In-Depth: Geneva Watch Days Lasting Impact On The Future Of Watch Fairs
Lockdowns, closed manufactures, and shuttered retailers were the forced rhythm of the first part of 2020. Despite all the imposed restrictions, Geneva Watch Days took place last week and gave our industry’s ecosystem a much-needed boost of energy.
Life as we know it has changed. The last eight or so months is certainly not the year we expected when the ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square on midnight January 1. Even before the global health crisis we are currently living in emerged, the traditional agenda of the main watch fairs was totally upset with the cancellation and postponement of some of the most renowned shows on the calendar.
Now, after the conclusion of Geneva Watch Days, the canton of Geneva seems to be the new center of gravity with a new main event beginning in April 2021. Most likely, it will feature two different organizations, for example, Baselworld brands and Watches & Wonders brands, but no one knows exactly what 2021 will hold.
Despite the current health crisis, last week, a few brands decided to organize Geneva Watch Days (visit our dedicated page). Even in the last days before the show was due to begin, no one was quite sure what to expect at this exhibition since travel and quarantine restrictions were changing almost daily, including in Geneva.
But even if a large number of visitors couldn’t make it physically, we can say that Geneva Watch Days was a good initiative, focusing the interest of watch enthusiasts and professionals within a fixed period. Let’s try to understand how a fair without a fair could work.
Divide and Rule
There was no gathering in the Palexpo nor other huge conferences, as public events throughout Switzerland couldn’t host more than 100 people in the same location due to COVID-19 restrictions. Exhibiting brands like Breitling, Bulgari, De Bethune, Gerald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, H. Moser & Cie, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin, and Urwerk showcased their latest novelties in hotel rooms or brand boutiques in the heart of the Geneva.
The Quai du Mont-Blanc was the central path, kind of like the Las Vegas Strip, linking all the “booths” spread out over a small geographic area. A public exhibition area was set-up in a huge tent, open to the jet d’eau, and displaying the brand’s creations in the same place. This permitted journalists and retailers to glimpse the highlights, which could be investigated more thoroughly during appointments. Though, it was a pleasure to admire the qualities of the watches on display in a place with natural light. It was the perfect setting. The space was also used to host themed Geneva Watch Days dinners, done in two services, with mandatory registration to follow Geneva’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“It was a real celebration and the mood was absolutely fantastic! On top of all the press presentations, we introduced our second-semester novelties to our entire retail network, through either physical or virtual Zoom meetings,” commented the founder of MB&F, Max Büsser. “The results were at the same level as our best Baselworld or SIHH for a fraction of the investment! The Geneva Watch Days formula is definitely a great concept, and I hope there will be more – perhaps in different cities around the world – in the future.”
Despite the mandatory masks and social distancing requirements inside the buildings, these rules were respected in our meetings. The ambiance was friendly and positive. All parties were happy that, in the wake of all fairs and events being canceled worldwide, something was finally happening in the watch world.
“We often talk about how important it is for journalists to physically see watches to be able to truly appreciate them, but what really struck me during the Geneva Watch Days was just how important it is for brands to be able to show and share their timepieces with us too,” remarked Watchonista Editor-at-Large Sophie Furley. “Creating a timepiece without being able to show it is a bit like watching a beautiful sunset by yourself, it is nice, but it is a million times better when you can share it with someone else. The Geneva Watch Days gave us a moment to share, and after a catastrophic 2020, it felt good!”
When Physical Hosts Virtual
Even if a major portion of the world’s retailers and journalists could not attend the event, exhibitors were giving daily presentations through appointments and online meetings via Zoom, Skype, and the like. The mix of real and virtual was extremely well received by brands, journalists, and, most importantly, retailers.
Watchonista Managing Editor Josh Shanks followed several online presentations from New York and said, “Even though I couldn’t be there physically, Geneva Watch Days ended up being one of the most immersive shows I’ve attended during my tenure at Watchonista. Brands continue to embrace digital, and the proactivity of the exhibiting brands made our editorial and social media coverage seamless and easy!”
A Glimpse At Watch Fair Formats Of The Future
With the experience of Geneva Watch Days behind us and the uncertainty of future watch fairs taking place in 2021 ahead, maybe the configurations seen last week in Geneva can be the beginning of something new for the industry. For sure, some brands will join those events, but some others, like Bulgari, will decide to be independent.
As Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said, “Geneva Watch Days marks the beginning of a new era. Watch fairs will never be as they were before. Everyone knows that we have done an event very affordable as well as extremely luxurious. The Ritz-Carlton was ideal for Bvlgari. Next spring, the FHH did not accept Bvlgari's application to join Watches & Wonders, so we are going to do without it and organize an event on the same dates, very similar to what we just created. This is a much better trade show format than the traditional watch fairs, and it will be superior to them anyway regardless of their development due to their management difficulties.”
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)