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A tale of rivers and watch fairs
Point of View

A tale of rivers and watch fairs

Thursday, 09 May 2019
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Franco Cologni
President of the FHH Cultural Council

“Talent demands effort, dedication and hours spent perfecting a gesture which, day by day, becomes a gift.”

An entrepreneur at heart, though a man of letters, Franco Cologni was quick to embark on a business career that would lead him to key roles within the Richemont Group.

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3 min read

Any stroll through the wonderful city of Rome always takes me to Piazza Navona to admire the magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Bernini in the mid-1600s. This allegory of the world as it was then known, with its sculptures representing rivers, has often put me in mind of another hydrographic specificity, this one a little further north.

Indeed, Baselworld has taken root by the Rhine, which empties into the North Sea after crossing one of Europe’s economic heartlands. SIHH, meanwhile, takes place on the banks of the Rhône, a river that flows into the Mediterranean with its evocations of thyme and pine forests. Two fairs, two rivers, two destinations, two cultures. A dichotomy mirrored by history. While not wishing to elaborate on the subject here, suffice to remind ourselves that, consequent to Calvin’s teachings, Geneva became a thriving centre for watchmaking as from the late seventeenth century – particularly with the influx of Huguenots – and has remained so ever since. Basel, on the other hand, has confirmed its position as a commercial hub, epitomised by the famous Mustermesse that began in 1917 and gave rise to the Baselworld we know today. But no sign of Basel as a centre for watchmaking!

We laid the foundations for SIHH in 1991 precisely to mark this difference. The idea was that this fair, centred around the values of Geneva’s grand tradition, should become a reflection of excellence in watchmaking, initially for the trade but also for end customers. Edition after edition, it seems to me that SIHH has achieved its objectives, proving its ability to move with the times, open up to the world, and integrate digital technologies. All the while maintaining a unified “identity” for the Maisons exhibiting there: 35 at this year’s edition. What of Baselworld, which now numbers a mere eight Haute Horlogerie brands – though perhaps Nick Hayek will change that by returning to save the day – yet still insists on modelling its new strategy on what’s been happening in Geneva for a long time already? Seriously, it isn’t by copying the format of SIHH that Baselworld will stop haemorrhaging exhibitors. While we salute the efforts being made to rescue the fair – and we want nothing more! – it has to find solutions of its own.

From the very beginning, Baselworld was the reflection of an entire industry, gradually bringing in jewellery, suppliers, machinery, even foreign pavilions, and it was precisely this diversity and complementarity, this unique profusion, that underpinned its success. But as the fair continued its remarkable rise, the organisers became more concerned with filling square metres. It’s now up to the new team to recreate the magic – something the industry isn’t lacking. And not by “borrowing” inspiration from an event whose vocation and culture are entirely other. This is the only way the aligning of the two fairs’ dates makes sense.

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