Watches and Wonders, which kicks off its Geneva occasion at present, has emerged from a tumultuous interval because the watchmaking trade’s dominant, world showcase — with a hefty turnout of main watch labels and excessive hopes pinned on the occasion.
This story first appeared within the April 7, 2021 difficulty of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“This is the unexpected outcome of a pandemic,” stated Emmanuel Perrin, president of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, organizer of the present, in an interview with WWD by way of Zoom.
Before the coronavirus put every little thing on maintain, individuals have been questioning if bodily commerce exhibits have been value it. The rise of digital channels, providing direct hyperlinks to finish shoppers at a time when manufacturers are rethinking distribution channels, had solid uncertainty as to their relevance. So, too, did the time and price of organising commerce honest cubicles — a key difficulty on the Baselworld honest, the place elaborate set-ups within the sprawling exhibit corridor rose rise tales excessive.
Exhibitors from that honest started to drop out, with some labels choosing the extra unique environment of Watches and Wonders, then referred to as SIHH, whereas others broke off — from each gala’s — preferring to make use of the cash to carry their very own, intimate occasions with shoppers or spend money on bulking up digital channels.
“Yet another SIHH — at the time, Watches and Wonders now — do we really need it? Do physical salons make sense?” Perrin recalled listening to.
“You always forget what you have as long as you have it and it’s been going on for so long,” he noticed.
“OK, well 12 months of pandemic later you realize how important and how key it is for the industry to rally around a show, as the voice of the economic sector, of the innovation, of the invention, of the novelties, of keeping our business — when I say business, our economic sector — alive and ticking and relevant as well to the world,” stated the chief.
He drew a parallel with the urge that many are feeling to return to the workplace.
“People are begging to be able to come back to work and commute an hour in traffic jams to get back to work, to get some kind of a professional social life back — and I think a similar thing is happening with the show,” he urged.
Watches and Wonders has been dominated by labels belonging to Compagnie Financière Richemont, together with Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin. This 12 months it’s being joined by a roster of sector heavyweights, most of whom had held the Baselworld honest collectively in its ultimate 12 months. These are Rolex, Chanel, Patek Philippe, Chopard and Tudor, together with labels belonging to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton: Bulgari, Tag Heuer, Hublot and Zenith, and, for the primary time, Louis Vuitton.
The present comes at a difficult time for the sector. Swiss watch exports have been down 21.8 % final 12 months to 17 billion Swiss francs, or $18.16 billion, hit particularly arduous by the drop-off in world journey, and marking an identical decline as that of the 2009 monetary disaster, in line with statistics of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
“The fact that we are all together makes this fair very important and very visible, so that’s why it’s very important to continue to be a part of it,” stated Arnaud Carrez, advertising and communications director of Cartier International.
“The watch ecosystem is very diverse, very rich and brands like Cartier contribute a lot to it, and I think that’s tangible proof of our commitment to preserve, develop this ecosystem,” added Carrez.
The Geneva leg of the present, which takes place by way of a digital platform, runs from Wednesday to April 13, with 38 exhibiting labels, adopted by a bodily occasion in Shanghai that can run April 14 to 18, with 18 manufacturers.
“I see it as the first real global digital platform ever made for watches,” stated Edouard Meylan, chief government officer of unbiased label H. Moser.
“We want to be part of these kind of things — it’s innovation and I think in the future we will learn a lot from this,” he added.
Last 12 months was fairly chaotic, the chief noticed, with labels heading off on their very own instructions.
“In this industry, it’s an ecosystem and we need each other,” asserted Meylan.
For labels which can be much less dominant within the trade, and looking for to deepen their legitimacy within the realm, the occasion presents entry to trade consultants and specialist journalists masking the sector.
“An event in Geneva allows for a multiplication of contacts with the press, and over a week, also allows time to really focus on the watchmaking realm, so I think it continues to be useful — obviously this year is a bit unusual because people can’t travel, but we remain attached to this type of event,” stated Hermès government vice chairman Guillaume de Seynes.
“We’re all competing, like in any other industry, but for one time of the year, let’s get together and show what it’s all about — I think it’s super important to think about the common good of the industry versus each of our interests,” stated Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith, noting the challenges dealing with the trade, just like the rise of related watches and the significance of capturing the curiosity of youthful generations — famously identified to favor expertise over buying stuff.
“I always believed that the future is a mix of a major platform where you can come and see everyone at once if you need to and then of course, each one of us will organize different events, different shows, different announcements of the year,” he added.
