I have been involved with the luxury watch industry for the past two decades, both as an observer and a consultant. While the pecking order has hardly changed — brands like Rolex, Omega and Cartier still have a stranglehold — markets are shifting dramatically. Europe has stagnated, but Asian markets like Hong Kong, Greater China, Japan and UAE have captured the lead share of Swiss watch exports in recent years. This is poised to grow in years to come.
So, as 2019’s first fine watchmaking exposition, the 29th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), begins on Monday in Geneva, it’s a good time to reflect upon the year gone by. The Swiss watch industry has never been in better shape since the 2008-09 downturn than now. Driven by traction in precious metal mechanical timepieces and buoyed by excellent rally in key Asian markets, exports now stand at +7.1 % (Jan-Nov 2018). Interestingly, India was the best performing market in 2018 — ranked 24, with a whopping 35.3% growth). Needless to say, SIHH opens with a lot of hope and expectations.
But all is not well with industry fairs. Baselworld (in March), the larger and flashier event, has been struggling, with a sharp decline in the number of exhibitors (almost by 50% in 2018). Following on the heels of brands such as Hermes, Girard-Perregaux, Movado Group and Louis Erard, the most recent announcement was of the Swatch Group exiting the fair. And keeping in line with the changing dynamics of the markets and high costs of participation, my guess is more will follow.
The changes at SIHH, however, have been more logical and planned. Two major non-Richemont brands, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille, will not be participating from 2020. This move — due to changes in their distribution strategies — can be attributed to the brands’ increasing direct-to-consumer approach and opportunities to launch new products through the year. Meanwhile, there are rumours that Breitling, who has just become a member of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, the organiser of SIHH, could join the fair next year.
Author-columnist Sidin Vadukut, a regular at both, believes they are “mutually reinforcing opportunities to get a sense of what is happening in the world of wristwatches. SIHH, by virtue of its exclusivity, gives you a chance to deep-dive into brands, really engage with the people, and get a micro-sense of what is happening. Basel, on the other hand, is frenetic and gives you a macro perspective on watches in particular and the luxury business as a whole”.
To combat challenging times — and, as a Forbes report put it, “industry angst about the shows, especially Baselworld, not being reactive enough to retailer, press and consumer needs, and not being relevant in today’s high-tech, immediacy world” — the organising committees of the two will be coordinating dates in 2020, moving both shows to April-May. The move is being widely hailed. “It will certainly help that both have decided to have their shows one after the other. Baselworld was losing its sheen, and was not able to raise the bar with the experience it offered, while SIHH, by adding many new brands and independents, is expanding its appeal,” says SM Chainani, India distributor of brands like Greubel Forsey, Ulysse Nardin, and Bell & Ross.
Watch and awe
With just 20,000 invite-only guests, the four-day SIHH event will see 35 exhibitors: 18 historic maisons and 17 independents. At the ‘handcrafted’ experience, each booth has a distinct, highly innovative character, representing the brand’s theme of the year. Over the years, my personal favourites have been IWC, Montblanc, Piaget and Cartier.
Among the new products announced, the highlights are IWC’s Chronograph Spitfire, the Guillaume Néry edition of Panerai’s Submersible Chronograph, Roger Dubuis’ extension of the Lamborghini franchise, the Excalibur Huracàn Performante, and the uncharacteristic burst of colour by Cartier Baignoire Allongée.
“Last year was great for IWC as we celebrated our 150th anniversary with the Jubilee collection, which was a great success. [SIHH] enables us to really engage with our clients at a deeper level and deliver an uncompromising experience of luxury,” concludes Mehdi Rajan, Brand Director at IWC Schaffhausen, Middle East, India and Africa.
SIHH is on from January 14 to 17. Details: sihh.org.
The writer is founder & president, The Horologists.
IWC Pilot Spitfire Chronograph
Two icons, the Pilot Chronograph and British fighter aircraft (and World War II’s aviation hero) Spitfire, come together in a new series. Keeping in line with the trend of smaller dials, the Pilot Chrono will be available in a 41mm case, fitted with a movement from IWC’s famous 69,000 calibre. The bronze case, the olive green dial and brown leather strap make a stunning statement.
Panerai Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition
This one is a bold, tough diver’s watch, dedicated to French free-diving champion Guillaume Néry. The watch is a technical flyback chronograph, water resistant to 300 m and comes with great illumination — visible even in complete darkness. “We want to invest in the Submersible collection and the number of novelties we’re presenting at SIHH is a sign of how much we believe in the line,” says Gaby Bitarian, Brand Director for Middle East and India.
Cartier Baignoire Allongée Céladon
With a dial paved with diamonds and studded with emeralds, Paraíba tourmalines, black spinels or yellow sapphires, the effect is dazzling — each gemstone like a speck of light. Released as numbered editions of 50, the watch is available in white and yellow gold.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Huracàn Performante
Inspired by and developed in partnership with the Lamborghini Squadra Corse, the RD630 calibre offers a 12° inclined balance escapement. The timepiece also sports the distinctive ‘Technical Titan Grey’ livery, complete with the car’s signature bright yellow accents. The lining of the Alcantara strap comes with rubber inlay featuring the Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyre design.