PARIS — Shaping up as the dominant, global showcase for high-end timepieces, Watches and Wonders has firmed up plans for this year’s presentations, which are concentrated around the digital show in Geneva on April 7 to 13, with 40 exhibiting labels, quickly followed by a physical event in Shanghai with 15 brands a few days later.
Organizers decided last November that the April event would take place online only, and have been shoring up the digital platform in preparation. The Geneva event brings together brands belonging to Compagnie Financière Richemont, including Cartier and Vacheron Constantin, with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton labels Bulgari, Hublot, Zenith, Tag Heuer and Louis Vuitton, as well as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Hermès and Ulysse Nardin, among others.
The Shanghai leg will take place a few days after the Geneva presentations, in person at the West Bund Art Center. The format was tested last year by nearly a dozen Richemont labels, including Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre, which will be joined by Chopard, Rolex, Tudor and Ulysse Nardin this year.
Stressing a ‘phy-gital’ approach, organizers noted that some physical events could be added, depending on how the coronavirus situation evolves. The 2022 edition of the Geneva fair has already reserved space in the Palexpo halls, where its predecessor, SIHH, used to be held at the start of the year.
The industry is impatient for in-person meetings, and last summer a group of brands including Bulgari, Breitling and Ulysse Nardin banded together to hold small gatherings with the press and clients in Geneva.
The coronanvirus has thrown off the watch industry’s traditional calendar of fairs, which had already been buffeted by disruption in recent years. Baselworld, once a blockbuster event that featured LVMH brands, had been struggling to retain exhibitors before the Swatch Group said in 2018 that it would quit the fair. The rise in digital channels had reduced the need for the splashy physical events that drew crowds to visit booths reaching several stories high. Coordinating on dates with SIHH — Watches and Wonders’ predecessor — a move meant to boost traffic flows from abroad — was not enough to save the Baselworld show, especially when the coronavirus grounded international travel, and ultimately forced the cancellation of both physical events.
The high-end watch industry has been strongly affected by the coronavirus crisis, with the value of exports of down 21.8 percent over the year, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Labels across the spectrum are focusing on consumers in mainland China, who are driving business and who helped improve the sector’s performance, particularly in the second half of last year.