GENEVA, Switzerland – At the same time the Basel show was going on, Cartier held its fourth annual Salon de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). It was originally billed as a high-end alternative to Basel, but this year appeared to be an almost exclusively Cartier-group show.

When Cartier president Alain Dominique Perrin pulled his group out of the Basel Fair in 1991, his goal was to have at least 10 Geneva watchmakers showing at SIHH within five years.

But this season there were only five: Cartier, Baume & Mercier, Piaget and Alfred Dunhill, all of which are owned by the Vendome Group, and independent Franck Muller.

However, the SIHH did succeed in drawing more visitors this year, pulling in 7,000 people, compared with last year’s 6,000.

“No matter how you look at things, this salon is a success,” said Franco Cologni, vice president of Cartier International. “Professional attendance was up 15 percent, and we had visitors from 60 countries. This is excellent.”

Best-selling pieces ran the gamut from an understated Art Deco-style tank watch by Cartier priced to retail at about $3,900 to a diamond-crusted Piaget pocket watch set to sell at a little more than $1 million.

Phillipe Leopold Metzger, Piaget’s managing director, noted, “In this market, what sells is what’s expensive. Our business is based on exclusivity.”

As in Basel, everyone was talking about Investcorp’s pending acquisition of Ebel, which effectively creates a fourth strong European watch and jewelry group alongside Rolex, Cartier and SMH, the owners of 12 watch brands including Swatch, Omega and Blancpain.

And now, according to Cologni, Cartier is looking around for an acquisition in Italy.

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