SIHH 2004 reports return to strong sales, attendance

The 14th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH)—the annual international luxury watch fair in Geneva, Switzerland—closed April 25 with a strong return to pre-2003 sales and attendance by the world’s fine-watch and -jewelry retailers.

“The crisis of 2003 lies behind us, and luxury watchmaking can resume its upward curve,” declared Franco Cologni, president of the SIHH supervisory board, at the show’s end. Attendance and business at SIHH 2003, like other international watch and jewelry shows in Europe last spring, were seriously affected by worries about the Iraqi war, terrorism, and the SARS sickness spreading from Southeast Asia.

More than 10,000 visitors attended SIHH this year, a figure equal to 2002’s attendance (even though this year’s seven-day event was one day shorter). That number includes about 1,000 journalists from around the world.

The show featured 16 prestigious watch brands which together account for almost a third (in value) of all luxury timepieces sold globally. They include the 11 of the Richemont Group brands—Lange & Söhne, Alfred Dunhill, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels—plus Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, JeanRichard, Parmigiani Fleurier, and Roger Dubuis. The Richemont Group launched the SIHH in 1990.

Though it doesn’t release figures, SIHH’s final report said the amount of business written at the 2004 show topped that of 2001—a record year—in both amount and value. Separate JCK interviews during the show with officials of most participating brands confirmed that business and attendance were very strong. The results, said SIHH’s report, exceeded pre-show forecasts “in spite of the concern for the political, social, and economic trends at the international level.”

Among debuts at SIHH were those marking important anniversaries for some brands. Cartier celebrated the centenary of its famous Santos watch—the first-ever pilot’s watch—with three new series of Santos watches. Piaget launched a Polo anniversary collection (in two jewelry versions) for its iconic watch’s 25th year, and Baume & Mercier marked the first decade of its Hampton line (including the Classic, Milleis, Spirit, and City families) with a women’s “Hampton 10 Years” series in white.

Other eye-catching debuts for women included Deva from Audemars Piguet (which calls 2004 “The Year of Women”), an ultra-feminine square design in a white gold with diamond markers; Van Cleef & Arpels’ Lady Swing, with a subtly hinged diamond case and patented system of interchangeable watchbands; and JeanRichard’s contemporary automatic TV Screen Milady in several colors.

Technical standouts included Vacheron Constantin’s remarkable Patrimony watches. The timepieces salute mariners Magellan and Zheng He with a unique patented mechanism that displays hour and minute numbers in a window on the bottom of the dial, which is composed of two overlapping enameled plates. Lange & Söhne’s Lange Double Split is the first flyback chronograph with a double rattrapante. Alfred Dunhill unveiled the Bobby Finder SP30 chronograph with an innovative sliding bezel that when rotated causes the chrono buttons to retract. Also notable: Jaeger-LeCoultre’s unconventional Master Hometime traveler’s watch, inspired by its 1950s watches, with a new mechanical automatic caliber.

Roger Dubuis launched its first-ever sports watch with the SAW (Sports Activity Watch) collection, with each series limited to 28, 280, and 888 in gold, gold and steel, and steel respectively. IWC’s multi-patented titanium Aquatimer Minute Memory is the first automatic diver’s watch with chronograph and minute fly-back. Officine Panerai’s Radiomir Blackseal reproduces its first watch—developed in 1938 for the Italian Navy—and adds a case structure ensuring an especially high degree of water-resistance.

The next edition of SIHH will be held April 4-10, 2005.