Luxury watch show SIHH is biggest yet; Franck Muller Group debuts own movements

A number of private and public luxury watch shows and events in Geneva—including the SIHH, Franck Muller’s WPHH, J.P. Journe’s annual exposition, and Time Evolution, a new show—closed between April 10 and 12, reporting strong interest and good business for fine timepieces in 2005.

The Swiss city, a tradition center of fine watchmaking, is becoming an annual home to a growing number of events catering specifically to retailers of luxury timepieces from around the world, especially the United States, all during the same weeklong time frame in spring. Here’s a look at the news from some of them this year.

* The 15th annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, probably the best-known Swiss luxury watch show in the global trade, closed April 10 with its largest attendance yet and healthy business results for its participating brands.

The annual invitation-only show welcomed some 11,500 visitors (including 1,100 journalists) from more than 30 countries. That was 15% more than 2004. Most were from Europe, including eastern Europe, noted the SIHH report, but there were also more visitors from the United States (who show “increasingly strong interest,” said the report) and—more recently—from Brazil and Mexico. There was also “a genuine ‘boom’ in visitors from Asia and Japan,” it said.

Business-wise, initial results indicated that “order-taking was particularly high,” said an end-of-show report, “auguring well for 2005.” Most of SIHH’s 16 exhibitors are owned by Richemont, the major Swiss luxury goods group which started SIHH 15 years ago. Several of its brands are on the show committee; others are well-known independents. The vendors included Van Cleef & Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Panerai, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, Dunhill, Parmigiani, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, Roger Dubuis, and Jean Richard. All expressed satisfaction with contacts and orders at the end of the show’s week.

Among news during SIHH:

—Italian watchmaker Panerai announced a new licensing agreement with the Formula One Ferrari racing team, under which it will produce and sell a line of watches for Ferrari. The first should go on sale in 2006.

—Among venerable brands marking milestone anniversaries were Vacheron Constantin (250 years), which debuted the Tour de l’Ile, the world’s most complicated wristwatch, for it, and Baume & Mercier (175 years).

—Audemars Piguet, which had sales totaling 240 million francs in 2004, produced 21,000 watches, said George-Henri Meylan, chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet & Cie, according to the Swiss press. It is aiming for more than 270 million in sales and a production of 24,000 watches in 2005. Growth has been “very strong” in the United States, said Meylan. The Swiss luxury watch brand also plans to expand its facilities at Brassus, Switzerland.

—A social highlight of SIHH—and Geneva this spring—was IWC’s invitation-only official reception/concert of IWC, starring international singing star Seal and featuring among its guests some 30 international film, TV, and sports celebrities including Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett of Australia, international tennis champion Boris Becker of Germany, and international track and Olympic champions Edwin Moses and Michael Johnson of the United States.

This year’s SIHH was in larger quarters in a new hall in Geneva’s Palexpo convention center that provided it 24,000 square meters (20% more than its former site in another hall). Thanks to a substantial investment by the show and its exhibitors, the new site had a totally new and more spacious layout with sizable areas for each exhibitor, avenues, a sumptuous ambience, pleasant and convenient eating areas and coffee bars, a business center, and even an exhibition on the chronograph. The makeover provided “the best possible conditions for working and building contacts,” said Franco Cologni, chairman of SIHH’s supervisory board, and makes SIHH “a veritable city of fine watches” and the center of prestigious watchmaking—at least once a year, the show, which originally began with five exhibitors, has become a major international event in Geneva, second only in economic impact to the Geneva Motor Show.

* The Franck Muller Group, whose watch brands include Franck Muller Geneve, Pierre Kunz, European Company watch, the newly acquired Rodolphe and Bathelay, and Franck Muller jewelry, held its World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie April 4–10. Company officials told an international press conference April 6 that 2004 turnover (about 350 million francs, or $291 million) was slightly below 2003, in part due to the weak U.S. dollar. Sales turnover in 2005, though, could reach 400 million francs (about $332.6 million).

The company this year has begun making its own automatic and hand-wound movements, said Virtan Sirmakes, co-founder and chief executive officer. That includes the first chronograph designed and manufactured by the Group. The watch firm, which employs 644 people (504 in at its headquarters in Genthold, Switzerland, outside Geneva) already has made about 3,000 movements in-house, which it will begin using in new watches by October.

Officials also said the Group is looking to acquire one and possibly two more watch brands by the end of 2007.

* Geneva luxury watchmaker François-Paul Journe, told the Geneva press that he hopes to double annual production in the next five years from 700 watches now to about 1,500 and boost annual turnover from about 21 million Swiss francs (about $17.5 million) to almost 50 million ($41.6 million). He also wants to expand into Scandinavia, eastern Europe, Hong Kong and mainland China, South America, Canada, and Australia, and eventually be in 60 to 65 stores worldwide.

* Time Evolution, a new eight-day show of 11 mid- and high-end brands of small luxury firms, nine from Geneva, had more than 850 visitors. “We are very tired but very satisfied,” said Christine Johner, who with her husband/watchmaker, Cedric Johner, helped organize the show. “For a first time, we think that it was very good, and we will exhibit next year again.” Several facilities have asked the new show to exhibit with them next year, based on this year’s success.

* Other new fine-watch shows and events Geneva saw this year included:

—A joint presentation by Geneva luxury watchmaker Antoine Preziuso and Tiret New York, a U.S. luxury watch brand.

—Invitation-only weeklong salons for Bovet, Michel Jordi, and DeLaneau.

—The launch of several new luxury brands at various locations in Geneva. They included HD3, from three designers: the well-known Jörg Hysek; Jean Dunand, named for a famous Swiss Art Deco designer; and Cvstos, presented by Sassoun Sirmakes (son of the Franck Muller Group CEO Virtan Sirmakes) and designer Antonio Terranova (who has worked for Cartier, Piaget, TAG Heuer, and Zenith).