If you’re interested in watches and follow the horological landscape, you’re no doubt familiar with the Salon International de Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, an industry fair known as SIHH. An invitation-only press convention, SIHH sees gobs of international watch writers descend upon Geneva to ogle the year’s latest “novelties” from Richemont-owned watch brands (Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Audemars Piguet, etc.). It’s all very nice — you put on a suit, you drink lots of free espresso, and you get to try on new watches before the rest of the world.
It’s also very exclusive.
This year, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), which puts on the SIHH fair, is trying something different. It was previously announced that that Baselworld 2020 would follow directly on the heels of SIHH this year (in many previous years the shows were separated by several months). However, it was announced today that SIHH, after 30 years in existence, is receiving a complete rebranding to “Watches & Wonders Geneva.”
Watches & Wonders is another moniker no doubt familiar to watch enthusiasts, as it’s the name of a watch fair that takes place in Hong Kong and Miami. So why the rebranding of SIHH?
“Because it’s about more than watches, we chose a name that conveys a sense of wonder, excellence, openness and discovery; a different way to experience watchmaking. Watches & Wonders becomes the focal point for the exceptional talent, creativity and infinite innovation of the world’s leading watch and jewellery maisons,” says Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.”
This is all well and good. But how will it affect the non-professional watch writer? You know — real people? Glad you asked. Watches & Wonders Geneva will include two separate components: Watches & Wonders – The Salon, which will include the traditional SIHH trade show component at the Palexpo Convention Center, and Watches & Wonders – In The City, a brand new component that will take place throughout Geneva.
And, for the first time, consumers will be granted access to Watches & Wonders – The Salon (the traditional SIHH) on any of several set open days for a fee (evidently about $300), much like at Baselworld. The Salon has also increased its auxiliary content, meaning that there will be “CEO presentations, panel discussions, workshops and expanded opportunities for learning and content creation.” The “In The City” component is slated to be entirely free and open to the public, and will include exhibitions, manufacture visits, open houses and conversations with industry personnel throughout Geneva.
All this is good news. New moniker aside, it offers the watch-buying public at large (i.e. the people who matter most) access to the show, and it turns Geneva, the city possibly most closely associated with the watch industry’s large brands, into a giant watch fair, which was probably a missed opportunity in past years. Watches from Richemont Group brands are already relatively expensive, and mitigating somewhat the affects of that expense when combined with the exclusivity of the SIHH fair (journalists must be invited) will likely serve the Group well in its perception vis-a-vis the public.
The one sticking point is the price of admission, though given the luxury atmosphere and the wares on offer, we can’t say it’s terribly surprising. (Plus, if the public receives even a portion of the free food and espresso that press does, it should more than justify the pricing — one must be careful of over-espresso-ing.) And, should you happen to be in Geneva, it sounds like there’ll be plenty of free watch content on offer for consumption.
The watch world is slow to adapt — after all, they’re hawking antiquated technology — and the effects have been widespread. Many brands still don’t have e-commerce (which is utterly baffling to millennials); dedicated trade shows have been suffering from an exodus of brands due to the expense of exhibition; the watch world is inherently stuffy and elitist, etc. In rebranding to Watches & Wonders Geneva and opening up the fair to the public (somewhat), the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie is finally learning to adapt and concentrate on those who matter most: the people who are open to falling in love with watchmaking.
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