GENEVA — Timekeeping enthusiasts, synchronize your watches.
Watches and Wonders Geneva kicks off Monday and runs until April 2 at Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition hall — and not just for industry professionals.
In a move that was revealed in October, this second edition of the fair will be open to the general public for its closing weekend, with tickets available for 70 Swiss francs, or $75 at current exchange rates.
What’s more, even without a pass there will be plenty beyond the Palexpo epicenter, with activations across the whole city, amounting to a weeklong celebration of watchmaking in Geneva.
In the runup to the fair, Matthieu Humair, chief executive officer of Watches and Wonders Geneva Foundation, said, “The city and the industry are already fizzing with everything we are putting in place, particularly the In The City program.”
Welcoming the general public over two days and at the weekend aims to turn Geneva into a watch-focused destination but also to create a dynamic with other European cities, he said, confirming a goal stated when the foundation was launched in 2022.
Activities include guided tours of Geneva’s watchmaking landmarks, a QR code rally to find the secret password for a chance to win entries to the fair and an evening of revelry on Thursday.
Watchmakers’ boutiques too have prepared for the occasion, ranging from demonstrations of leather marquetry on watch dials at Hermès and conversations on métiers d’art crafts at Cartier to retrospectives at Tag Heuer, IWC Schaffhausen and Panerai, which will be showing the largest assortment of its Radiomir watches.
Vacheron Constantin also hinted at “a photographic experience” during Thursday evening’s events. Pre-owned watch specialist Watchfinder & Co, owned by Richemont, will also be showcasing a selection from brands taking part in the fair at its Bongénie-Grieder store during the week.
The executive named Thursday evening as one of the highlights of the week, with a four-hour-long program that includes conferences and a performance by French DJ The Avener.
“It will allow Geneva to vibrate with insiders and enthusiasts,” Humair said. “We are rejoicing to see the industry come together live and not just online.”
At Palexpo, there will be 48 houses showcasing their latest innovations, newest designs and all manners of complications, up from 38 at the 2022 edition. In addition to Bell & Ross, with its booth installed near Chanel, a new space close to the Carré des Horlogers and its 14 independent labels is now home to an additional nine brands including Alpina, Frédérique Constant and Charriol.
Positioned at the heart of the fair and surrounded by a heady mix of major players that includes foundation founders Cartier, Patek Philippe and Rolex — as well as Chanel, Chopard, Hermès, Tudor, Tag Heuer, Van Cleef & Arpels and Zenith — the new exhibitors are expected to benefit from high levels of foot traffic.
This year’s seven-day program will give plenty of space to new releases, celebrity appearances and keynotes from exhibiting brands. But instead of panel discussions geared toward professional audiences, there will be 10 conferences for the general public on Saturday and Sunday, with topics ranging from trends and watch value to circularity and Web3.
Those who don’t make it to Geneva this edition need not fret as hybrid formats are here to stay, both for appointments with the brands but also for the fuller program, available through the fair’s platforms.
Among the brands who have already teased what they’re presenting this week is Hublot, which will be showcasing its latest MP-13 Tourbillon Bi-Axis Retrograde, a new complication fully developed in-house, as well as new materials for Big Bang Integrated Tourbillon Full Carbon and Square Bang timepieces.
While Van Cleef & Arpels delves further into gem-set timepieces, jewels that tell time and its poetic automata featuring butterflies and flowers, Chanel considered both its couture heritage and craftsmanship as well as a journey through time and space.
Independent label Charriol will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with new models in its St-Tropez collection that had CEO, creative director and second generation of the family-owned label Coralie Charriol Paul noting that “that luxury doesn’t need to come at the cost of adventure.”
An exhibition will highlight the work of Swiss press photographer Karine Bauzin, who traveled to more than 20 countries in the past decade with her camera and one question: “what time is it?”
The resulting images are an investigation of time and its perception through a kaleidoscopic take of people looking at their watch in a myriad of places and outfits. Visitors will be able to replicate poses and show off their timepieces in an installation at the entrance of the fair.
In The Lab, the fair’s ideas hub, 12 projects will be showing possible futures for watchmaking, from brands and start-ups presenting the latest from their R&D departments as well as schools like the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (best known as “EPFL”).
“Watches and Wonders is not just a fair, it’s a summit to connect the industry, guide it toward the future and show young people what watchmaking is,” Humair said.
There are already signs that this will be a busy, buzzy edition. Early preliminary figures from the fair’s organizing body show visitors registrations from some 125 countries, including mainland China, a particularly anticipated cohort since the country lifted the last of its pandemic-related outbound travel restrictions in early January.
Humair said the fair expected some 30,000 visitors, between the return of Asian markets and the opening to the public, in a marked increase from the 22,000 entries for the 2022 edition. He estimated the proportion of Asian visitors to pre-pandemic watch events between 15 and 20 percent.
This effervescent mood certainly matched an industry that’s been booming in the past few years, with a marked surge in high-end watch sales and sustained demand despite choppy waters in the past 12 months.
As the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry stated in its 2022 figures: “despite ongoing uncertainties, the prospects for Swiss watchmaking remain favorable. Solid foundations and continuing steady demand should drive growth in 2023.”