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Geneva Watch Days
Geneva Watch Days - A Genesis Story

Geneva Watch Days A Genesis Story

The only international watchmaking event of 2020 unites young and old brands around a common vision; could this be a source of inspiration for Geneva in 2021?

It all began with the cancellation of the 2020 editions of Watches & Wonders and Baselworld on 27 and 28 February, due to the health risks linked to the coronavirus. Switzerland was not yet really affected, but it was clear that Asian retailers and media were not going to travel, and Italy was also beginning to be seriously affected. If it was not possible to gather thousands of visitors around the major watch fairs, it still seemed conceivable, at the time, to organise calibrated meetings for a handful of brands wishing to present their new products in a more confidential manner to their most motivated customers and journalists, on the dates initially planned by Watches & Wonders at the end of April. This was the thinking behind Bulgari CEO, Jean-Christophe Babin, who immediately took up the idea. The Geneva hotels had been de facto deserted by the cancellation of the show, and were offering their suites at very attractive conditions in this context. So why not hold the planned presentations there without any major infrastructure and at a lower cost? It was still necessary to quickly convince a few strong brands to pull together and seize this opportunity to put together a sufficiently attractive programme of new products.

La genèse, partie 1

Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO de Bulgari © Bulgari

Decided In A Weekend

By Saturday 1 March, Jean-Christophe Babin had already rallied to his cause Georges Kern, CEO of Breitling, as well as Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin, who himself contacted Maximilian Büsser (MB&F). This was the gist of his morning call, asking me on the one hand to organise the famous GMT evening ("the best evenings in watchmaking") for the occasion, and on the other hand to use my address book to spread the word to a few other emblematic players in fine watchmaking who could be likely to make up their minds within 24 hours. Indeed, the initiator of Geneva Watch Days would like to take advantage of the television interview scheduled for Monday evening on Télévision Suisse Romande to announce the event. The idea immediately appealed to Edouard Meylan (H. Moser & Cie), Felix Baumgartner (Urwerk) and Pierre Jacques (De Bethune), as well as a few other brands that needed a little more time to decide, including a very large brand but whose group to which it belongs would eventually prefer to decline.

La genèse, partie 1

Edouard Meylan, CEO de H.Moser & Cie © H.Moser & Cie

Jean-Christophe Babin's vision was based on a dozen founding brands, united and motivated by this common and unique operation (there was never any question of replacing the exhibition organisers beyond the 2020 edition), and the round table was completed with the participation of Gérald Genta, belonging to the Bulgari group, as well as another major brand preferring to remain discreet. On Monday 3 March, throughout the morning, the communication managers of the eight brands worked hard to draw up a joint declaration, which was also validated by the State of Geneva, which supports the project. The media from all over the world then received the press release unveiling the launch of the Geneva Watch Days. The name is the one used in previous years for the presentations of LVMH watch brands on the fringes of the Geneva watch shows at the beginning of the year. All of this naturally followed the decisions of the Federal Council of February 28, 2020 on public gatherings and the future recommendations of the WHO and the Federal Council according to the evolution of the Covid-19 epidemic. Moreover, three weeks later, the founding brands decided to postpone the Geneva Watch Days to the end of August to take into account the health situation (Click here for more information).

When Brands Reach Out

What do Breitling, Bulgari, De Bethune, Gérald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, H. Moser & Cie, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin and Urwerk have in common, despite some of them belonging to groups (such as Kering and LVMH) and others being independent enterprises?  Entrepreneurship is their common denominator, with the desire for movement and agility as a driving force. The four independent "niche" brands have already formed a relatively close-knit circle and are used to meeting at the various trade shows around the world, but this is not the case for those of the big brands who have nevertheless reached out to each other. Because once the principle was adopted, it was necessary to agree on the main lines of the event, the budgets, the functioning, the format, to study the applications of the other brands as well as a multitude of details.

La genèse, partie 1

Patrick Pruniaux, CEO de Girard-Perregaux et Ulysse Nardin © Gerrard Perregaux

Invited to the steering committees of each founding brand, GMT has seen how transparency and caring have remained at the negotiating table. The first meeting was held at the beginning of March at Bulgari in Neuchâtel in the presence of the CEOs. It was here that the format and budgets were defined. For three days, each brand will receive its guests in its own boutique or suite, according to its wishes, and the evenings will allow them to meet together in a common place to be defined (according to health constraints): welcome cocktail, official dinner, festive evening designated as the "GMT evening". The microsite www.gva-watch-days.com has been created for the occasion to manage the registrations, each one sharing the contact details of their retailers and journalists with the others (extremely rare!). 

The Geneva Watch Days association was founded to become the legal entity that manages the whole thing, with a representative of each founding brand on its board. A common fund will finance all its activities. A 5-digit amount is evoked as a down payment for each brand. The bigger brands quickly gave their affirmation, while the others hesitated. Felix Baumgartner, the spokesperson for this bloc, argued that this amount does not have the same value for a brand like Urwerk, compared to a brand like Breitling or Bulgari. In a video-conference, Georges Kern understood his position and proposed to reduce this amount for the relevant brands, a proposal which Jean-Christophe Babin and Patrick Pruniaux approved. The other brands awaiting registration will be limited to ten and will pay in proportion to their benefits. The independents then all validate the sum, and the budget is voted. The following week, the steering committee met at Ulysse Nardin in La Chaux-de-Fonds, this time in the presence of the marketing managers, to make progress on the operational side. These subsequent meetings were carried out with the same mutual respect. Bulgari-Kering forms a strong voice, supported by Breitling, and decisions are taken by majority vote. Because of the confinement situation, the other committee meetings are held via videoconference on a monthly basis.

 

La genèse, partie 1

Georges Kern, CEO de Breitling © Breitling

An Example For Geneva?

At the beginning of June, Switzerland continues its deconfinement and is ranked first among the safest countries in the face of the coronavirus epidemic according to the ranking of the Deep Knowledge Group, which analysed the situation in 200 countries. The founders of the Geneva Watch Days have also accepted the participation of brands as diverse as Artya, Bovet, Carl F. Bucherer, Czapek, Ferdinand Berthoud, Louis Moinet, Maurice Lacroix and Reuge.

Geneva is proud to host the only multi-brand international watchmaking event of 2020, and the hotels are grateful to receive this essential infusion. Retailers and journalists able to travel (200 registered in mid-June, with a limit set at 300 to meet health standards) are delighted to finally be able to discover the new models and discuss them with brand representatives.

These brands have managed to transcend the ego of their leaders, their sizes or their groups, agreeing quickly to speak with one voice and continue to promote fine watchmaking. At a time when the 2021 Geneva exhibition has yet to announce its date and composition, dozens of brands are afraid of being left behind. Why not open the doors to them? Some are planning to gather here and there at the same time, not necessarily in Geneva. As the cradle of watchmaking since the first watchmakers' guild was born there in 1601, Geneva has a legitimate card to play in order to position itself unquestionably as the watchmaking capital of the world. The major manufactures that make it famous also have a responsibility to strengthen this leadership. The halls of Palexpo are large enough to accommodate a few dozen additional stands, or even to dedicate one of them to the Swatch Group. Together, if only once a year, watchmaking will be stronger and go further. After experiencing the worst year in its history in 2020, watchmaking needs a new saviour to federate it and revive it in 2021. Will the solution come from Geneva?

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