Sales Mount at Luxury watch Events in Geneva

A number of private and public luxury-watch shows and events occurred in early April in Geneva, including SIHH, WHPP, and the new Time Evolution. All reported strong interest and good business, boding well for fine timepieces in 2005. The Swiss city, a traditional center of fine watchmaking, is also becoming home to more annual spring events—all in the same weeklong time frame—catering to luxury-watch retailers from around the world, including Americans. Here’s a look at some of them.

The 15th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the best-known annual Swiss luxury-watch trade show, enjoyed its largest attendance ever, and healthy business results for its 16 participating brands.

The invitation-only show welcomed 11,500 visitors (including 1,100 journalists) from more than 30 countries, a 15 percent gain over the previous year’s figures. Most were European, including Eastern Europeans, said SIHH’s end-of-show report, but there were more U.S. visitors (who show “increasingly strong interest,” said the report) and more from Brazil and Mexico. There was also “a genuine ‘boom’ in Asian visitors, especially Japanese,” it said.

The report said order-taking was particularly high, “auguring well for 2005.” Most of SIHH’s 16 exhibitors are owned by Richemont, the Swiss luxury-goods group that began SIHH 15 years ago. Others are well-known independents. The vendors are Van Cleef & Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Montblanc, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Panerai, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Söhne, A. Dunhill, Parmigiani, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, Roger Dubuis, and Jean Richard. All expressed satisfaction with contacts and orders at the end of the show.

Among news during SIHH:

  • Italian watchmaker Panerai has a new licensing pact with the Formula One Ferrari racing team. It will produce and sell a line of watches for Ferrari. Sales start in 2006.

  • Venerable brands marking milestone anniversaries included Vacheron Constantin (250th), which marked it with the Tour de l’Ile, the world’s most complicated wristwatch, and Baume & Mercier (175th).

  • Audemars Piguet had sales of 240 million francs (about $200.5 million) in 2004 and made 21,000 watches, said George-Henri Meylan, chief executive officer, according to the Swiss press. Its 2005 aims are for 270 million (about $225.6 million) in sales and 24,000 watches. Growth has been “very strong” in the United States, he said. The luxury watch also plans to expand its facilities at Le Brassus, Switzerland.

  • A social highlight for SIHH—and Geneva—was IWC’s invitation-only reception/concert starring international singing star Seal. Guests included many international film, TV, and sports celebrities, among them 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.

  • SIHH 2005 was held in a new hall in Geneva’s Palexpo convention center that gave it 24,000 square meters, 20 percent more than its former site offered. Thanks to substantial investment by the show and its exhibitors, the new site had a more spacious layout with sizable areas for each exhibitor; a sumptuous ambiance; pleasant eating areas; a business center; and even trees, “avenues,” and its own exhibit on chronographs. The makeover creates “the best possible conditions for working and building contacts,” said Franco Cologni, SIHH’s supervisory board chairman. It has also made SIHH “a veritable city of fine watches,” he said, and the center of prestigious watchmaking, at least once a year. The show, launched in 1990 with five exhibitors, has become a major international event for Geneva, second only in economic impact to the Geneva Motor Show.

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

The company this year began making its own automatic and hand-wound chronograph movements and has some 3,000 in-house, said Vartan Sirmakes, co-founder and chief executive officer. The firm, which employs 644 people (504 in at its headquarters in Genthod, outside Geneva), will begin using them in watches by October.

Officials said the Group may buy one or two more watch brands by the end of 2007.

Time Evolution, a new eight-day show of 11 small luxury firms (all watchmakers, except for one jeweler), nine from Geneva, attracted almost 1,000 visitors. They included retailers, distributors, journalists, suppliers, and watch connoisseurs, said organizers. “We’re very tired, but very satisfied,” said Christine Johner afterward, who with her husband, watchmaker Cedric Johner, helped organize it. “We think this was very good for a first-time show.” Several facilities have already asked the successful new show to exhibit there next year. “The organizers are already preparing for 2006, and are ready to welcome additional new exhibitors,” she said.

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 to 1,500 and boost annual turnover from 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.

Other new fine-watch shows and events in Geneva this spring were:

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

  • Invitation-only weeklong salons for Bovet, Michel Jordi, and DeLaneau;

  • The launch of several new luxury brands at various locations in Geneva including HD3, from three designers, one of whom is well-known watch designer Jorg Hysek; Jean Dunand, named for a famous Swiss art-deco designer; and Cvstos, presented by Sassoun Sirmakes (son of the Franck Muller Group CEO Vartan Sirmakes) and designer Antonio Terranova (who has worked for Cartier, Piaget, TAG Heuer, and Zenith).