06 April 2022

The morning after: Geneva Watch Week in review

by Perth Ophaswongse

As Geneva Watch Week winds down, we wanted to take a moment to look at the various events that happened throughout. While Watches & Wonders was undoubtedly the largest event, a multitude of other fairs took place focusing on different parts of the industry. Two members of our team visited Geneva during this time, with different focuses in mind.

Watches & Wonders - Palexpo

Watches & Wonders, being the main event, was the busiest and by far the largest. Access was limited to guests and press, and we both had to be invited by a brand. The experience differed depending on who you were - while I was a guest of a brand, I wasn't actually invited to the rather interestingly named "Touch and Feel" sessions to get hands-on with the watches. Brands weren't willing to let you make an appointment unless you were press or with a retailer, reminiscent of Baselworld and SIHH. This was clearly frustrating, since the main reason I went to Geneva was to see the new novelties.

The IWC booth at Watches & Wonders

However, that gave me time to explore at my own pace, keeping my options open for last-minute invitations. It was also a much more sociable experience, as the entire watch industry was concentrated in one hall. After two years of virtual events and Zoom calls, it was amazing to finally catch up with familiar faces in person (as well as meet new ones!). Some brands, especially the independents, were more amicable to walk-ins.

Jaeger-LeCoultre's new Polaris Perpetual Calendar

My colleague, who was invited by a retailer, had a tightly packed schedule of appointments. The benefit was obviously the fact that he was able to get hands on with the novelties and talk to the designers. Instead of peeking in through the windows, he could actually try on the new watches. This had its downsides, however - instead of having the spontaneity to drop by different booths and the other fairs (more on those below), there was a strict schedule of brand events.

Ultimately, without W&W there wouldn't be a Geneva Watch Week. For all its flaws and elitism, it was still a wonderful opportunity to be in the room where it happens. The energy inside Palexpo was palpable, and there was a buzz that just couldn't be replicated with small scale events (let alone Zoom calls). Most of my frustrations were from the fact that I was attending a trade fair as an enthusiast, which brands just didn't have the time nor space to cater for. Is it just me, or does it feel like there's a gap in the market for an enthusiasts event in the vein of Comic Con?

AHCI Exhibition - L’iceBergues

If W&W was the mainstream trade fair, then the AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants) exhibition was a tour de force of independent watchmaking. Featuring legendary names such as Svend Andersen, Kari Voutilainen, Ludovic Ballouard and Vianney Halter, it also welcomed the next generation of talent, many of whom were exhibiting for the first time. This included names like Sylvain Pinaud as well as Yosuke Sekiguchi. Others, like Marco Lang, were well established in the space but had recently struck out on their own. 

Raul Page's new detente escapement

Marco Lang's Zweigesicht-1

It was a completely different world to Palexpo. Gone were the giant glass facades and stony-faced receptionists - instead, you walked in and were greeted with watchmakers eager to discuss their craft. It was a wonderland of watchmaking - the top floor had a dizzying array of clocks, many of which were stacked with all manner of complications. Descending down the stairs, you were greeted with displays of actual wristwatches and their creators. 

Sylvain Pinaud's Origine

Sylvain Pinaud's Origine

Needless to say, I vastly enjoyed the AHCI exhibition more than Palexpo. Getting to touch and try on the watches was a no-brainer and was something the watchmakers actively wanted you to do. Having horological marvels thrust upon you rather than hidden under lock and key was refreshing, to say the least. Some of the standouts for me was Sylvain Pinaud, who was presenting his first serially-made watch, complete with all the high-end finishing techniques you could hope for; Raul Pages, who was presenting his Régulateur à Détente RP1 that came with a rarely-seen detente escapement; and Marco Lang, who showed his Zweigesicht-1, which comes with reversible lugs and a shock indicator. Not to say that the others weren't impressive, but such was the calibre (pun fully intended) of the exhibitors that the watchmaking greats were easily overshadowed by the new generation. 

The Vianney Halter Deep Space Resonance

There was also an element of playing catch-up. After two years of reading about their horological innovations online, it felt surreal to finally meet these watchmakers in person. While not part of the 2022 novelties, I found Vianney Halter's Deep Space Resonance and Classic, as well as Andersen Geneve's 40th Anniversary Jump Hour watches to be even more stunning in person when compared to the photographs.

Andersen Geneve's 40th Anniversary Jump Hour

The AHCI exhibition also a concentration of the true horophiles. After you were done with the hustle and bustle of Palexpo, you'd head into town to chat with the independents. Although it was interesting to occasionally run into the industry's big names at W&W, they were very much a fixture at the AHCI exhibition. Because everyone there was so passionate about watchmaking, it felt far less intimidating to strike up a conversation with people at the event.

Alex Ghotbi's Sartory Billard

Time to Watches - HEAD Genève

The final substantial fair was "Time to Watches". This covered what we might call microbrands, but also included larger brands like Sinn and Corum, as well as some smaller independents. Although I originally went to see my friend Philippe Narbel (who'd just launched his own independent watchmaking brand), I also took a look at some of the other stalls. Compared to AHCI, most of the offerings at TTW were more focused on design than pure watchmaking. 

Much like the AHCI, however, you were encouraged to get up close with the watches. The brands exhibiting there had no qualms about letting you handle their novelties, and everything was generally relaxed and ad hoc. The crowd skewed towards enthusiasts, and there was a substantial overlap with the AHCI audience. On the day I showed up, there was a sprinkling of W&W badges in the crowd, but not to the extent that I saw at the AHCI exhibition.

Philippe Narbel's ROOTS watch

Other events

Apart from these fairs, other brands set up in various hotel suites and rooms across the city. One of these brands was De Bethune, which set up in the Hotel Beau Rivage alongside a few other brands. De Bethune was showing off its new DB28GS, which featured a black-and-gold colour scheme and a mechanically-powered light switch. They also had many other watches available for display, and it was a great opportunity to see all their watches side-by-side. Rather awkwardly, they had their business meetings in the same room, so I was sandwiched between two tables discussing their next retail orders.

Finally, Barton 7 hosted Schwarz Etienne and Singer Reimagined. Other manufactures, including F.P. Journe, held invite-only presentations for the press and clients. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit either.

The new De Bethune DB28GS

The morning after...

Geneva Watch Week wouldn't be complete without the afterparties. It's not all play and no work, however - I finally got the chance to visit the Akrivia workshop off the back of a 2AM invite. Turning up at 10AM the next day rather hungover in the snow and unsure if I'd dreamt up the invitation, I was pleasantly surprised to see Rexhep and Bruce (Akrivia's R&D engineer) there to welcome me in from the cold. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience.

Akrivia's AK-06

Another visit which I managed to organise through a conversation at AHCI was with Andersen Geneve, which I'd tried to visit last November. Although brief, it was a rare opportunity to see so many of the brand's watches in one place and compare them. One thing they all had in common was the beautiful "blue gold" surfaces, both on the dial side and movement side.

The gorgeous blue gold rotor on the Tempus Terrae's caseback

All in all, Geneva Watch Week was an amazing experience. The fact that it had come after two years of small-scale and online events made it all the better. The energy in the city during the fairs was something that I hadn't felt in a while, and definitely helped subdue the sense of malaise and "sameness" that came from reading about watches online. It feels a little dramatic to say so, but after two years of online events, the industry feels very much invigorated and alive once more.

Perth is part of the Subdial team, focusing on research and editorial content. In addition to his role at Subdial, he is also active on Instagram at @edinburghtimepieces.