Record numbers of exhibitors and visitors, including DEBBIE HATHWAY, attended this year’s international watchmaking summit, where innovation, craftsmanship and responsible sourcing were the main themes.
Spring in the northern hemisphere has proved to be the ideal time to host Watches and Wonders in Geneva. Previously held in January for many years, the new slot enables visitors to appreciate the city’s beauty in cold but not freezing temperatures with snow still visible on the mountain peaks.
This year was the second physical event of Watches and Wonders since global travel resumed. It’s hard to imagine greater excitement among the watch brands, journalists and retailers than we experienced in 2022. Still, there was a different energy at the sprawling Palexpo venue a few minutes’ drive from the airport.
The potential for celebrity spotting is part of the fun. I’ve passed Vanessa Redgrave in a passage before, just missed a photo op with Hugh Jackman, and last year waited for Lewis Hamilton to show up for nearly two hours before I gave up. You can tell when there is a pending arrival by the crowd that begins to gather outside a booth, the amount of pacing by marketing executives coordinating entrances and exits, and security staff moving into key positions.
This year, Chopard ambassador Julia Roberts did it for me. I waited patiently while ushers passed around popcorn coated in Läderach milk chocolate, with custom sleeves embellished with “Chopard Loves Cinema”. Julia appeared all too briefly for her photo op with Chopard co-presidents Caroline and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele ahead of a press conference announcing their latest step in the Journey to
Sustainable Luxury. Chopard has committed to rolling out recycled steel for its watches. By the end of 2023, the Maison will use Lucent SteelTM to produce all its steel watches, including bracelets and cases. Lucent SteelTM is made with a recycling rate of at least 80%.
Later I was able to chat with esteemed alpinist Nimsdai Purja, whom I interviewed last year about his world-record-breaking feat of climbing all 14 mountains higher than 8 000m in six months and six days. Reinhold Messner was the first to do it between 1970 and 1986, and he was at Watches and Wonders too. Both men are Montblanc Mark Makers. Roger Federer was there for Rolex, David Beckham and international surfer Nic von Rupp for Tudor, Chinese rapper Lay Zhang for Hublot, Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho for Rebellion Timepieces, and Olympic medallist freestyle skier Eileen Gu for IWC, to name a few.
WATCHES AND WONDERS IN NUMBERS
A 50% increase in attendance from the Asian contingent, previously unable to travel due to the pandemic, and a noticeably higher number of American attendees took things up a notch. Record figures reflect almost double the number of unique visitors of 125 nationalities over the whole week (27 March–2 April) compared to last year at 43000. This included 5400 retailers and 1400 journalists, who secured 13 000 registrations for the 1 800 Touch & Feel sessions scheduled. Sound like Greek to you? It’s all about the numbers at this product showcase that underpins the rapidly growing global watch market (24.8-billion Swiss francs in 2022).
Attendees must spend weeks leading up to the event planning and reorganising schedules in increments of 30 minutes from 9am to 7pm, booking a seat at intimate sessions that allow us to try on the watches and admire their brilliance in 3D, and figuring out how to survive the ensuing evening festivities. People swear by the power of espresso, available on tap at stations dotted throughout the exhibition, where water, fruit juice, tea – and Champagne – are on hand to keep everybody hydrated.
The LAB, which showcased 12 innovative projects on the future of watchmaking, was a major drawcard, as was a marvellous photographic exhibition called What time is it?, a collection of images captured by Swiss photographer Karine Bauzin on her travels around the globe. She asked people in 20 countries over 10 years ‘What time is it?’ and captured their reaction – one hand gesture at a time. Happily, several were taken in South Africa (Cape Town and the Little Karoo) and African countries such as Botswana.
INNER CITY DELIGHTS
Many experienced visitors commented this year that Watches and Wonders Geneva is beginning to take on a similar feel to Basel, which hosted the annual Baselworld showcase until 2019. Hotels were full, some were overbooked and attendees were left scrambling for accommodation at the last minute (35 000 overnight stays were tallied for the week) and rumblings about increasing costs became more common. Switzerland is far from cheap, but one of Basel’s failings as a host city was the high cost of accommodation and living expenses at the time.
Having said that, the organisers – the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie – opened the summit to the public this year for the final two days, selling all 12 000 tickets be- forehand. The average ticket holder was 35 years old and 25% were younger than 25, proving the cross-generational appeal of mechanical watchmaking. Close to 50 watchmakers exhibited this year – another record – while those with more flexible schedules could head out to visit other watchmakers at their Manufactures or mini-exhibitions at luxurious venues in the city and surrounds.
A major highlight, and another innovation to the programme, was the In The City festival of watchmaking that featured special events free and open to all. Visitors could stroll through the Rues Basses of the city centre to find participating boutiques showcasing special pieces, hosting demonstration workshops, previewing new timepieces, and so on. One evening was dedicated to entertainment at five stages along the streets, culminating in a free quayside concert with DJ/producer The Avener on the decks.
FROM DREAMSCAPES TO KERMIT THE FROG
The watchmakers’ booths need a fair amount of exploration time, with their detailed and well-thought-out designs. Rolex was housed in a custom-built building. Ulysse Nardin produced an ‘adult playground’ with a massive watch dial layout on the floor where visitors could be photographed ‘hanging’ from a bridge or taking the place of an index. Bell & Ross had a sculptural deconstruction of its new BR-X5, which features a solid new case construction and Kenissi movement.
And Hermès chose a dream-like scenography by artist Clément Vieille, who used suspended billowy sculptures to move through the space like gentle waves, immersing visitors in ‘The Finesse of Time’. The point? The French House answers the question about whether time can be captured by designing elements that enable us to tame it, play with it, but not control it.
Oris continued to spread joy with its first watch with Disney’s The Muppets and Kermit the Frog – the ProPilot x Kermit Edition – with messaging that encourages consumers to find joy, smile, practise self-care and take time out to celebrate the little things in life.
If you were in the market for a new watch to add to your collection and colour was your only prerequisite, you’d have a tough time choosing a favourite this year. I fell in love with the Patek Philippe Calatrava in rose gold with purple dial and strap. The underlying base of the domed dial is embossed with a concentric wave pattern and coated with 50 successive layers of translucent purple lacquer. The bezel is set with 76 round internally flawless Top Wesselton diamonds, highlighting the embossed radiating pattern and polished case.
Rolex and TAG Heuer celebrated the 60th anniversary of significant collections this year, Rolex with a restyled Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona and TAG Heuer with new classics in the Carrera line. The latter’s 36mm Carrera Date features four new dial colours: silver, blue, green and a glorious pink. Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 shimmered with gemstone dials in green aventurine, carnelian and turquoise paired with 18ct Everose gold, yellow gold and white gold respectively.
Several brands included salmon dials in the new releases, including Tudor with its sport-chic Royal watch that is synonymous with first-class technical performance, elegance and versatility. The sunray dial is available in light salmon or chocolate brown, with or without diamonds, in 28mm, 34mm, 38mm or 41mm case sizes. V