Yearend is never quiet for maisons, marketers, and media immersed in the world of high watchmaking, yet it’s anybody’s guess what 2020 will bring.
Traditionally, watch manufacturers, retailers, clients, and niche media spend the holiday finalising arrangements to attend the Richemont-dominated January watch fair in Geneva, Switzerland. Since I first attended in 2008, it’s been a whirlwind of booth design, interview preparation and allocation, flight and accommodation reservations, brand-ambassador briefings, and media pack compilations. A limited number of collectors, retailers and press are invited to the prestigious five-day affair, with one day reserved for the public.
When the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was in January, which is winter in Europe, we would arrive at the Palexpo venue in the dark to queue in freezing temperatures, often accompanied by snow, and wait for the doors to open. When we left at the end of a long and very busy day, it was already night time.
But that was then. The year 2020 was going to be different — but just how different nobody could ever have imagined. It began with the SIHH being renamed Watches & Wonders 2020 and rescheduled for April to coincide with Baselworld, the other major Swiss watch fair on the annual calendar.
We waited for the festive season to pass, so we could kick-start the above-mentioned routine. That was despite the World Health Organization picking up news of the “viral pneumonia” infection in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. France confirmed the first cases of the coronavirus for Europe in January 2020. By mid-March, most countries were in national lockdown with all forms of travel grinding to a halt. There would be no travelling to watch fairs for anybody this year.
Pierre Rainero, Cartier director of image, heritage, and style, was “very pleased” at the prospect of hosting visitors at Watches & Wonders 2020 as proposed for April instead of January. “I like the opportunity to meet with so many people from so many countries. It’s like a ritual, a good habit. I miss that,” he says.
“For you, too, it is a missed opportunity for touch and try. Digital is a great help during this pandemic. We share the pictures, and we are quite proud of everything we have done to communicate, but still we all miss that exchange on the basis of actual creations.
“In spite of all the efforts made in conveying the right size, volumes, etcetera, there’s nothing like trying the watch on the wrist and looking at it from every angle,” Rainero says. “Dimension, the way we create our watches, and the way they are worn, is very important to us. It’s not an item like this, on a page. I look forward to next year.”
IWC Schaffhausen CEO Chris Grainger-Herr reflects on the way this crisis is teaching us about the way we consume. “Our message in this context is that we’re making something responsibly, in the heart of Europe, preserving the skills, but it’s also something that can be repaired and will last forever. When it comes to watchmaking, it’s really all about how we think about the products we make, we buy, we have. How do we consume them? In a sense, I hope this will get us back to the core of luxury — products that are emotional, that make you feel good, and that you can enjoy for a long, long time.”
Davide Cerrato, MD of Montblanc’s watch business unit, believes, “This crisis we are going through will push again the real value of watches, pricing, affordability, and so on. Customers may want more affordable watches, because they have less money, or it might be cooler to have less bling-bling, a simpler, understated aesthetic. The crisis could also push demand for metal bracelets.
“Now, after years and years of other trends, steel is coming back. One reason could be more questions around responsible sourcing of exotic skins. Metal is the first substitute because it is versatile, you can swim with it, and wear it in an elegant situation or a sporty one.”
• From the 2020/2021 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.