This was no small challenge and yet here it is. Today, watchesandwonders.com becomes reality for the 38 prestigious brands taking part and for fans of watchmaking excellence worldwide. Nor does it end there, as the organiser, Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), explains: “Watches and Wonders has evolved into a comprehensive hub that encompasses brands, retailers, end customers, media and strategic distribution partners such as Net-A-Porter, Mr Porter and Alibaba’s Tmall Luxury Pavilion in China,” adding that “special campaigns featuring exclusive content will coincide with the Geneva and Shanghai events to engage audiences beyond the traditional watchmaking sphere.”
This will be a packed week, for sure. Presentations by the brands of their newest releases will undoubtedly be one of the highlights, but not the only one. Chats with brand ambassadors, CEO keynotes, guided tours of the Manufactures and virtual parties are all on the agenda, either on watchesandwonders.com or by connecting to the different brand websites. The organisers have plenty of content lined up too, not least a Morning Show that goes out live every day with all the latest news from the fair, alongside panels where thought leaders and experts debate themes of interest to the industry.
Barely two years ago, who could have predicted that watch fairs would undergo such a radical transformation? Basel – the industry’s biggest showcase which in its heyday drew in excess of a thousand Swiss and international names – saw exhibitor numbers decline. Swatch Group and its brands were first to jump ship at a time when a large part of the industry was questioning whether trade fairs were still the most effective solution in a digital world ruled by social media. At the same time, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was planning its next move. After welcoming independents within its walls, the Salon was preparing to test a new formula that would take the fair into Geneva. Rebranded Watches and Wonders, this was to be a convivial event, geared more towards the general public. Alas, the global pandemic drained the blood from Basel and pulled the rug on Geneva.
Unable to stem the haemorrhage, Baselworld closed its doors once and for all last year with no certainty, at the time of writing, as to whether it will find a way to rise, phoenix-like, from its ashes. As for Watches and Wonders, it too had to rethink its organisation, and fast. Cancelled in the wake of Covid-19, the 2020 edition was moved online in the form of a digital fair showcasing 30 brands. Later that year, the FHH did succeed in staging an in-person event, first in Shanghai then on the Chinese island resort of Hainan. When, between times, Chanel, Chopard, Patek Philippe, Rolex and Tudor announced that they would be relocating to Geneva, suddenly everything seemed possible. All eyes were on what promised to be an unprecedented gathering of brands in Geneva this year. Once again, hopes were dashed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Geneva will have to wait, which hasn’t prevented Watches and Wonders from gaining in size and substance while confirming its “phygital” format. Looking ahead, Geneva will assuredly be the physical epicentre of Watches and Wonders 2022. After two years away, expectations are high.