For the first time ever, Geneva's famed Salon International De La Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), will feature a staggering number of 30 luxury watch exhibitors and an open house day for the general public in 2017. What do these historical developments bode for the participating horologers and for the format of the coveted forum?
By: Dimitria Vitanova
Posted on: December 9, 2016
Tidal changes are to sweep the upcoming 27th edition of the Salon International De La Haute Horlogerie. Only a term ago, the watchmaking industry’s first-of-the-year and perhaps most coveted event comprised an invite-only affair, featuring around a dozen high-end brands within the fold of the Richmond Group. In 2017, after its last installment saw the inauguration of the Carre Des Horlogers, the SIHH will unprecedentedly welcome seven new high-end horologers and will open its last exhibit day – January 20 – to the general public.
“As you can see, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie is pursuing a policy of openness,” said Fabienne Lupo, chair of the SIHH’s governing body, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FIHH), to the South China Morning Post.
The More, The Merrier?
Among the newcomers are Kering Group’s Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, one of the SIHH’s founding members, which returns to the forum after a five-year hiatus. The two maisons will showcase their latest creations in Geneva Palexpo’s main hall, alongside historic exhibitors in the ranks of Cartier, IWC, Mont Blanc and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Meanwhile, the Carre Des Horlogers, dedicated to contemporary and emerging labels, swells to receive five additional independent watchmakers. Gronefeld, Ressence, Manufacture Contemporaine Du Temps, Speake-Martin and Romain Jerome will join 2016’s veterans URWERK, MB&F, Christophe Claret, H. Moiser & Cie, Voutilainen, Hautlence, Laurent Ferrier and HYT (De Bethune will not present this year).
Buoyed by the favorable reception of its initial upgrade in 2016, the SIHH’s spectacular expansion for its upcoming installment – the largest in its history – tallies at 30 horologers, spread over 40,000sq m. of exhibiting space. Industry insiders see it as a response to the recent hike of luxury watch events, which, peculiarly comes amid a slump in sales.
Some hail the development as the SIHH’s right step in a fast evolving market. “This is a natural thing,” said Vincent Perriard, co-founder of HYT. “It took 20 years to happen, but most Swiss watch brands are closer to Geneva than Basel. And SIHH is offering an incredible luxury space at the beginning of the year; where at Basel, the show takes place later in the year (March or April) and where you can find cheap or really affordable brands... the mix between luxury and low-end is everywhere in Basel. So when [the] SIHH decided to open its doors to more brands, we all knew it would be a success.”
Others, nonetheless, approach the enlargement with measured caution. For URWERK’s co-founder Felix Baumgartner, who thought the 2017 edition would focus on consolidating this year’s upswing, the boost in numbers is an unexpected leap into the unknown.
Charris Yadigaroglou of MB&F is also wary. “I think the general feeling is that [the SIHH] has now reached its maximum size. Growing bigger than this would substantially change the concept of the event, which I personally feel would be a big mistake.”
Whether this clamour of brands will push lesser-known labels to the fringes of media and guests’ attention is anyone’s guess. Yet, Christophe Claret of the eponymous maison exalts the benefits. “[The expansion] will allow independent watchmakers to access a privileged clientele and accelerate their [name recognition],” he said, “and, for the big brands exhibiting, [it will] bring a new breath of youth and dynamism to this salon.”
Welcome, general public!
Much of these qualities will presumably peak at the closing day of the SIHH 2017, when, at the cost of CHF 70 ($69) per ticket, the general public will be admitted to the forum for seven hours, from 11am to 6pm. The SIHH has rolled out some 7,000 passes, several sources have reported, allowing watch aficionados to spot the industry’s latest trends first hand. Ms Lupo of the FIHH has recently described this move as a due extension of the brands’ long-standing custom to host their suppliers and staff, who usually do not have access to the Salon, on the last day.
“I think it is a good move,” said Patrik Hoffmann, CEO of Ulysse Nardin. “It shows [that the SIHH is] getting closer to the end consumer.”
Conflictingly seen as both compounding and clouding the SIHH’s exclusivity, this break with the forum’s past rudiments has, by and large, prompted nods of approval. The added visibility, however, might particularly favour the smaller maisons that have limited retail presence. Echoing the general sentiment, Mr Perriard described the shift as a “smart evolution, which corresponds to [our] brand’s needs.”
