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Watches and Wonders - What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches and Wonders What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Despite the usual celebratory announcements, the international watchmaking exhibition is still in-between configurations. Its definitive shape is still in the making and will only become clear during next year's edition

At last ! It took place ! The international, open, physical watchmaking show everybody had been yearning for for three years has finally managed to organise itself, to happen and to start designing if own future. It had been a long time coming. After the collapse of Baselworld, the Watches and Wonders exhibition (formally known as SIHH) had found itself alone in representing an endangered species: the high-end watchmaking fair. Hard to believe, but for years, this type of event had been able to sustain two major occurrences a year until their very existence became threatened by a host of factors. 

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

Sanitary and travel restrictions, a pressure to go all digital, the more or less hypocritical will to do away with in-person presentations, budget cuts, fear, but mostly ill-advised political decisions have put extraordinary pressure on the event.

Still, and having to remind of it is certainly odd, every industry needs a wide, multi-brand meeting place. Nothing can replace the exchange of views that happens there. We are social animals. We need, our businesses demand, that we come together in one point in time and space. A worldwide rendezvous which provides a sense of fellowship. 

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

Watches and Wonders 2022 has been that place and that was hard fought. The last minute viral obstacle having been lifted, with latet emering variant being of a less threatening nature, the green light had been given at the end of January when Rolex started assembling their booth. Building the whole gigantic thing takes two months. So when they said go, everybody knew the fair was going to take place. 

This event became a semaphore because the arrival of nine new exhibitors, including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, Grand Seiko and TAG Heuer, radically changed the salon's structure of power. It used to rely almost entirely on the brands, budget, operations and processes of the Richemont Group. It now had to open up to quite the number of high calibre players. This resulted in two years of infighting, bickering, veiled threats and unveiled pressure unlike this industry had ever seen. 

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

No one seemed to be satisfied and that state of mind kept leaking to the outside world. Some were deemed to have too much weight and not enough legitimacy. The others kept wanting to shake things up. The former relied on tried procedure while the latter wanted a more decentralized decision process and more freedom for each brand. During this drawn-out conflict, the big issue really was how far the existing planners were going to bend. The idea of a fair itself was at stake, so everyone had to make nice and ended up agreeing, even those competitors that are not used to making nice or to concede anything. As is often the case, it's the day after that's the hardest. People and brands keep the peace while the event is in sight, but after that, the gloves might come off. 

What transpired from Rolex is a cautionary tale. Before the exhibition's inauguration, they seemed not to want to be caught dead doing it again. The format was too rigid, not suited to their needs and sense of hospitality. The idea is when you're a world leader by a million miles, that you're playing on your home turf and that you're kind of a savior by just being there, you're entitled to doing things your way. But at the end of the exhibition, the mood had mellowed and satisfaction was in the air. They would stay on as long as a certain number of things changed. And change they will have to.

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

So Watches and Wonders 2023 will be different from 2022. The point that most concerns the attendants is the fact that the salon will grow. The space available within the Geneva exhibition center, Palexpo, is gigantic and more is available, as witnessed by the spacious new hall occupied by the latest entrants. They managed to settle their existing, monumental booths under the 12-meter ceilings rather than submit to the beige and unified charter of Watches and Wonders. What Rolex demands is that the salon welcome more exhibitors, whether that's in order to raise its relevance or weaken the incumbents is of little importance. 

Who can we expect to joint in, then ? All the heavyweights are already there, except those who have repeatedly declared they don't want to join a multi-lateral brand event ever again. That's the entire Swatch Group, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Franck Muller and Breitling. Any reversal is unlikely for some, inconceivable for others, although it would be a very welcome surprise and to be put to the credit of Rolex's negotiation skills. 

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

Here are some more likely names, which used to be exhibitors at Baselworld and which all have a good reason to join Watches and Wonders. Bell&Ross obviously, as they seem to have their place reserved for them next to the gigantic space occupied by Chanel, their main shareholder. Carl F. Bucherer is a good candidate, whenever they manage to regain some strength, especially since their parent company is the world leader in watch retail, and nobody can refuse them. Will Girard-Perregaux have sufficient funds to partake ? Ulysse Nardin, their sister company, managed to put up even though money's a little tight after their recent MBO. Gucci is a much bigger watch player that people know and they're spending a lot of money trying to move upmarket. An international fair would provide the venue and relevance they require. Finally, The Frédérique Constant/Alpina group is also an interesting fit. Their Japanese shareholder, Citizen, is already testing the water with Arnold & Son. But will they be deemed prestigious enough in what really is a luxury co-op?

This brings us to an other area, one that's paradoxically economically minuscule and yet observed by all. The Carré des Horlogers gathers small, independents brands. It misses three of them that are of major importance: MB&F, Urwerk and Voutilainen. The first two were surely waiting and seeing and the third is busy working. But without these key players, that Carré is incomplete.  And then there's LVMH. TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot are happy first time participants but where was Bulgari ? It appears that internal conflict within the group has ended up with the Italian brand being refused access, and having to go it alone. In 2023, whatever the reason, their absence would be aberrant....except if it's because a new variant has started paralyzing the watchmaking world yet again.

What does the future hold for Watches and Wonders

Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 © Watches & Wonders

Lecture 2 Comment(s)

3 September 2022
yves debord
bonjour, un grand merci de ces précieuses informations. le salon 2023 s'annonce donc un grand millesime. mais qu'en est-il d'un acces au public, comme à l'époqie du SIHH ? tres cordiales salutations
2 September 2022
Eduardo PONCE
Merci de me tenir informer de la suite pour watches & wonders 2023 CAR J'ESPèRE QU'IL SERA POSSIBLE DE POUVOIR OBTENIR LES INVITATIONS POUR LE SALON OU COMME POUR GENEVA WATCH DAYS DE POUVOIR S'ENREGISTRER ET PARTICIPER AUX éVèNEMENTS DURANT LE SALON. mEILLEURES SALUTATIONS, EDUARDO ponce

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