Geneva Luxury Watch Shows Report

This month’s international luxury watch fairs in Geneva, Switzerland, reported sales gains and high attendance, despite economic concerns in various world regions, including the United States.

SIHH 2008
The 18th invitation-only Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (Apr. 7 – 12), one of the globe’s top luxury watch fairs, ended on what its post-show report called “an exceptionally high note” and a record number of visitors. While SIHH doesn’t release business figures, the report said its high volume of orders reflect “the thriving fine watch sector.”

The show drew about 14,000 visitors (8 percent over 2007) from around the world. Asia led, with many retailers from Japan, Hong Kong, China and Singapore, followed by Europe, the United States and Middle East. Their attendance “confirms the luxury watch sector is in good health, undeterred by the international [economic] climate. Indeed, despite [sub-prime, weak dollar] fears, the North American market showed no signs of weakness,” said the report.

The SIHH, organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, is now run by a recently-created autonomous Exhibitors Committee, whose members represent each exhibiting brand. Those 16—doing much of the global luxury watch business–are A. Lange & Söhne, Dunhill, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels (all owned by Richemont), Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard, Parmigiani, and Roger Dubuis.

Like BaselWorld, SIHH 2008 had a record number of journalists. Some 1,450 members of the world’s print, electronic and online media, a 10 percent gain, jostled with visitors to cover SIHH’s watches and trends.

The SIHH, held in Geneva’s Palexpo convention center, has overlapped BaselWorld since starting in 1990, enabling trade visitors and international media to attend both. However, in 2009, SIHH occurs Jan. 19 to 24, two months before BaselWorld 2009 (Mar. 26 – Apr. 2), because the Geneva Motor Show already has the later dates. It’s uncertain, yet, how that will affect foreign media or attendance (since some might not want, or be able, to travel twice to Switzerland in two months) or smaller luxury watch exhibitions in Geneva, held concurrent with SIHH and Basel.

WPHH 2008
The Franck Muller Group, a mini-conglomerate of luxury brands, holds it own seven-day fair (Apr. 6 – 13), the World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie, at its Watchland estate near Geneva. Its 11th posted record sales, says its closing report; welcomed over 6,800 visitors (a 15 percent gain) and some 600 international journalists; and was “tremendously successful.”

Left to right : Alexis Barthelay, Vartkess Knadjian, Rodolphe Cattin, Vartan Sirmakes, Franck Muller,
Pierre Michel Golay, Pierre Kunz, Roger Dubuis, Claude Burkhalter, Martin Braun, and Gianni Pensabene

The Group in recent years has expanded significantly, making not only luxury watches but jewelry, too, and adding more high-end watch brands. Its portfolio includes Franck Muller Genève and Franck Muller Jewelry, Pierre Kunz, ECW (European Company Watch), Rodolphe, Alexis Barthelay, Backes & Strauss, and since 2007, Martin Braun, Pierre Michel Golay and Christian Huygens.

Double-digit sales gains were reported by Franck Muller Genève and Rodolphe, breaking past records. Custom-cut diamond watch brand Backes & Strauss had “another successful WPHH,” said Josina von dem Bussche-Kessell, international brand manager, with new couture timepieces, the Royal Berkeley and the Prince Regent 1609 A.D. limited edition, exciting international watch aficionados. Pierre Kunz, ECW, Barthelay and Martin Braun all posted gains. Pierre Michel Golay and Christian Huygens, participating for the first time, were “well-received.”

In 2009, WPHH—usually concurrent with SIHH and BaselWorld—occurs three times. There will be a WPHH Jan. 18 – 25, overlapping SIHH 2009; a second Mar. 24 to Apr. 4, overlapping BaselWorld 2009, and a third for the public Aug. 18 – 23.

Other shows and events
The success of the SIHH and WPHH in recent years has generated many smaller shows and exhibits by independent watchmakers to capitalize on media and buyers in Geneva. Most reported healthy attendance and business.

One was Maîtres du Temps, a new haute horlogerie brand from master watchmakers Christophe Claret, Roger Dubuis (formerly with the same-name brand he helped found), and Peter Speake-Marin. Its first watch, called Chapter One, combines a tourbillon, mono-pusher chronograph, retrograde date, retrograde GMT, and idiosyncratic rolling bars for weekdays and moon phase, and got a “tremendous response,” said a spokesperson.

Another was Time Floats 2008. Three high-end Swiss brands—HD3 (including renowned watch designer Jörg Hysek), Instruments & Mesures du Temps, and Golay Spierer—held their show on one of the world’s last steamer boats, anchored on Lake Geneva. Attracting interest were HD3’s Raptor Chrono, with titanium movement; the first aquatic tourbillion, from I&MT, and Golay Spierer’s “upside down” titanium Angelo watch.

Among other exhibits were award-winning watchmaker François-Paul Journe’s presentation for his newest creation, an ultra-slim minute repeater (with 4mm mechanical movement); Jean-Mairet & Gillman’s salon; and Cvstos The Timekeeper, whose co-owner is a son of Franck Muller Group’s chairman (though independent of it).