Fabienne Lupo

Understanding Watches & Wonders Geneva 2020: An Interview with Fabienne Lupo, President of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

It was Wednesday’s breaking news of SIHH changing its name to Watches & Wonders Geneva. We met with FHH’s president, Fabienne Lupo, to better understand this new concept.

By Benjamin Teisseire

The news is the talk of the watch industry and, yet, it deserves some further clarification. Fabienne Lupo, the show’s dynamic president, shares with us her thinking behind the change.

Benjamin Teisseire: So, SIHH is coming to an end and transforming into Watches & Wonders Geneva. What will actually change?

Fabienne Lupo: First of all, it is important to remember that this decision isn’t coming out of nowhere. For years, SIHH has been transforming to broaden its audience, develop its content, and open up to the general public. New brands have arrived, and a new live platform with keynote speakers was put in place. All this has already changed and improved the content and experience of the show.

In 2019, the Lab presented new technological and digital initiatives to open up to a younger audience as well. For a while now, the goal was to present a larger watchmaking experience to grow the community of people interested in horology.

In 2020, this transformation will be complete. The dates are changing due to the two major watchmaking trade fairs now running back-to-back. We also wanted to adopt a new name, to become more open to the public and more international. We wanted a name evoking the wonder that watchmaking arouses through its craftsmanship, innovation, and technological developments. So, Watches & Wonders Geneva was born.

Also, the whole structure of the show is changing. There will be two parts to the show. First, "Le Salon," which will remain the center of B2B relationships between brands, media, distributors, and retailers. Nonetheless, it will also be more open up to the general public who will be able to access the show over those five days, and benefit from the unique experiences of “Le Salon.” Discovery itineraries will also be available to visitors so they can access all the wonders unveiled. The second part, “In the City,” will be dedicated to the public and will take place in town.

BT: It seems, Watches & Wonders Geneva is becoming more experiential, can you tell us more about this?

FL: Milan has the Salone delle Mobile for furniture, Venice has the Biennale of Art, Cannes its Film Festival. We want to make Watches & Wonders a watchmaking festival in Geneva, a real event for the general public across the city. The exact program of "In the City" is being finalized, and you'll know more soon.

I can already tell you that there will be exhibitions, conferences, workshops, demonstrations of crafts, and entertainment in the boutiques of the show’s partner brands. Real experiences will be offered to the public, and all the activities will be free. It will, however, be necessary to register for logistical reasons, but the whole city will be bubbling over with watchmaking events.

BT: It sounds like this could greatly benefit the "outsiders" of the show who exhibit in the city. Is this intentional?

FL: Everyone will benefit, of course, but we want to reach a different and wider audience with "In the City" than with “Le Salon.” In the end, it is the visibility brought to the wealth of watchmaking know-how that will be the winner. Watches & Wonders will be the perfect time to be in Geneva for all lovers of watchmaking.

BT: How will the interactive components of the show be presented?

FL: We want to offer an increasingly interesting program in two formats. The first will be a platform for brands, where they can choose to present a product launch, a new collaboration, a partnership, new ambassadors, etc. The idea is to share the entire environment associated with a brand through its products, values, strategy, and vision.

The second will center around keynote speakers, who will not necessarily come from the watchmaking world. They will share best practices from other industries, for example, environmental and social responsibility, or e-commerce. It will be more of a forum to exchange ideas, share experiences, and open up to the rest of the world. Like we did previously with the Haute Horlogerie Forum of the FHH. It is our “Think Tank.”

The Lab is also growing, and it was a huge success in 2019. This shows a growing desire to talk about watchmaking in a different way. This year we presented 20 projects, but for 2020, there are already more than 40 proposals!

BT: With the show now slated for the end of April, will Watches & Wonders Miami be the first show of the year?

FL: With the rescheduling of Geneva, we are considering changes for Miami, but it is too early to talk about it. Dates will be confirmed later. The idea is to make Geneva the master event, and other destinations will follow. And not only in the United States, but that’s all I can say.

BT: There is a lot of discussion within the watch industry about the dates being later in the year. What are your options?

FL: The dates of Watches & Wonders and Baselworld are set for the next 5 years. In 2021, it will be two weeks earlier, and in 2022 it will be the same. They are fixed for April. I would like to remind you that, for 20 years, we were in the exact same situation. The shows followed one another in the same spring month. It's only since 2009 that things changed.

We are returning to a schedule that makes more sense. It facilitates the lives of professional visitors, allowing them to avoid making multiple long trips. And, the time to market for the timepieces presented at the shows will be much shorter, much to the enjoyment of the end consumers.

BT: A question that is on everyone’s lips:  Who will replace Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille who announced their departure earlier this year?

FL: The setup of the fair will remain mostly the same as in 2019. No new "big" brands make their entry. Some independents of the Carré des Horlogers will also leave for group logics, like Ferdinand Berthoud [part of the Chopard group] or Romain Gauthier [related to Chanel], but others will replace them.

BT: Last question. At SIHH 2019, you mentioned in our interview the difficulty of finding the balance between exclusivity and openness. So, did openness finally win?

FL: It seems to me that the new Watches & Wonders formula is beneficial for both exclusivity and openness. The exclusivity of "Le Salon" will always be there with a very B2B, invitation-only oriented event, even if it will be very open to the world in its communication and the possibility for the general public to take full advantage of the unique experience. And the obvious opening up through "In the City" brings watchmaking directly to the general public in the streets of Geneva.

A special thanks to Fabienne Lupo for her precious time, and for answering our questions so frankly. We are very excited to experience the new Watches & Wonders Festival in Geneva from April 25th to 29th, 2020.

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