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Watchmakers absent from the Geneva Motor Show

Watchmakers absent from the Geneva Motor Show

Tuesday, 12 March 2019
Editor Image
Mathilde Binetruy
Freelance journalist

“And yet, it moves.”


From the 1998 World Cup, her first big event, to SIHH and Baselworld today, she reports from where the action is.

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5 min read

The numbers speak for themselves: 15 automakers have stayed away from the 89th Geneva Motor Show (March 7-17), including Volvo, Land Rover, Opel and Abarth. Watchmakers too are conspicuous by their absence. The mechanical emulation that used to be part of the show’s charm no longer keeps the dream alive. At least not on the floor.

First stop at the Geneva Motor Show is Hall 3, TAG Heuer’s home from home for the past five years. It’s here, in this busy corner, that the brand lures watch fans to its 1,000-square metre stand. Formula 1, cases full of chronos, photos of Steve McQueen in Le Mans, it’s all there. Anyone with kids in tow can only hope they don’t notice one of the driving simulators (you see only the long queue shuffling forwards). The bar is permanently packed. Watch fans know this is the place to be. Not just because the Monaco is celebrating its 50th anniversary but because everywhere else in the show, it’s slim pickings.

No-one needs reminding that watches and cars are old, old friends. The debate on pollution, the advent of hybrid motors, even the fact that the car in your driveway is no longer such a status symbol, none of this has dented the auto’s desirability. A car-related reference for a watch brand is a heck of a good idea, and what better way to underline this conviction than the many shared qualities: precision, reliability, performance. Hence why Rolex, Richard Mille, Hublot or Bell & Ross are on the grid at Formula 1. While Anonimo sees the benefits to be had from teaming up with rally driving, Chopard continues to nurture close ties with classic cars and some handpicked races, such as the Mille Miglia. Nods to the automotive world are also the last word in cool when it comes to watch design, calibre, in a word, product. Hence why brands regularly come up with models and collections that are inspired by or associated with a marque. Think Roger Dubuis and Lamborghini, Parmigiani and Bugatti, Hublot and Ferrari, etc. Which begs the question: where are they hiding at the Motor Show?!

Hide and seek

It’s impossible to miss Rebellion, whose presence is splashed across a giant poster at the entrance to Hall 1-2, on the Zenvo stand. Zen… who? Zenvo, the Danish automaker, established in 2004, that’s showing the TSR-S – a monstrous, 1,177 bhp hypercar. Only five are built per year. It’s customisable, as are the ten watches in Rebellion’s T2M Automotive limited edition. The press release tells us that “The T2M pulverizes the world endurance record with its 1,400-hour power reserve, an equivalent of two months. Manufactured from a single block of titanium, its sleek, angular chassis reveals its exceptional “V8″ (8 cylinders) engine through its sapphire crystal.” Plenty of mechanical goodness there, then, but what about everyone else?

T2M Automotive © Rebellion
T2M Automotive © Rebellion

Over on the Pininfarina stand, there’s a lone display case containing one of Bovet’s Ottanta Sei Platinum. We sail past Maserati without even spotting the Bulgari watch that’s lost in the outposts of the stand, far, far from the shop and its shelves of Maserati merchandise. First time round we completely missed – or didn’t look hard enough – Breitling on the Bentley stand, then Eberhard & Co keeping company with Alfa Romeo. And while Ricardo Guadalupe, Hublot’s CEO, was at the show for the press days, joined by Swiss racing driver Christophe Hurni, ready to take the covers off the new Ferrari Tributo, there wasn’t a Hublot watch in sight. In a word, watch fans will be hard-pressed to track down the new releases from their favourite brands at this year’s Motor Show.

Life is for living!

But is this the right place to promote them, anyway? Increasingly, watch brands are diversifying their communication channels, as are automakers such as Volvo, Opel and the other no-shows this year. It’s absences such as these that are forcing the big international fairs to rethink their positioning. The comparison with Baselworld makes itself. It too is losing steam after Swatch Group ducked out of this year’s edition, March 21-26. So what’s the recipe? How can fairs hang on to exhibitors and get the public through the door? By making sweeping changes? Bypassing formal presentations in favour of something more modern, more connected, less compartmentalised – less costly, even?

Excalibur Huracán © Roger Dubuis
Excalibur Huracán © Roger Dubuis

Consumption habits have been changing for a few years, now. What sense does it make to put a product behind glass when consumers are more interested in experiences? Advanced driving classes, a spin round the track with a famous driver, a seat at the 24 Hours of Le Mans… this has to be a more glamorous way to get a feel for a chrono than inside an exhibition hall. Not forgetting that if the experience hits the spot and gets the thumbs-up from the community, ka-ching! So all praise the omniscient power of real life… and the hashtag that goes with it.

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