A Closer Look at the Resurgent EPHJ Exhibition

The roots of this fair have always been watchmaking. But this tree also produces fruit in other precision technologies, including MedTech. The 2018 edition is a sign of the show’s reassuring evolution.

By Joël A. Grandjean

A great new feature of the 2018 EPHJ exhibition is perhaps the participation of more and more collectors who, taking advantage that the show is only open to professionals, offer themselves the ultimate luxury to slip behind the scenes of brands, to see behind the curtains what really happens.

Information and passion at the source

The world of watch suppliers is certainly the most generous source of information for anyone who has a passion for watchmaking. Here, secrets are revealed much more easily than in finished product fairs such as the SIHH or Baselworld. Because the real players in the sector are much more inclined to share their passions when they can express themselves freely, outside the framework of the agreed marketing speeches. At EPHJ, the truth is spoken in the spotlight and rumours turn into lies or truths. This event is to watchmaking what a fabric show would be to fashion, for haute-couture as well as for ready-to-wear.

An indispensable exhibition, the reasons for such success

The largest trade fair in Switzerland continues to deliver on its promises in terms of space occupied or number of exhibitors - a stable figure of more than 800. Some trends can be seen, in particular these groupings of entities, the formation or consolidation of industrial groups and also the acceleration of transfers between the three sectors which are the EPHJ, the watch and jewellery professional environments, the EPMT, the micro technical environments and MedTech. It is true that the machine parks are compatible, the know-how is related. On the other hand, the traumas of the watchmaking crises are still very much in our minds. They encourage companies in the sector to do everything possible to ensure that their economic health can depend on other sectors that demand the same requirements and skills.

Among the certainties that jump out at the first hours of the opening of the 2018 edition of the show, there is this incredible statement that even before a single visitor has visited the halls of Palexpo in Geneva, business will be done between the exhibitors themselves. Although watch subcontractors have not always had the chromosomes of communication in their genes, this exhibition, theirs, has gradually become an obligatory passage. And their sacrosanct attitude of discretion has been granted a few exceptions in terms of visibility and claiming know-how. Moreover, by sharing the same halls on a single level, they are naturally called upon to get to know each other better, to explore each other and thus to work together.

This way, everyone sees what the other is doing and creative ideas emerge as the discussions unfold. Suddenly, watchmaking discovers here a process linked to its industrialization, to its decoration techniques, there a new material, adaptable to watches. The MedTech professional draws inspiration from a purely watchmaking skill to perfect his mastery of the infinitely small. This exchange is not new for watchmakers, who have been accustomed for 200 years to showing insatiable curiosity for other sectors. The most telling example remains the pink gold that watchmaking borrowed from the dental sector before making it its absolute criterion of good taste. A gold color that literally eclipsed yellow gold.

Relevant personalities

The 2018 edition was also marked by an increased presence of personalities. André Kudelski Director of the Kudelski Group, which employs nearly 4000 people in 33 countries, came specially from the United States to give a conference and debate on innovation. As president of Innosuisse appointed by the Swiss government, he gave his enlightened opinion on Switzerland's real capacity for innovation. The event was moderated by the star journalist Nicolas Rossé of Swiss national television (RTS).

Another personality, the highly mediatized visual artist Richard Orlinkski, revealed by his creation for Hublot of a Big Bang carrying his codes, participated in a round table on design moderated by Watchonista. The show even offered itself a miss French-speaking Switzerland for a conference since the holder of the 2018 crown, Margaux Matthey-Broto, is watchmaker in one of the most prestigious manufactures of Plan-Les-Ouates.

Enough to delight the approximately 20,000 visitors, which still represent the main decision-makers in the watchmaking industry, including a large number of CEOs.

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