Watches and Wonders Geneva Opens the Curtain on First Physical Fair

After two years of digital fairs during COVID-19, Watches and Wonders Geneva will burst to life on Wednesday with a debut physical event that’s set to focus on innovation, sustainability and the circular economy, as the big luxury brands continue to ramp up sales.

The event, which runs until April 5 at Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall, will also have a robust online element thanks to a vast digital system that will allow invited guests, and the general public, to follow the proceedings live, or via replay, on and on social media.

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Emmanuel Perrin, head of the fair’s organizing body, Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, and leader of the Specialist Watchmakers division at Compagnie Financière Richemont, said that expectations are high.

“Everyone is getting excited after two years of pandemic, and fully digital editions, to meet again in person. All the maisons are working hard to make this edition the largest watchmaking summit ever held in Geneva,” said Perrin.

The fair’s hybrid concept, he added, was designed to fuse the physical and digital in order meet the market’s new expectations. “The whole program has been entirely built to enable members of the most important international media and retailers to keep abreast of the news, both online and at the Salon,” he said.

Originally dominated by brands belonging to Compagnie Financière Richemont, such as Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin, Watches and Wonders Geneva has emerged as the global, high-end watch industry’s main, annual event.

Today it hosts the Richemont watchmakers; myriad privately owned makers, and brands belonging to companies such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès.

Some 38 brands will take part in this year’s event. Chanel, Chopard, Patek Philippe, Rolex and Tudor will be exhibiting for the first time in Geneva, while the LVMH-owned Hublot, Tag Heuer and Zenith are also participating.

The new Jaeger-Lecoultre watch inspired by shooting stars. - Credit: Courtesy image

The new Jaeger-Lecoultre watch inspired by shooting stars. – Credit: Courtesy image

Courtesy image

Van Cleef & Arpels is returning to the Salon, and will show alongside watchmakers such as Rolex, A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin.

There will also be a display of independent watchmakers in the Carré des Horlogers, including Angelus, Arnold & Son and Cyrus Genève.

The seven-day program is brimming with product launches, new releases, keynotes from the exhibiting maisons, panel discussions, and two TV programs that will be broadcast live from the Salon.

There will also be an exhibition called Time Design, which looks at the evolution of wristwatch design through the ages.

Illustrated with more than 100 timepieces, the event will also pay tribute to the work of Gérald Genta, the Swiss watch designer and artist who created his own line of timepieces, and who also worked with brands including IWC, Omega SA, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.

Perrin said the “dynamic rhythm of presentations, keynotes and live event coverage via our two TV shows” has been designed like a fashion week for guests and for the public at large.

The Lab area of the fair has been designed as an ideas hub, presenting the technological and digital innovations of the exhibiting maisons. It will highlight eco-responsible sourcing practices, upcycling, the use of new materials, new energy sources and strategic partnerships with sustainable organizations.

One key strategic partnership involves Panerai and its fellow Richemont-owned brand Watchfinder & Co.

Panerai, which has become a leader in sustainable design and sourcing, has teamed with Watchfinder & Co. to create a trade-in program. The program aims to simplify the process of upgrading from a pre-owned Panerai to a new one from the Luminor, Luminor Due, Radiomir or Submersible signature collections.

Watchfinder, which was acquired by Richemont in 2018, is a major platform for premium, pre-owned watches. Founded in 2002, it sells watches from more than 70 luxury brands online and through Watchfinder boutiques and showrooms across France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the U.K., the U.S. and Hong Kong.

Watchfinder is making its debut at Watches and Wonders Geneva and will be sharing space in Panerai’s booth. The two CEOs — Jean-Marc Pontroué from Panerai and Arjen van de Vall from Watchfinder — will both be on site to speak to press, clients and guests at the show.

Panerai and Watchfinder will value the pre-owned watch, and allow the customer to put money from the trade-in toward a new one. Trade-ins won’t be restricted to Panerai watches although, to date, more than 80 percent of trade-ins have included exchanges of one Panerai for another, according to Watchfinder.

The platform will go on to sell the Panerai watches through its website and boutiques with a 24-month warranty.

“The program recognizes the shifting landscape of the watch market and increasingly favorable attitudes toward pre-owned watches. The trade-in initiative ensures that watches that would otherwise go unused return to the market and get a new lease on life,” Panerai said.

“Maximizing the life span of resources that are already in use conserves raw materials and is in keeping with sustainability goals to which Panerai is firmly committed. Watchfinder & Co. is an ideal partner in this groundbreaking project,” the company added.

Throughout the week, myriad new movements and models are set to be introduced from brands including Van Cleef & Arpels and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Van Cleef & Arpels has revisited its Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch, updating the design of the dancer’s silhouette on the face; casting her tutu in new materials and colors, and adding a new and more fluid movement.

Jaeger-LeCoultre has come up with a new complication that aims to capture “the romance and unpredictability of shooting stars.”

The company said its new, automatic Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 734 wants to “reconcile the randomness of shooting stars with the precisely calibrated, mathematical rhythms of timekeeping.”

One of the pre-owned Panerai watches that will feature in the Panerai-Watchfinder booth. - Credit: Courtesy image

One of the pre-owned Panerai watches that will feature in the Panerai-Watchfinder booth. – Credit: Courtesy image

Courtesy image

The live showcase is unfurling against a background of surging high-end watch sales.

In the key third quarter of fiscal 2021-22 Richemont’s Specialist Watchmakers division posted sales of 977 million euros, with growth of 25 percent at constant exchange rates, and 29 percent at actual exchange rates, compared with the previous year.

The Richemont brands aren’t the only ones in growth mode. Earlier this month Morgan Stanley published a report looking at the top 50 watch brands in 2021. They conducted the research with the Swiss watch industry consultancy firm LuxeConsult and described the past year as being all about “polarization and premium-ization.”

The authors noted that, generally, the largest brands gained market share. The top performers were the privately owned brands Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Richard Mille, the latter of which saw turnover surpass 1 billion Swiss francs for the first time.

The combined market share of those four brands reached 40.5 percent in 2021 compared with 36.7 percent in 2019, “and their desirability is at an all-time high, as evidenced by waiting lists/premiums in the secondhand market. As in recent years, the premium-ization of the Swiss watch industry continued unabated in 2021,” Morgan Stanley said.

The bank noted that other outperformers in 2021 were subsidiaries of listed groups. The report estimated that sales of Cartier and Vacheron Constantin watches, both of which belong to Richemont, were up 40 percent, and 53 percent, respectively.

Cartier was the second-largest Swiss watch brand after Rolex, and ahead of Omega, by turnover last year, according to the bank. Hermès watch sales were up 73 percent, making it the fastest-growing Swiss watch brand in 2021.

In the report, Morgan Stanley tipped its hat to Richemont, noting that the turnaround of the group’s watch division in recent years, combined with the “continued strong momentum in jewelry, should allow Richemont to grow its top and bottom line at a solid pace in the coming years.”

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