The luxury watch industry is gearing up for a grand return this spring as leading showcase event, Watches and Wonders, hosts its first in-person edition since 2019.
Between 30 March and 5 April, 38 brands will gather in Geneva, Switzerland, to reveal their newest timepieces and discusses the current trends set to dominate the sector in 2022. Among those exhibiting at the event’s largest ever edition will be Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Hublot, Chanel and TAG Heuer.
During the pandemic, Watches and Wonders pivoted online for a digital event and, while the return of the physical event is being celebrated, with over 20,000 guests expected, the show will be continuing to share product launches, panel discussions and keynotes through their website for the general public to access as well.
This will also be the first physical event under the name 'Watches and Wonders' after the organisers announced the name change from Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie at the end of 2019.
“It feels great [to be back], everyone is fed up of Zoom and fed up of not meeting,” said Emmanuel Perrin, vice president of Watches and Wonders. “You miss what you don’t have. In 2019, people were questioning if fairs still make sense and now, they can’t wait to be back.”
“It's like a school reunion!” Laurent Perves, international commercial director at Vacheron Constantin, said. “It's very nice to see that the watchmaking industry has always been a family.
Historically, companies have been working together and supporting eachother. Geneva has always been a very important landmark in watchmaking, Vacheron Constantin was born in Geneva, so we feel very pleased to be here and to see more and more brands and maisons joining and making Geneva the capital of high watchmaking.”
Vacheron Constantin’s classic 222 design, which was in production from 1977 to 1985, has been growing in popularity among vintage collectors and auction houses in recent years and the brand is excited to launch a new iteration of it at Watches and Wonders. “We like to listen to our clients and collector because they are the reason why we exist and we had, in the past years particularly, a lot of demand to bring back this watch,” said Perves. The new iteration comes with some modern twists including an open-case back to show off the movements and a more ergonomic strap for comfort.
Watch giant Rolex has joined the Geneva-based event, having traditionally exhibited at rival Baselworld which was postponed for another year. It is launching six new models with the GMT Master II attracting early buzz. The half green bezel taps into one of the hottest colour trends in the watch industry right now.
Ulysse Nardin is confident that the trend for collectors to invest in smaller, independent watch labels continues as it showcases for the first time since announcing it was moving away from parent company Kering in January. It will be unveiling a new iteration of its iconic Freak, a watch that shook the watchmaking industry on its launch in 2001 for having no hands, no dial and no crown. This will be its first Freak release since 2018 and new features include an inclined double oscillator, a vertical differential, a “Grinder” automatic winding system and a new case inspired by the original 2001 Freak.
“It's fascinating to see what happened during the pandemic. A lot of people being confined at home I've been spending time learning about watches or learning about brands,” said Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrick Pruniaux. “We took some action very early on a pandemic, to try to have a direct conversation with the end consumer to explain what we're doing. I think we came out as one of the brands that were probably the most dynamic in this pandemic and it’s true for many other independent brands.”
Alongside booths from the finest watchmaking maisons, an exhibition titled “Time Design” will explore the history of the wristwatch through 100 iconic designs of the 20th and 21st centuries and a celebration of leading watch designer and artist Gérald Genta, who died in 2011.
Genta’s work, spanning five decades from the 1950s onwards, included partnerships with Omega, Audemars Piguet, Cartier and numerous other high profile makers, as well as creating his own watch brand.
The exhibition has partnered with students from Geneva’s leading art school HEAD and École d’art de Lausanne to provide opportunities for the next generation of designers too. Time Design will also include interactive AR points to immerse visitors in the world of watch design.
Technology will be in focus in the LAB area of the event too, where 15 innovative projects will be on display. From new sustainable developments to the metaverse and NFTs, this section will be the place to discover the imminent future of watchmaking.
Montblanc has chosen this area to highlight the next iteration of its new and improved smart watch and IWC Schaffhausen will be showcasing new sustainable strap materials. Following on from the release of its Timbertex paper-based strap launched a year ago, it will soon begin offering straps made from Mirum®️, a leather-feel material made from a mix of ingredients including soybean oil, coconut husks, rubber and cork from Forest-Stewardship Council-certified areas. The straps are water resistant, comparably durable to leather and fully recyclable.
This year’s panel discussions will address some of the most pressing issues of our time and how the watch industry is responding to them including sustainable sourcing of materials, new innovations helping to lessen environmental footprint and whether digital is really better for the watch industry. Event organisers Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie have dubbed 2022 “the sustainability year” with a discussion each day of the salon dedicated to how the industry can reduce impact and build a better future.
With so much to take in across the seven days of the event, the event is hosting two programmes a day taking in the highlights. The Morning Show and the Late Show will be broadcast on YouTube and the event website to enable attendees and watch connoisseurs around the world to take in the top news from exhibitors, interviews and key points from talks and discussions.
Always a highlight of the year for any horological enthusiast, the excitement for Watches and Wonders this year is at fever pitch as the industry comes together in person for the first time this decade in the heartland of luxury watchmaking.
And the future of Watches and Wonders? “The vision is anchoring Geneva as the home of watchmaking but expanding worldwide with events on each major continent,” said Perrin. “Moving into the future, with AR, VR, the metaverse, who knows? But, first and foremost, is to make Geneva 2022 a success.”