Will everything be OK?
You can feel more and more that spring is in the air. I love spring and the first buds, which will grow into leaves. This time of the year is very predictable compared to the summer, which I also like very much. But the summer weather is changeable: sometimes it is very hot and sometimes rainy. When it comes to early spring, it is simple: trees always develop buds at one time and then leaves. And it is this repeatability that is the sign of the “normality” we have all dreamed of from the first lockdown and, even more so, over the past three weeks. I and probably many people in the watch industry are already counting days to Watches & Wonders in Geneva and meetings with people we have not seen for two years. So much has changed in this period: the Baselworld Show is no longer held (and no one knows if it will ever be revived) and, therefore, the order that had been established many years ago is gone. They used to be two big events held in the first four months of the year, and they presented new products, which were released to stores a few months later. The pandemic has disturbed this order, and most brands have started showing their new products several times a year, every few months fuelling customer interest.
Some companies have also tried other ways, for example, organizing exhibitions (Patek Philippe), or creating unique models and selling them at charity auctions, such as the Only Watch auction that takes place every two years. Others decided to focus on direct sales (Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille), so they were no longer interested in participating in any fair event.
The Watches & Wonders salon has also undergone a change, and interestingly, instead of shrinking, it has grown to an unprecedented size (this year, it will be attended by as many as 39 brands). In addition, the presentations of companies that do not appear in Palexpo have begun to multiply. Every day, I receive a few e-mail invitations to various brand shows taking place in Geneva. And so, Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI) invites me to attend presentations in the centre of Geneva of several member brands, including, i.a. Konstantin Chaykin, Svend Andersen, Vianney Halter, Kari Voutilainen, Felix Baumgartner, Bernhard Lederer and Stefan Kudoke. Under the slogan of “Time to Watches”, I can meet about 30 companies, including brands such as: Corum, Chronoswiss, Louis Erard, Milus, Perrelet, Sinn and Vulcain. Another eight companies (e.g., Singer Reimagined and Schwarz Etienne) invited me to a meeting called Barton 7 (the name is also the address, so it is easy to remember). And that is just a few of the biggest events that happen at the same time as Watches & Wonders (not to mention presentations that are traditionally held at different hotels).
I will only be in Geneva for four days, so I can’t attend all of them. But when I see the shows budding like trees in spring, which take place in parallel with a big event, I wonder if Watches & Wonders will survive. Much will likely depend on what the heads of the brands of Rolex (and Tudor) and Patek Philippe will do. For these companies, annual trade shows are still a good solution because both Rolex and Patek Philippe sell their watches in the traditional way, working with distributors around the world. And they continue to introduce the majority of their new products once a year.
As a supporter of trade shows, I would very much like Watches & Wonders to survive and bring together as many exhibitors as possible. However, I do not believe that it will be possible to bring back Baselworld, because the watch industry has changed too much over the last two years. Certainly, something will fill the gap after Baselworld, but no one knows yet what it will be. Perhaps individual presentations organized in parallel to Watches & Wonders, like this year? We’re yet to see. It’s hard for me to imagine Watches & Wonders moving to the virtual world because trade shows are all about talks, meetings with people, and building relationships, not just watching new releases.
Would you like to have an organized world and, like in the past, count time from one edition of the show to the next? Well, I do.