“SIHH is No More!” So screamed the headlines in one of the watch industry trade sites, heralding the change of the watch fair’s name to Watches & Wonders, signifying a hook-up with the existing, open-to-the-public horological road show held in Miami and Hong Kong. Already the paranoia, the kvetching and the doom-saying have started. Gimme a break: it’s a watch fair, not a heart bypass.

What does this mean for both the existing trade visitors and the watch-loving public, long itching to pass through those hallowed portals at Palexpo? The 30th anniversary of the event will no doubt present a challenge to retailers, distributors and journalists, used to three decades of tightly organized, planned-to-the-minute exclusivity and pampering, but even that wasn’t sacrosanct.

For a few years now, the original 15 to 18 brands from the Richemont Group, augmented by a few independent “friends”, has expanded to around 35 with the addition of 17 more brands in the Carré des Horlogers (the Watchmakers’ Square) suite for small independents. This was readily filled by the brands who felt swamped by Baselworld and no doubt contributed to its shrinkage.

Richemont Group

Retailers need only call on the brands they stock; if you carry Panerai but don’t sell IWC, you could skip the latter. Visiting journalists, on the other hand, are expected to call on every single exhibitor if they are to retain their status. The addition of the Carré effectively doubled the number of presentations, yet the duration of the event remained unchanged. Lunch hours (poor babies!!) were truncated to allow time to visit the independents. Trainers replaced Jimmy Choos. The hacks were knackered.

To provide an inkling of why there is a sense of concern over the new arrangements, the first bombshell is that Watches & Wonders will be open to the public, thus increasing the density of the crowd. So much for swiftly finding seats at the tables around the bistros, or short queues at the entrance.

That, however, is nothing compared to the angst inspired by the new dates. The show has been moved from January to April, to the week before the revised Baselworld. Oh, how I laughed when the snowflakes started wailing! “How will we handle two shows in a row? That’s at least a week away from home! And how do we get from Geneva to Basel?”

Hmmm … maybe someone should tell them that, for nearly 20 years, the two shows ran in sequence and it was only a decade ago that SIHH changed to January. I don’t recall any particular hardship, any whinging about the proximity of the two shows way back when, but then my colleagues I and at the time were not mollycoddled Millennials. We just got on with it.

Watches & Wonders

With global rumblings about a backlash against conspicuous consumption, every luxury brand — not just watch houses — has to pay heed to the current zeitgeist. Nobody wants to be in Greta Thunberg’s sights. But there are watches to be sold, and promoting them has never been more important. With this in mind, the organisers have promised that W&W will be more inclusive, embracing the city of Geneva.

Planned is a program titled “In the City” to make this a must for watch lovers. It will offer exhibitions, walking tours, hands-on watchmaking experiences, visits to the manufactures and museums, presentations in the boutiques, myriad conferences and the opportunity for face-time with industry figures — something journalists are privileged to undergo as part of their work, but which “civilians” rarely enjoy.

W&W Miami 2019, Watchmaking Workshop

All of this, by necessity if it is to succeed, has been organized with the support of the City and the Canton of Geneva. One wishes that the city fathers of Basel saw Baselworld in the same light, instead of failing to rein in the avarice of the local hotels and restaurants. But I’ll leave that particular battle to our founder, Wei Koh, who has more antipathy for CHF8 sausages than I do; my pet peeve is the cost of taxis. And we haven’t even mentioned what Swatch Group has planned for 2020.

With Watches & Wonders Geneva ending just before Baselworld, there will be a hustle for the seats on the trains that run between the two, and for me that’s a joyous blast from the past: I loved the journey, a respite between the fairs. I suspect, though that cars will be hired, and I don’t even know if there are flights between the two cities, unless one has the budget for booking a helicopter. Somehow, I don’t see too many Millennials thinking along those lines. It wouldn’t do to piss off Greta.