The Watch Fairs of Geneva

The annual spring watch fair in Basel, Switzerland, is the world’s largest and best-known timepiece trade show. But it isn’t the only one. Three small luxury watch shows with rising profiles in the trade are held in Geneva—the longtime home of distinguished Swiss horology and just three hours south of Basel by train—at about the same time as the Basel Fair. They are the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), featuring 14 to 17 top brands; the World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie (WPHH) of independent Swiss watchmaker Franck Muller; and the watch fair of Bvlgari, the Italian jeweler and watchmaker.

All three Geneva fairs did well this year, a good follow-up to an exceptional year for the Swiss watch industry, especially the luxury watch segment. Swiss watch exports in 2000 tallied a record-breaking 10.3 billion Swiss francs (US$6 billion). Of that, sales of watches priced at 3,000 Swiss francs or more (US$1,750) increased 24% and represented 76% of the total.

Trends at the three Geneva shows echoed those at the Basel Fair: more designs aimed at a younger, more affluent clientele; a stronger focus on women’s watches; more use of color on dials and straps; and heavy use of steel, mother-of-pearl dials, and diamonds set in steel. There were also several new jewelry collections from watchmakers, including Piaget, Franck Muller, Montblanc, and Audemars Piguet.

The three shows share something else besides their good sales and Geneva location: All overlap Basel. In 2002, Basel will be held April 4 to 11, and SIHH will be held April 8 to 15. The WPHH and Bvlgari will be held during the SIHH.

The 11th SiHH

An “upbeat business atmosphere” dominated the 11th SIHH, according to post-show management reports, which said “orders were way above the qualitative and quantitative levels of last year.”

The fair (March 27-April 3) drew some 9,000 distributors and retailers from around the world, mostly Europeans. About 600 journalists attended, up from 450 last year, which show managers say indicates SIHH’s growing value as a portent of luxury watch trends.

The show itself is also growing. During Basel 2001, the LMH Group (Les Manufactures Horologères, which comprises IWC, Jaeger-Le Coultre, and Länge & Söhne) announced it was leaving Basel for SIHH. LMH was bought in 2000 by the Richemont Group, whose other brands exhibit at SIHH. However, as long as luxury watches like Patek Philippe or Rolex keep exhibiting in Basel, its show officials aren’t worried about an exodus of top brands to SIHH.

Ironically, three brands that previously exhibited at SIHH were absent this year. Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta, now owned by Bvlgari, exhibited at Bvlgari’s show; Breguet, one of the oldest luxury watch brands, was bought by The Swatch Group in 1999 and exhibited in Basel.

Debuts. This year’s SIHH starred 14 top brands, half of which—Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, and Vacheron Constantin—are owned by Richemont. Other exhibitors were Audemars Piguet, Bovet, Daniel JeanRichard, Girard-Perregaux, Roger Dubuis, Parmigiani Fleurier, and Perrelet. Here’s a look at some debuts and eye-catchers:

  • Audemars Piguet unveiled its Jules Audemars Metropolis Perpetual Calendar (the first to combine a perpetual calendar with display of local time in 24 time zones) and the Jules Audemars Dynamograph, with a main spring torque indicator to help maintain the movement’s precision.

  • Baume&Mercier debuted its redesigned Linea collection, with interchangeable steel bracelet or twice-around coiling strap, domed crystal, and polished satin-finish steel cases set with 12, 24 or “a shower” of brilliant diamonds.

  • Bovet introduced the “Sportster” automatic chronograph, its first chrono in 50 years. Bovet, known for enameled dials, also launched the limited-edition “Fleurier” minute repeaters, with movements decorated in Bovet’s Imperial style.

  • Cartier’s Collection Privèe Cartier Paris showed five models based on classic Cartier timepieces. Three—the Tank à vis watch in yellow gold or platinum, and the platinum Tortue watch—use a new movement, the 437 MC, with index-assembly in the shape of Cartier’s “C”. The other two, in white 18k, are a Tortue perpetual calendar and a Pasha single-bridge tourbillon automatic. Also new: Cartier’s Lanières jewelry watch series with mini tonneau and tank cases and checkerboard pavé dials.

  • Daniel JeanRichard introduced the Chronoscope Automatique and added the TV Screen Lady to its TV Screen collection. The ladies’ series features ivory and pale blue mother-of-pearl dials and matching satin watchbands. Also new: the titanium-cased Automatique Diverscope with calendar window and easy-to-read dial.

  • Girard-Perregaux, marking its 210th anniversary this year, added the Vintage 1945 Lady Joaillerie (square cased with bezel-set diamonds in steel or white, yellow, or pink 18k, on burgundy or ivory satin-on-leather straps) and Gents Vintage 1945, with large date window and a new movement. Also new: a Lady Chrono with burgundy and ivory silk straps and diamonds on the dial, bezel, and lugs and a 40-mm automatic Grand Classique chronograph with flyback hand.

  • Montblanc presented its Meisterstück colored strap collection; the black PVC-coated steel Meisterstück Flyback Chronograph; and the 36-mm steel Montblanc Carbon Chronograph Quartz watch, whose textured strap and dial resemble carbon fiber. Also new: a line of platinum-coated watches and the limited-edition platinum-coated Meisterstück Skeleton Star 333.

  • Officine Panerai, known for extra-large cases and black dials, extended its Radiomir line (its first watch, created in 1938) with an automatic GMT/Alarm, and its Luminor series (created for the Italian navy) with a limited-edition 44-mm version. Also new: an antimagnetic Marina in titanium and steel or brushed steel, with a new automatic movement.

  • Perrelet, which invented the automatic winding watch (1777) and split-seconds chronograph (1827) strengthened its automatic Royale collection with the steel Lady R and the Rectangular Royale Chronograph (in two dial types) and a steel Chronograph Grand Maitre.

