For 23 years Richemont has been holding SIHH in Geneva, but as another exhibition and independent brands move into town, it is no longer the only watch event. Rachael Taylor reports on a crowded watch week in Switzerland.
Richemont watch brands like to do their own thing; they have their own show, at their own time, in their own city, well Geneva, but as the exhibition has become a major global event, attracting press and retailers from around the world, some uninvited guests have turned up at the party.
The major contender to SIHH’s position as the sole watch show in Geneva in January is the Geneva Time Exhibition. The show was founded in January 2010 and this year celebrated its fourth edition.
The exhibition is dedicated to independent watch brands, and so has a point of difference from SIHH. The roll call of 2013 exhibitors included a sprinkling of well-known names – in watchmaking circles, at least – such as Frederique Constant, Alpina, Peter Speake-Marin, Milus and Hautlence. It also included a list of others that you’ve probably never heard of, unless you’re really up on your indie houses, such as Pierre Thomas, Clerc and Ratel.
While the organisers of the show, Time Exhibitions, have described it as growing, the facts show that exhibitor numbers have decreased year on year. In 2012 the show boasted 50 watchmakers, in 2013 this was down to just 36.
But rather than being a sign of a waning show, communications and PR manager Asta Ponzo says that the decrease in stands was the result of a change of venue. In reaction to visitor feedback the show moved this year to a location that is more central to the heart of Geneva, the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, a picturesque building just on the river.
The reason for the dip in numbers, says Ponzo, is that the available floorspace has halved as a result of the move, dropping from 2,000sqm the previous year to 1,000sqm with just 500sqm of that dedicated to the exhibition itself.
Despite this necessary downsizing, Ponzo says the exhibition has plans to grow, and says that the show, which was set up as a direct result of SIHH being in town at the same time, has been a surprise success.
“There was a need that was reported from the brands not at SIHH,” says Pozno, talking about the founding of the show. “We didn’t know if it could grow but it has, and every year it becomes more professional. The main progress is to reach the expectations of the exhibiting brands. Last year we had communications [from exhibitors] about the location, saying it was really smart but not in centre of the city, so we tried to find a better location, so now we are in the very heart of Geneva.”
At present the Geneva Time Exhibition plays host to independent art house watch brands that produce very limited runs, but Ponzo says that Time Exhibitions would be willing to open the show up to more mainstream brands in order to grow it in the future, although she cautiously adds that the exhibition will do this in a way that does not upset the show’s core exhibitors.
One thing that Geneva Time Exhibition does do that SIHH does not is to open up its show to the public on the final day of the show. “We want to enhance our Genevan roots so we open our doors to the public, as SIHH drives a little frustration with the Genevan population [because it is a closed event],”says Ponzo. “The three previous days are totally dedicated to retailers and journalists.”
Ponzo says that the exhibition does attract retailers from the UK, but does not have figures to say how many make the trip to the show. She goes on to enthuse that any retailer travelling to SIHH should make time to visit the Geneva Time Exhibition, which opened a day earlier than SIHH this year, as they have “a duty to inform themselves”.
But the Geneva Time Exhibition is not the only watch company to piggyback on SIHH. A number of brands have set up independent showrooms in the city at the same time as the Richemont Group.
This year London-based watch brand Linde Werdelin hopped on a flight to Geneva to meet with press and retailers from January 22 to 25, the same week that SIHH was on. Rather than attach itself to any show the brand pitched up at Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues in the city, where it showed off its latest creation the Oktopus II Moon, which is the first complication entirely conceived, developed and produced in house by the brand.
Haute horology brand Christophe Claret held what it termed a “special January exhibition” in Geneva from January 20 to 24, also at the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues. At this exhibition the watch house showed off its new Soprano Westminster minute repeater tourbillon and its polished titanium Adagio timepiece, among other novelties. Christophe Claret also held a press conference on the morning of the first day of its residence, at which the brand’s eponymous founder and his team were on hand to meet journalists.
Hublot was another brand to pitch up in Geneva independently. Although the LVMH brand somewhat confusingly described itself as attending the “Geneva Fair 2013”, it was in fact holed up in the Kempiski Hotel in the city where it launched what it called its International Watch Exhibition.
This exhibition lasted just one day, January 21, during which the watch brand presented some novelties from its 2013 collection, which included a new Big Bang Ferrari, Classic Fusion Extra-Thin Black Ceramic models – one skeletonised and one tourbillon, the Classic Fusion Chrono Aero and the Big Bang Zebra Bang.
Even Swatch Group descended on Geneva during SIHH. It held an exhibition for Breguet that ran from January 21 to 24, with a special cocktail evening on January 23, at la Cité du Temps, Pont de la Machine Genève. The exhibition centred on the brand’s historical claim to be the innovator of the tourbillon complication with a number of archive watches on display.
And it’s not just the high-end brands that were providing some extracurricular activities in Geneva in late January; mid-market brands were getting in on the act too.
Tendence, which is distributed in the UK by Inter City Group, was blatant in its SIHH bandwagon jumping. An invitation from the watch brand, which was titled “Tendence steals the spotlight” described its location at the Hotel Starling, where it held meetings to launch its new Lifestyle collection from January 21 to 24, as “next door to SIHH”.
Raymond Weil took a more subtle approach, opening its headquarters in Geneva – which happen to be just a 10-minute taxi ride from SIHH – to press between January 21 and 25 by appointment only. During these meetings the brand’s chief executive Olivier Bernheim took journalists through the 2013 collections.
RJ-Romain Jerome also took the initiative to open its Geneva offices to press during that week, with the lure of an interview about a new collaborative project between its chief executive Manuel Emch, product designer Eric Giroud and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, founder of independent watchmaking company Agenhor.
Hopping on the back of an established tradeshow without actually exhibiting is a strategy long practised by many watch brands, particularly during BaselWorld, and it would seem that Geneva during SIHH is now a hub for such activities. Whether this year has yielded a particularly high number of exhibitions, open door invites and cocktail parties because of the longer than usual gap between SIHH and BaselWorld remains to be seen, but at a time when the city is packed with watch journalists and retailers it would be hard for any ambitious watch brand to pass Geneva by.
This feature was taken from the February issue of WatchPro. To read the magazine in full online, click here.