“[Opening the SIHH to the public] is great. It is quite rare to find us in stores as we are only working with very few partners all around the world,” said Mr Baumgartner of URWERK, a 12-member label, which produces around 150 timepieces a year. “For people [who now know] about URWERK and they are quite a few, the SIHH is the perfect place for a first [face-to-face] rendezvous. Not only to see the watches but also to meet us, the team hidden behind the brand name.”
It is all About the Watches!
Larger than ever and for the first time open to the public, at its core, the SIHH remains a premium event for horology’s top brass to unveil its novelties. Some are already piquing connoisseurs’ interest with their pre-SIHH releases that only cue to the array of watches to grace the forum’s window cases.
Among the first to let a sneak peak at a timepiece slated to premiere at the SIHH 2017 was Vacheron Constantin. Its new retro-looking Patrimony Moon Phase Retrograde Date timepiece draws inspiration from the brand’s past, which stretches more than two and a half centuries back. Coming either in white or pink gold, the watch features a delicate, vintage date complication, which fans out at the upper half of the dial, between 9 and 3 o-clock, and a strikingly accurate moon-phase display above 6 o’clock.
Also upgrading its celestial-induced collection is A. Lange & Söhne, which has just debuted Lange 1 Moon Phase. Building on the maison’s signature Lange 1, the new timepiece ticks with an improved, manually wound Lange calibre, L121.3, which provides a power reserve of 72 hours. Dressing the watch’s movement is a silver dial that houses an outsized Lange date indicator as well as a cleverly united moon-phase and day/night functions. Composed of 70 parts, the display flaunts a solid-gold moon disc, which tracks its 29-day long loop across a larger, realistically changing sky circle. During the day, it is bright and intense, while at night it turns dark, sprinkled with laser-cut stars.
Meanwhile, remaining on terra firma, Roger Dubuis is looking to set off a watchmaking quake. In early November, the manufacture presented to the press three “code-breaking, convention-blasting” models of its iconic Excalibur collection that are to “rock the watchmaking world” at SIHH 2017. Rendered in eye-popping cerulean shades, the masculine Quatuor Cobalt MicroMelt and Spider Skeleton Automatic as well as the delicate Essential 36 Automatic pair bold materials, cobalt chrome being the most radical, and high mechanisms, including a 16 Hz hand-wound movement with five differentials and four sprung balances.
Ahead of the SIHH, Christophe Claret introduced its new Marguerite, a crimson “floral wonder,” sprinkled with more than 600 diamonds. The manufacture, however, only hinted at its novel concept, the Maestro. Part of the brand’s line of traditional complication watches, it will be in preview at the SIHH, expected to later flaunt a price tag of CHF 68,000. “This piece will be nonconformist, dynamic and essential. It will breathe new life into this collection,” said Mr Claret.
Similar to Christophe Claret, a bevy of maisons keep their newest creations under wraps, allowing only for the vaguest of descriptions to spike up curiosity. Building up its most sought-after collection, HYT is to debut a SKULL pocket watch that is to double as a reading night light. “We have changed the shape of the liquid tube (capillary) to design a SKULL and indicate time via a liquid turning around the SKULL shape,” Mr Perriard said. “We have then added a micro dynamo, which enables the owner to generate clean electricity (no battery, no electronics) thanks to a genius mechanical device.”
Much like HYT, MB&F is known for its ingenious aesthetics. For SIHH 2017, it readies its Horological Machine No. 7 – a reflection of a new form of childhood memories, which have laid out the creative foundation of the brand. “[Horological Machine No. 7] is not about science fiction, or airplanes, or supercars,” says Mr Yadigaroglou, keeping an aura of surprise.
Mr Baumgartner is also pointedly tight-lipped, letting only that “we are going to prove that URWERK is a serious player when it comes to Haute Joaillerie. We are finalizing a timepiece that had put stars in our eyes.” So is Mr Hoffmann of Ulysse Nardin, revealing that the theme of the maison’s inaugural exhibit at the SIHH will be much in line with its DNA – “Marine at Innovation.”
With merely a month until the SIHH commences its 27th installment on January 16, 2017, horologers, journalists, buyers and mavens, alike, are succumbing to the event’s whirl. After a bout of stress-induced, finance-sapping preparations, newcomers speak of honor and excitement, while last year’s entrants vow to avoid any rookie mistakes.
MB&F adds a fourth office to better meet the deluge of private meeting requests, while HYT doubles its exhibiting lot. For 2017, URWERK embraces a zen poise, asserting not to again “[run] around like chicken with their heads off.”
“Our first participation in 2016 was extremely positive,” says Mr Yadigaroglou. “We just hope that the 2017 edition will be just as good!”