30 August 2022

Geneva Watch Days, 4 days of meetings at the heart of the watchmaking art

by Eugénie Rousak

©Geneva Watch Days

Lancé en 2020, renforcé en 2021 et réinscrit à l’unanimité des Maisons participantes à l’agenda 2022, Geneva Watch Days s’est progressivement glissé parmi les rencontres phares de la haute horlogerie.

With the particularity of being worldwide, decentralized and self-managed, this professional exhibition brings together a large and varied panel of famous brands and independents to offer a representative mix of the watchmaking landscape. From August 29 to September 1, 2022, some thirty brands will take over the various venues in the center of Geneva to unveil their latest creations and share moments of conviviality with retailers, the media and the public.

If the term “watch show” conjures up an image of an enclosed space where showcases are interlocked in a joyful organization of crown wheels, Geneva Watch Days has opted for a more central location with satellite gables around the harbor. The ultimate humdinger of watchmaking art and trends is traditionally the Common Pavilion, ingeniously placed at the Mont Blanc Rotunda. This is where everything happens during the four days: from exhibitions to panel discussions, from design presentations to press conferences, from various thematic animations to international networking. In short, a program that is as full as it is timed, to the rhythm of the needle, the finest of course! All this with a view of the water jet. In contrast to this ephemeral construction, century-old buildings in Geneva, such as hotels, factories or even boutiques in the surrounding area open their doors to exhibit the latest products of the participating brands. Each one has a custom-made setting, which corresponds to its identity and philosophy. It’s a completely different atmosphere, more intimate, more decentralized, more in keeping with the customs of the city of Calvin. Finally, private does not mean hidden, quite the contrary!

©Geneva Watch Days

Thus, pushing back the classic format of usual exhibition stands, the trade show has definitely conceptualized a new way of organizing events and has set up new codes of global communication. Speaking of global, if the show was originally a response to the confinements that were progressively paralyzing the world, this new format has decided to develop on all platforms and in all dimensions. Geneva Watch Days’ phygital is the new answer to the pandemic! As its name indicates, this hybrid solution between physical and digital allows to reach both a public visiting Geneva and one, which unfortunately cannot travel. Thus, thanks to a virtual platform, the latter can freely explore the exhibition and discover the novelties in real time. Now let’s talk about the story.

The power of motivation

©Breitling ©Bulgari ©Ulysse Nardin

The year is 2020. The virus has just made its dazzling entry on the European continent and gradually the world is confined. The trade shows, which are closing one after the other, are no exception. Baselworld cancelled, Watches and Wonders Geneva (the former SIHH) announced only online, no more meetings are planned for the watchmaking sector, which is already very weakened, not to say in free fall. Without necessarily getting lost in the figures, it is nevertheless necessary to put oneself in context. According to data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales have fallen by 21.8%, while exports of timepieces have dropped by 33%. In total, 13.8 million watches were exported in 2020, a number equivalent to the year 1939. In short, a complex situation and a total absence of exchanges and meetings between professionals in the field. In this environment, a group of watchmakers, Breitling, Bulgari, De Bethune, MB&F, H.Moser & Cie, Ulysse Nardin and Urwerk, decided to join forces and motivations to organize a new event for the industry. Unprecedented and unconventional! Of course, in the context of Covid-19 restrictions, challenges and changes were to be expected. For example, the dates of the first edition had to be moved from April to August. Certainly destabilizing, but something more was needed to compensate for the perseverance and enthusiasm of the initiators. The first Geneva Watch Days happily opened its doors in the summer of 2020. A total of 33 iconic names from the watchmaking world were able to present their models to international customers and media. What’s more, the industry’s only professional gathering of the year was in front of the water’s edge! Let’s not talk about Geneva’s influence on the industry. Moreover, Geneva Watch Days is supported by the State and the City of Geneva. This unique and successful event quickly became the first edition of an annual meeting, placed under the sign of conviviality, commitment, inclusion and openness. The second edition invaded the urban space again at the end of summer 2021. A 600 square meter pavilion allowed the 25 participants to meet some 350 retailers, more than 300 journalists and the public, curious to understand the new challenges of the watch industry. The third edition was quickly announced for August 29 to September 1, 2022. The list of participants has since grown to include new members, spread over some twenty locations around the lake. 

©De Bethune ©H.Moser & Cie ©Urwerk ©MB&F

Wide range of watchmaking art

While Geneva Watch Days is a collective work of the participating members, this multi-brand meeting is particularly fluid between all the poles of the watch industry. While each brand follows its own ideology, positions itself in a particular segment and evolves in its own unique style, all share the desire to combine ancestral know-how with the technical advances of fine watchmaking. In keeping with its philosophy of inclusiveness and openness to all, the show sees more and more brands joining this experience dedicated to the art of watchmaking each year, according to different statuses. First, there are the seven founding members of the project. The visionaries of a new era of exhibitions! Breitling, a company founded in Saint-Imier in 1884, when Switzerland was plunged into a deep recession. At the time, the young Léon Breitling already had a very concrete ambition: “to measure, divide and master time with his emblematic chronographs that have rocked the company to this day. Then Bulgari. After crossing the Mediterranean Sea from his native Greece to Italy, Sotirio Bulgari seduced the world with his unique designs. Playing with Roman motifs and Ottoman inspirations, the House invites eclectic solutions into its pieces. It took only a few years for De Bethune, founded in 2002, to become one of the most innovative manufacturers in mechanical watchmaking. Located in the mountain pastures of the Swiss Jura, it is distinguished by its aestheticism with pure and elegant lines, which hide technological prowess in the smallest details. As its name “Maximilian Büsser & Friends” indicates, MB&F is above all a story of friendship between the founder and artistic director Maximilian Büsser and all his partners, artists, watchmakers and designers. Created in 2005, this first watchmaking and artistic laboratory presents models that are out of the ordinary, non-conformist, and even a little zany. Born into a family of watchmakers, Heinrich Moser from Schaffhausen decided to become independent by founding H.Moser & Cie in 1828. His signature? Smoked dials in different colors, identifiable at first glance, recognizable even without a logo! Proudly bearing the name of its founder, Ulysse Nardin is the quintessence of avant-garde engineering. In 1860, the House even purchased a high-precision astronomical regulator to calibrate its pocket chronometers, setting the tone for almost two centuries of timekeeping adventures! Urwerk is still positioning itself outside the watchmaking arena with models that are as dissident as they are innovative. The brand revises the very notion of time, by rethinking the hour display on the dial… well if it is possible to call it a dial. This lovely spectrum of creators has been joined for this edition by Jacob & Co, as a Contributing Member. Known for its timepieces featuring scenes from paintings and blockbusters, monuments and zodiac signs, the brand is known for challenging the imagination. 

©Geneva Watch Days

Alongside these founders, Associates members have been added, including Arnold & Son, DOXA, Frederique Constant Group, Greubel Forsey, Maurice Lacroix, Oris, Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo, Reuge and Corum. The new creations of Bianchet, Czapek, Louis Erard, Beauregard, Byrne, Hautlence, HYT, Krayon, Claude Meylan, Singer and Trilobe are also presented, these brands being Regular members. Thus, all these big names of the industry are unveiling their latest innovations, recently developed products or preview collections. Geneva Watch Days is full of surprises.

With four days at the rhythm of a second hand, the entire world watch industry is presented in Geneva as if on a dial. But finally, in this place entirely dedicated to the measurement of time, time will not really be counted!