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SIHH exhibitor and visitor attendance numbers increased in 2017
SIHH exhibitor and visitor attendance numbers increased in 2017

Swiss watch industry on way to recovery

Following troubled market conditions, new Swiss watch export figures coupled with sentiment at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) indicate a return of some industry confidence. MARTIN FOSTER reports.

The SIHH – generally known as the Geneva Salon – is the watch industry’s first gathering of the year, presenting an opportunity for the finest luxury brands to roll out their latest models.

This year’s trade fair took place from 16 January to 20 January 2017 at the Palexpo convention centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

Organisers reported a positive turnout, with exhibitor numbers rising 25 per cent and visitor attendance increasing 10 per cent to 16,000, including 1,200 journalists and 2,500 public visitors.

This year, for the first time, the public was admitted on the last day of the show.

According to SIHH managing director Fabienne Lupo, the decision was made in an attempt to create greater industry awareness.

“By opening the last day of the Salon to the public, we are enabling existing and future clients to get to know the craft, and to explore not only the products but also the history, know-how and skills of the industry,” Lupo stated.

The SIHH is primarily a Richemont event and for the company’s luxury watch brands, 2016 was a turbulent year. The first half year produced such appalling turnover results that the group announced an inventory buy-back from distributors in Hong Kong and France following a sales slump and resulting from extremist attacks in Paris.

Swiss Federal Customs Administration figures showed Swiss watch exports totalled nearly CHF16 billion (AU$20.8 b) between January and October 2016 but of this, 8 per cent was re-imported in the stock buy-back.

The buy-back is a costly operation to prevent excess stock finding its way into the hated grey market, where discounting and auction sell-offs break down the fiercely protected retail price structures.

For the financial year ended 31 March 2016, Richemont reported sales of €11 billion (AU$15.2 b). Operating profit for that year amounted to €2 billion (AU$2.8 b) and profit for the year was €2.23 billion (AU$3.1 b).

Fabienne Lupo, SIHH managing director
Fabienne Lupo, SIHH managing director

In the following five months – March to August – Richemont sales fell 13 per cent; however, figures recently released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported a less severe fall in December for the overall industry.

While results for the month remained negative, decreasing 4.6 per cent compared to December 2015, the fall was one of the shallowest of the year despite the fact that there was one less working day than in 2015. The December exports value stood at CHF1.7 billion (AU$2.2 b), taking the annual total to CHF19.4 billion (AU$25.2 b) – a 9.9 per cent drop compared to the previous year.

Patrik Schwendimann, analyst at Swiss bank Zürcher Kantonalbank, told Bloomberg that the market was expected to improve.

“The worst is probably over for Richemont and Swatch Group,” Schwendimann said, adding, “The likelihood that the Swiss watch industry will see growth in exports in the course of 2017 has increased. It’s reassuring that sales gained traction in the most important quarter of the year.”

Standout trends

The SIHH is not a forum of conservatism and although the classic forms can easily be found, the event’s diversity is borne out of some very offbeat and arresting designs.

This is central to the primary identity of brands such as Christophe Claret, Urwerk and Hautlence.

Some of these brands hark back to classic forms and others present a dark, sinister appeal with multi-layered dials as if ripped straight off the arm of Darth Vader.

The mainstream 2017 SIHH exhibiting brands included the likes of A Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Greubel Forsey, Girard-Perregaux, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Ulysse Nardin, Van Cleef & Arpels and Vacheron Constantin.

This year the SIHH had the highest exhibitor participation in its 27-year history – a total of 30 – that was boosted very successfully by the Carré des Horlogers exhibition space. This area, which was introduced in 2016, consisted of 13 smaller, unaffiliated brands that shared the philosophy of class, individuality and superb quality of the other exhibitors. There were no ‘watches for the people’ here and none of them were cheap.

Exhibiting in the Carré des Horlogers were a mixture of the very old and the very new, including Christophe Claret, Grönefeld, H. Moser & Cie, Hautlence, HYT, Kari Voutilainen, Laurent Ferrier, MB&F, MCT – Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps, Ressence, RJ-Romain Jerome, Speake Marin and Urwerk.

‘Best in Show’ was Greubel Forsey, which announced it would make just eight pieces per year of its new Grande Sonnerie wristwatch. Pricing at AU$1.6 million will bring a tear to one’s eye – and the price is without any priming from precious metals or rare stones.

Montblanc introduced three new bronze watches into its 1858 collection.

Montblanc’s 1858 collection was named for the year in which the legendary watchmaking maison Minerva – now Montblanc – was founded in Villeret, Switzerland.

Christophe Claret was one of the larger, established makers exhibiting in the Carré des Horlogers. The company established its reputation making specials and complications for other major brands but in the past few years has emerged from the shadows as a brand in its own right. The Maestro is the latest in a series or ‘collection’, which is establishing an unmistakable and individual stamp of nonconformist technical excellence.

The 2018 SIHH is scheduled to take place from 15 January to 19 January at the Palexpo convention centre in Geneva.

* Martin Foster reviewed the SIHH courtesy of Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, organiser of the event.


SIHH 2017

Vacheron Constantin
Vacheron Constantin
Richard Mille
Richard Mille

IWC Schaffhausen
IWC Schaffhausen
Christophe Claret
Christophe Claret

Swiss watch export results in 2016. Source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry
Swiss watch export results in 2016. Source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry


More reading
Stormy economic period for Swiss watches
Luxury makes way for mid-range at world’s largest watch fair
BaselWorld 2016: Exposing the untold story of clocks

Martin Foster

Martin Foster is a freelance journalist and Jeweller’s resident watch ‘guru’. Based in Sydney, Martin attends major international exhibitions covering the watch and timepieces categories.

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