formed a non-profit organisation alongside Associated Brands Arnold & Son, Bianchet, Czapek, Doxa, Ferdinand Berthoud, Frederique Constant Group, Louis Erard, Maurice Lacroix, Parmigiani, Phillips, Oris and Reuge.

Nobody at the event was in any doubt about the value of getting together in person again, although the turnout from retailers was surprisingly low.

Conversations reflected the balance of risk that everybody there had calculated for themselves and those they were meeting.

Everybody I met was fully vaccinated. Given that only half of the Swiss population has reached this point, it suggests the more enterprising business folk were fastest to get their jabs so they could get their freedoms back.

Mask wearing was in line with Geneva guidance, but it quickly became obvious that the watch industry sees very little benefit and plenty of downside to their use.

For parties, where a few hundred assembled each evening, vaccination status was checked at the door, then we all piled in for champagne, hugs, air-kissing and the nose-to-nose conversations required in a large and noisy gatherings.

Mask rules can make mockeries of us all. Baselworld held a press conference that morphed into a night club.

There was vaccine status checking (twice) on the door and that temperature gun fired at our foreheads, but everybody still wore masks throughout the press conference.

It was only when the presentation ended and the booze began to flow that masks were removed.

If there is any epidemiological sense of that, I cannot find it.

There was much talk of how enjoyable the informal and boutique style of Geneva Watch Days is compared to what Baselworld once was and Watches and Wonders will become.

I was always a fan of the spectacle of Baselworld, and how it projected the stature of Swiss watchmaking to the world. I hope Watches and Wonders performs the same trick.

But W&W is only for around 40 brands, so many other formats are going to emerge. WATCHPRO is creating two: WATCHPRO Market and WATCHPRO Salon.

I hope we are in for a period of incredibly creative thinking from the marketeers and media.

I am done with Zoom, but there is certainly going to be a role for digital and physical events working in harmony.

When it comes to in person showcases, bigger will not necessarily be better and I think formats like Watch Time in New York and the WindUp Watch Fair in various US cities are excellent.

I also think the biggest retailers are going to get in on the act, as we see when Seddiqi hosts Dubai Watch Week.

LVMH Watch Week and Dubai Watch Week, both held just before the pandemic, were fantastic examples of more intimate events that were amplified around the world via YouTube or other channels.

I do not see Baselworld returning as a successful event in Basel. Too much trust has been broken by the event organizer and the city’s so-called hospitality industry.

Baselworld is being launched in Asia and the United States from next year onwards.

That may have a better chance, but the glacial pace at which owner MCH Group is moving forwards does not bode well and there are plenty more people with the enterprise of Jean-Christophe Babin ready to step up quickly to fill the void.

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