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Watch out, Baselworld: Geneva Salon goes from strength to strength

Amid turbulent times for the Swiss luxury watch industry – and the news that the Geneva show is set to synchronise with Basel in 2020 – MARTIN FOSTER reports on the latest from this year’s SIHH.

The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), known as the ‘Geneva Salon’, is behind us for another year – but with a difference. It has closed for the last time as a January event, and will move to April next year in a bid to consolidate the Swiss watch industry.

In 2020, the 30th Geneva Salon will take place 26–29 April, followed immediately by Baselworld to form what some are calling the ‘Swiss Shows Week’.

Fabienne Lupo, CEO of the SIHH, explained the choice in her opening address at this year’s Salon, saying, “Our one objective must be to serve the greater good of the industry, and this decision is proof of that. We and the Baselworld executive agreed on the importance of coordinating our two events, which will be held back-to-back starting in April 2020 and for five editions.”

The two shows were originally held back-to-back until 10 years ago, when January was adopted by SIHH following wedging of dates between Baselworld, Easter and availability of Geneva’s Palexpo convention centre.

The decision comes at a time of upheaval for the Swiss luxury watch industry, which has seen high-profile defections from both trade fairs. Baselworld was shaken last year by the departure of half its exhibitors, including the Swatch Group, which some called “the end of an era”.

This has left just four of the ‘Big Five’ – Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard and LVMH – exhibiting at Baselworld, and Breitling looking increasingly shaky. However, Chopard’s Karl-Friedrich Scheufele has still publicly backed the Basel show, saying: “I am very happy with Baselworld,” adding, “It will not go out of business.”

Movado, Hermès and Ulysse Nardin left Baselworld in 2018 and the latter two joined the Geneva Salon in 2019. The SIHH itself has had a notable departure, with Audemars Piguet, one of the founding five members, leaving the Salon from next year and eschewing exhibition traditions altogether. Richard Mille is also set to forego the event in 2020.

However, insiders say the SIHH is still on solid ground, and returned excellent results for its 35 exhibitors in 2019. These were primarily made up of Richemont luxury brands – including Cartier, Baume & Mercier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin and Piaget – with some selected independent brands also invited to join the event, like H.Moser, Panerai and this year’s new edition, Bovet.

While the Swiss have virtually taken control of the global luxury watch sector, its target market of high net-worth individuals remains vulnerable to global politics. Broadly, the mood at the Geneva Salon was optimism tempered by the political instabilities of the US, China, Russia and the UK.

Still, the 29th Salon final report revealed it had a highly successful four days with more than 23,000 visitors – up 15 per cent on 2018. In contrast, Baselworld 2018 saw 106,000 visitors – a fall of 30 per cent from its highest attendance in 2014 – despite having 20 times the number of exhibitors as its competitor.

The report also stated the Salon had “millions of views across social media, new audiences, fabulous watches and a packed program of keynotes and panels”. Committing itself to its evolution, the 30 presentations in the auditorium were all streamed live. The #SIHH2019 hashtag featured in no fewer than 380,000 posts on websites, blogs and online magazines, reaching almost 260 million people. One Chinese influencer had as many as 1.2 million people following his live stream.

It’s been observed before that the SIHH is not a forum of conservatism, and with this year’s innovations, it was refreshing to see some inventive thinking in an industry where everything has been done before.
















ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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Thursday, 18 July, 2019 02:48pm
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