Mountaineer Nirmal Purja.
Mountaineer Nirmal Purja.
Image: Supplied

Switzerland in early spring is very different to midwinter, when temperatures are well below zero. As one of the international journalists invited to witness the unveiling of the most exciting new timepieces at the world’s most significant watch fair, in Geneva, I’ve learned to be prepared for anything and pack accordingly.

My first Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was almost 10 years ago. We stole precious hours to explore the Old Town before the formalities began, seeking respite for frozen fingers by clutching steaming cups of coffee at a street café, climbing to the top of St Peter’s Cathedral to marvel at the view, and indulging in a traditional cheese fondue. The latter is almost a rite of passage when you visit Geneva for the first time, and the Hôtel Les Armures in Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre is a favourite eatery for this purpose. There followed the obligatory whip around the city’s best luxury boutiques and shopping for chocolate.

That year, I tried in vain to find venues hosting evening dance events, going as far as walking the icy streets late at night to find a salsa bar. As it turned out, the bar had nothing to do with the popular Latin-American partner dance and, it being Sunday, was closed.

Today, Geneva is very different. Various dance communities have been established, offering regular lessons and social events. Incredibly, an international bachata dance festival coincided with the new spring scheduling for SIHH, renamed Watches and Wonders Geneva 2022, and I tripped the light at the closing party. My point? The magic of music and dance has seen me through many travel challenges, keeping me on a natural high. I’ve danced under the summer stars at a villa in Greece, in the rain year-round in Mauritius, sheltered by a dimly lit gazebo in midwinter in Munich, and on an open-air dance floor an hour’s walk from my hotel in Florence.

In Geneva, this year, the musical entertainment included The London Essentials, DJs, and the IWC Schaffhausen The Sound of Color concert by Hans Zimmer and his band (I counted 32 musicians), who blew us away with their skills, passion, and humility. Day one at Watches and Wonders strikes the right chord for me with the continuation of the Van Cleef & Arpels tribute to the world of dance. The maison describes fairies and ballerinas as symbols of joy and hope, their ethereal grace inspiring creations such as the Ballerine Enchantée collection. I fall in love with the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Or Rose, designed to reflect one of Anna Pavlova’s dreams in which the Russian ballerina saw herself dancing as lightly as a butterfly. The flounces of the ballet dancer’s tutu unfurl against a subtle pink enamelled guilloché background, and a retrograde module enables the upper veils to rise softly to indicate the time, transforming the figure into a delicate butterfly.

Looking back at a week of sensory overload, especially after three years of relative isolation, one experience stands out above all others. The sound of silence.

Meanwhile, Chopard reveals three new chiming watches to mark the 25th anniversary of the L.U.C line, one of which is the world’s first minute repeater with a sapphire gong. It has enlisted the help of two musical brothers — cellist Gautier and violinist Renaud Capuçon — to add emotional resonance, ultimately producing a sound that is described as “purer, longer and more harmonious”.

Downtime is limited when I travel for work, and I love nothing more than returning to old haunts. There is reassurance in familiarity, but this time there is also opportunity for adventure. I plan my final day with long-time friend Tara Rogers-Ellis over dinner at La Favola, a quaint, cosy Italian restaurant in the Old Town with a handful of tables at the top of a narrow spiral staircase. We savour starters of grilled and marinated artichokes, beef carpaccio (sans the inevitable truffle oil), ravioli with sea bass, tagliolini with cuttlefish ink and octopus ragout, and tiramisu. After a week of rich Swiss food, we love indulging in the Italian fare washed down with a superb bottle of the 2017 Marchesi Antinori Solaia Toscana IGT.

We opt for an early train to Montreux, spurred by the promise of clear skies, the prospect of exploring Chillon Castle (made famous by Lord Byron’s epic poem The Prisoner of Chillon), and the opportunity of discovering more about the whereabouts of the Montreux Jazz Festival. The journey takes just under 90 minutes from Geneva, and Chillon Castle is an easy walk from the station along the lakeside promenade, duly decorated with a profusion of colourful spring blooms.

Looking back at a week of sensory overload, especially after three years of relative isolation, one experience stands out above all others. The sound of silence. In an unforgettable meeting with maverick mountaineer and former special-forces operative Nirmal Purja (who is a Mark Maker ambassador for Montblanc), the hustle and bustle of the Palexpo convention centre dissolve into white noise. We could have sat comfortably in silence for those few precious minutes had we not had to go through the motions of a timed interview. It is a lesson in being, not doing, like a meditation I never wanted to end.

Good to know

Visas: Travellers to Switzerland need a Schengen visa for a stay of up to 9O days. See

Covid: Switzerland has re-opened its borders to travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and/or recovered.

Debbie was a guest of the exhibiting brands at Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022. She stayed at Hotel Jade Manotel and flew to Geneva with Emirates from Cape Town via Dubai.

 From the May edition of Wanted, 2022.

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