15th SIHH opens surrounded by competing watch events

The 15th edition of the Salon international de la Haute Horologerie (SIHH), the luxury watch in Geneva, Switzerland (Apr. 4 -10), opened Apr. 4 facing a growing number of competing luxury watch events and shows in its hometown.

More watch brands, primarily luxury ones, are holding small shows or events at the same time as, but independent from, SIHH, whose 16 exhibitors account for much of the global luxury watch business.

SIHH management had no official reaction to growing hometown competition, but Anne Biéler, SIHH spokesperson, was upbeat. SIHH, in new and larger quarters in the Geneva Convention Center (Palexpo), “has had some success in attracting professional visitors and media to Geneva, and that apparently has given the same idea to other brands,” she told JCK. More than 10,000 retailers and visitors from around the globe were expected to attend this year’s edition of the invitation-only event which gives an overview of upcoming luxury watch trends.

For fine watch retailers, though, more Swiss watch events at the same time and area offer more opportunities to find unique high-end watches to sell in the lucrative U.S. luxury market and set themselves apart from competitors. As a Geneva watch event spokesperson told JCK, “We’re all looking for exclusive retail clients around the world.”

The trend in to offer a trade show in Geneva—a traditional fine watchmaking center—began with SIHH in 1990, when Cartier (now Richemont) left the international watch and jewelry show (the world’s largest) in Basel, Switzerland, to start its own luxury watch show in Geneva, overlapping Basel (this year held from Mar. 31 – Apr. 7). Most of SIHH’s 16 exhibitors are Richemont-owned, and are on the show committee; others are well-known independents. This year, they include Van Cleef and Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc, Piaget, Vacehron & Constantin, IWC, Panerai, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange u. Söhn, A. Dunill, Parmigiani, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, Roger Dubis, and Jean Richard.

“The concomitant dates allow visitors to go from Basel to Geneva,” says Bieler. “It’s in the interest of both cities to take advantage of a large international professional audience and a real benefit for the watch industry, with no negative influence on participation of clients and media in either important event.”

Eight years ago, innovative luxury brand Franck Muller Geneve began its annual World Presentation of Haute Horologerie (WPHH) at its headquarters near Geneva during the same week as SIHH, to promote its high-end watches (including Pierre Kunz, European Company Watch, and newly acquired Rodolphe brands). Three years ago, high-end watchmaker FP Journe began holding an annual presentation at its site for its new collections, coinciding with SIHH.

This year, though, the ball really got rolling. In addition to the other events, Geneva saw:

* The debut of “Time Evolution,” an eight-day show of 11 mid- and high-end brands of small firms, nine from Geneva.

* A new joint presentation by Geneva luxury watchmaker Antoine Preziuso and Tiret New York, a young U.S. luxury watch (2003), including Tiret’s $350,000 limited edition tourbillion (four only), with movement created by Preziuso;

* A “salon” for high-end watch brand Bovet (formerly in SIHH);

* The launch of several new luxury brands at various locations in Geneva, including HD3 (from well-known watch designer Jörg Hysek, also in BaselWorld with his name brand, and two other designers; Jean Dunand, showing in Geneva and Basel; and Cvstos, whose U.S. distributor, Hratch Kaprielian, also handles Franck Muller here.

Why are there ever-more watch events in Geneva aimed at fine retailers, independent of SIHH? One reason is locale: Geneva is a traditional center of Swiss luxury watchmaking. “It’s the perfect place to launch and present prestigious models and one-of-a-kind watches,” says Sonya Goldberg, director of marketing for Tiret. “Basel is more of a trade fair. In Geneva, we can cater to the exclusive buyers and luxury press.” Also, adds Bieler, “Geneva has developed, in a few years, a significant role in welcoming congresses and exhibitions, and is becoming a more important place for the watch industry.”

Another reason is space: SIHH, even with its larger quarters, is a Richemont-dominated event and not open to many new exhibitors. (Ironically, there was less space, too, for 2005’s visitors: two of Geneva’s 5-star hotels remained closed during SIHH.)

Timing and visibility count, too. “It’s natural to hold these [events] when SIHH happens, because SIHH brings all these visitors [about 10,000] and [hundreds of] journalists from around the world to Geneva,” says Christine Johner, who with her husband, watchmaker and jeweler Cedric Johner, helped organize “Time Evolution.”

Cédric Johner Geneve originally planned to have a Geneva event just for itself, until “we discovered other small brands really needed a show, too,” says Christine Johner. It soon had more applicants than space. Those that did get into “Time Evolution” included established brands like Cédric Johner or Oliver Roux (which also left Basel), new ones like Burgond or Jean-Pierre Lépine, and at least one (Waltham) also exhibiting in BaselWorld.

Show organizers will do it again next year, at the same time as SIHH and Basel, but in larger quarters and with up to five additional companies. That will make the fledging show as big as SIHH