The pandemic prompted large progress in exhibiting merchandise by way of digital means — high-end homes have been fast to outfit studios of their workplaces for simpler on-screen displays — however, nonetheless, the trade is impatient to return to in-person gatherings. Watch labels heading to Shanghai are grabbing the possibility to carry a bodily gathering — in a key market that has swelled in significance. Exports of Swiss watches to Mainland China grew over 50 % within the second half of final 12 months, propelling the market to the main place of markets, with a 14 % share, in line with the Swiss watch federation.
“Watches and Wonders has quite a full offer when it comes to the digital side, with a good number of participants — and this is followed by the physical element in one of the most promising markets. This makes for a very strong edition — I think it’s going to be very interesting in China,” stated Patrick Pruniaux, CEO of Ulysse Nardin.
The Shanghai occasion, which was first held final September on the West Bund Art Center, has added round 10 labels for the April version and presents the trade the possibility to extend the sector’s visibility, famous Perrin, stressing the significance of in-person exchanges.
“I don’t think we can go on with only a digital platform that is not anchored by a physical event,” he stated.
“Of course the anchor of that physical event is Geneva — it’s the mother ship of Watches and Wonders, no question about it — and we can’t wait for 2022 for that to happen,” he added.
Platforms like Mr. Porter, Net-a-porter and the Luxury Pavilion on Alibaba’s Tmall will relay info from the present, including to its affect, famous Perrin.
“Today, when you see our ability to resonate across the world — the reach should be this year more than 100 million people with the online component — you start to think ‘yeah, what were we thinking to start to say we don’t need this any more?’” Perrin stated.
Last 12 months’s all-digital Geneva present was pulled collectively in a really quick interval — just some weeks — however this time, organizers had extra time to shore up the web platform, having determined by November final 12 months that the April occasion would happen by way of digital channels. There is the next degree of personalization and interactivity on the platform this 12 months, along with far more content material, together with panels, CEO interviews and keynote speeches.
The concept was to strengthen the standard of the present, even because it absorbed a bigger variety of individuals.
The pandemic state of affairs has bolstered the necessity for interplay with shoppers — by way of all channels, noticed Perrin.
The government, who beforehand headed Cartier’s operations in North America, recalled round a decade in the past the more and more widespread viewpoint that shops had no future.
“All you could read in the press is ‘brick and mortar is dead,’” he famous. Now, in a pandemic, with months of retailer closures, the talk has shifted.
“Not only is it not dead, but it’s also an asset — in this new digital ecosystem, you still want interaction, sometimes remotely, sometimes face-to-face, you still want to try on pieces, to compare pieces, to physically touch them, to physically try them on,” he stated.
“Yes, you can decide to do it at home, to do it in a store, that’s what we need to keep proposing to our clients — it’s not only mono-channel anymore, it’s through an ecosystem,” famous the chief.
A universe of choices is open to shoppers, he added, itemizing choices like on-line chats or Zoom conferences earlier than gathering a product in a retailer, for comfort, permitting for an alternate with a trusted gross sales affiliate.
“Or to have a simple discussion between two people passionate about fine watchmaking,” he added.
Reflecting on the mechanical watchmaking trade’s longevity, regardless of challenges through the years — the quartz disaster within the ’70s was significantly acute whereas, extra lately, the Apple Watch has proved to be a formidable competitor to the sector — the chief pointed to creativity and innovation, lately acknowledged by UNESCO.
UNESCO in December added the craft of mechanical watchmaking and artwork mechanics to its checklist of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, noting the custom has been handed on by way of the generations in Switzerland and France.
“I think a reason why it has been going for so long, and is still strongly alive and kicking — despite, yes, the quartz movement will be more precise than a mechanical [one] — its creativity, its capacity to invent, innovate, the variety of its know-how and savoir-faire, an exercise that is really imposed in a very small space,” he stated, lifting his arm to level to his wrist.
“A perpetual calendar will jump from the 28th to the 29th of February once every four years and it’s all done and mastered by a set of mechanical wheels that are powered by a spring—how do you do that?” he stated.
“It’s why, as well, we switched the name to ‘Watches and Wonders’ — it’s these kinds of wonders that generate the story, the explanation, the inventiveness of what goes into a watch,” he stated. The digital age, with video, three dimensional photographs and digital actuality supply an opportunity for individuals all over the world to be taught in regards to the artwork of mechanical watchmaking, brushing away a few of the secrecy round watchmaking, he urged.
“I think we have to tell the story, and we have many, many stories to tell. I think it’s a much more innovative and inventive industry than actually we have let the world know,” stated Perrin.