  • Piaget unveiled the 21st-century reinterpretation of its popular Piaget Polo (first launched in 1979). It keeps the seamless look of its integrated bracelet but has a bolder, modern face and dial. The 18k bracelet watch includes diamond models and uses Piaget’s own automatic or quartz movements. Also new: Piaget’s first steel watch, called Upstream, with a rectangular case that doubles as the buckle.

  • Roger Dubuis (which limits each model to 28) expanded its LadyTooMuch series, adding bright pastel straps, mother-of-pearl dials, and diamonds on the case, and its MuchMore collection with a rose gold perpetual calendar with caseback window and a fifth size (31 mm). The company also previewed its GoldenSquare series, which will debut in 2002.

Movements and complications. Other new mechanical calibres at SIHH included Parmigiani Fleurier’s first automatic for its new 18k Forma watches for men and women; Vacheron Constantin’s 2.6-mm calibre 1400 with 40-hour power reserve in its Malte collection; and Audemars Piguet’s 3090/3900 calibre with analog date calendar, seconds subdial, and power reserve indicator.

Among other notable complications were Roger Dubuis’s Sympathie Chronograph Bi-retrograde Perpetual Calendar, with six hands (including two retrogrades) at the dial’s center; Officine Panerai’s Radiomir Independent, with a jumping seconds mechanism; and Parmigiani Fleurier’s Technica II minute-repeater, with perpetual calendar, moon phase, and minute tourbillon regulator in a platinum case with a hinged double back.

The Fourth WPHH

Franck Muller, haute horlogerie provocateur of Geneva’s watchmaking trade, had a busy six days during his fourth annual World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie (March 28-April 2). At his chateau headquarters in suburban Geneva, he welcomed hundreds of visitors who came to view his new watches and first-ever jewelry lines (Blue Danube and Talisman). Joined by industry and government dignitaries, he officially opened his “Watchland” watchmaking facilities at his headquarters and, along with 1,000 guests, attended an evening gala there. Muller also announced his acquisition of the European Company Watch firm.

Muller, a master watchmaker and one-time consultant to Geneva dealers and collectors, launched his brand in 1992, billing himself as the “Master of Complications.” Since then, he and his craftsmen have created 500 models, 20 “world premiere” complications, and almost as many patents. Last year, Muller produced 26,000 watches, and he aims to increase that number by 31% this year.

In 1998, after a dispute with the Commité International de la Haute Horlogerie over the definition of “haute horlogerie” in regard to admission to the SIHH (he thought too much leeway was given to quartz models), Muller left to start his own show, the WPHH.

At this year’s WPHH, he launched the steel Transamerica, six contemporary collections with interpretations of Muller’s curved round Cintree Curvex casing, in a variety of colors and dials. Women were the focus of several WPHH debuts, including Transamerica Lady (also in yellow, red, or white gold) and the retro Long Island Lady, in two sizes with pink, blue, or green guilloché dials.

In complications, Muller unveiled the Cintree Curvex Grande and Petite Sonnerie with perpetual calendar, and the Cintree Curvex Chronograph and Tourbillon. The latter’s movement (Calibre 2001) is the newest Muller patent.

The fourth WPHH also launched the new European Company Watch timepieces. The luxury watches, less expensive than Franck Muller brand watches, are created by Italian watchmaker Roberto Carlotti (distributor of Franck Muller watches in Italy) and combine Italian creativity with Swiss watchmaking expertise. There are three lines—Panhard, Armada, and Legionnaire—with designs loosely based on a side view of a military tank. The ergonomically shaped watches come in polished steel, matte black, or brushed titanium, in small, medium, and magnum sizes.

Muller capped this year’s WPHH with the official opening of “Watchland”—two 15,000-square-meter two-story buildings, with state-of-the-art facilities open for public visits—where his staff will create and produce luxury watches and complications.

Bvlgari’s Second

Bvlgari had a very good year last year, especially in watches. It posted $610.2 million in total revenues (a 39% gain) and $86.2 million in net profits (a 62% increase). There was growth in all markets (the Americas rose 28%) and in all product categories. However, watches are its top product (46% of turnover last year, with a 43% rise in sales), ahead of even jewelry (34% turnover, and a 47% sales gain). Its luxury watch brands include Bvlgari-Bvlgari as well as Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta. Bvlgari bought the latter two, along with the Manufactures de Haute Horlogerie SA (makers of components for high-end watches) in June 2000. The three now comprise a new Bvlgari company called Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta Haute Horlogerie SA.

The Italian group had a good 2001 watch show at Geneva’s Espace Secheron center. Though it didn’t release attendance figures for its eight-day event (March 28-April 4), observers noted several hundred visitors, and a spokesperson said attendance was “up 50% over last year.”

Bvlgari’s watch debuts included three 38-mm Bvlgari-Bvlgari watches: a chronograph (in steel or gold, with black or white dials); an automatic annual calendar; and a limited-edition platinum perpetual calendar, with pink dial and black crocodile strap. Also new: Two luxurious Diagono sport watches, in gold with rubber bezel and bracelets, or in platinum with rubber bracelet and platinum links.

Daniel Roth’s Masters Collection added a sleek steel version of its automatic chronograph, and colored straps to its Lady’s Chronograph. Its Vantage series has new executions of its Premiere watch (silvered dial, vivid blue crocodile strap, numbers on the dial) and its Metropolitan traveler’s watch (white gold with gray guilloché dial).

Gérald Genta launched the Sport and the Solo, aiming at a “younger clientele who appreciate a sleek elegant style,” said a spokesperson. Both have a 42-hour power-reserve automatic movement, a day window at 6 o’clock, and extra-large numerals.