Geneva watch expo goes digital

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People attend the ‘Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie’ (SIHH) professional fair in fine watchmaking in Geneva in 2017. AFP

Geneva’s international expo of fine watches opened on Wednesday with an online 2021 edition before shifting next week to Shanghai, where the coronavirus is under control.

The fair, one of the major annual gatherings for luxury watchmakers, was cancelled last year due to the pandemic but is going ahead virtually this year.

The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, now restyled as Watches and Wonders, includes major brands including Rolex, Patek Philippe and Cartier.

The fine watchmaking fair will see brands present new products through online conferences and presentations.

Emmanuel Perrin, interim president of the Foundation High Horology, which organises the event, said it was important for the watch industry to maintain the salon, calling it “our Fashion Week, our Davos”.

“It’s been a tough year economically, in terms of business, for the whole industry,” Perrin said in opening remarks, stressing that holding the expo online was “the right thing to do”.

Expert debates streamed live on the platform will include discussions on the lasting consequences of the pandemic, the role of new materials and technology and the impact that blockchain could have on watchmaking.

The watch industry is Switzerland’s third-largest export sector. It has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis, with boutiques closing due to restrictions to control the spread of the virus, and the collapse of the tourism industry on which the luxury sector depends.

In 2020, Swiss watch exports fell by 21.8 per cent to 17 billion Swiss francs ($18.6 billion) compared with the previous year, according to figures from the watchmaking federation.

Exports plunged by 81.3 per cent in April 2020 before gradually recovering from August onwards.

China remained the only growth market among major destinations for Swiss watchmakers, with exports up 20 per cent, while Chinese consumer purchases have shifted to local stores due to travel restrictions.

While Europe struggles to tame the pandemic, the salon’s online edition, running until April 13, will feature 38 different brands.

The physical version in Shanghai, from April 14-18, will feature 19 brands.