I like to think of this article, in journalism terms, as the “Who, What, When, Where, Why” of the World’s Most Luxurious Watch Exhibition: SIHH (2016).
Starting on Monday January 18 and running through the week, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) opens its doors to more than 15,000 invited journalists and retailers from around the world. At this exhibition, the finest watch brands in the world gather in Geneva (at the Palexpo convention center) to display their newest timepieces. Referred to by insiders as the Salon, the show is organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), Geneva. (The FHH was founded in 2005 to disseminate information about Swiss watchmaking and the world of creativity, tradition and vision that define the segment.)
FHH has also taken on the role of organizing the SIHH, which is now in its 26th year. The show has grown and changed over the course of its two-and-a-half-decade life (more to come on that shortly), so that today it is not only the first watch exhibition of the year globally, but also the most luxurious exhibition of its type in the world.
You see, this by-invitation-only exhibition is considered the most exclusive of its sort, with just about two dozen brands showcasing their newest timepieces. In many instances, these debut watches – that will shape wrists for the coming year or more – are the fruit of years and years of research and development.
This year, in addition to the Richemont Group watch brands exhibiting (Montblanc, IWC, Roger Dubuis, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier , A. Lange & Sohne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Baume & Mercier, Piaget, Panerai, Vacheron Constantin), other top brand names, including Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Parmigiani Fleurier, Greubel-Forsey, also join the line up—as they have for several years. This year, though, there is also a new component to SIHH: Independent watch brands. For the first time almost since its inception, SIHH has invited young, independent brands to exhibit in a special space within the fair. Nine extraordinary brands join the already prestigious roster: Hautlence, H. Moser & Cie, Laurent Ferrier, HYT, MB&F, Urwerk, Christophe Claret, Kari Voutilainen, De Bethune.
Why does it matter? Like any industry, the watch industry has its cream-of-the-crop brands and exhibitions. SIHH showcases the extraordinary talents of some of the finest brands in Switzerland – many with roots dating back to the 1700’s. These are the brands that can turn the tides of time with their inventions, creativity and thinking. Many, thanks to amazing Nano technology and micro machining, have changed the way time is read, the way time is tracked and even, the look of the watch on the wrist. Many of these brands have pioneered technology inside the watch, as well as outside, bringing space-age, three-dimensional watches to the forefront and bringing some of the most ancient arts of engraving, enameling, tiling, mosaic work and others to dial as canvas.
Like any industry, if the watch industry doesn’t move forward, it dies. Invention and re-invention are what make a 500-year-old craft relevant in today’s high-tech world. Watch exhibitions like this one matter because they offer the brands a platform to unveil not only new timepieces, but also new materials, new technical advancements and new ways of thinking.
The only other show that perhaps rivals SIHH is the March BaselWorld Exhibition, which, is the world’s largest fine watch and jewelry exhibition. (Stay tuned; we’ll talk more about that show when it gets closer.)
While the BaselWorld exhibition has been in existence much longer than SIHH, the SIHH is, nonetheless, the luxurious counterpart. In fact, from the very first SIHH exhibition in 1991, the concept was always to offer a luxurious, intimate, exclusive setting worthy of the brands exhibiting.
Over the 26 years of SIHH, I have missed only one (1992) and so I have watched the show morph, grow and become the luxury exhibition it is today.
The first show, in 1991, opened with Cartier and four other brands (Baume & Mercier, Piaget, Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth), and was held in thee same March timeframe as what was then known as the Basel Fair (BaselWorld, today). With this structure, retailers and press could easily travel from Basel to Geneva (or vice versa) and visit both fairs in one trip.
In those infant years, SIHH saw exhibitors such as Bovet, Girard-Perregaxu and, at one point, Franck Muller (which later started its own watch show for its brands that continues today to run concurrently with SIHH at its workshops in Genthod).
In 2009, SIHH made a bold move — changing its time frame away from the Basel fair’s March date and into the January time slot. Show management at the time said the change was made because of scheduling conflict dates at Palexpo, and many people feared retailers and press would not want to make two trips to Switzerland in a three-month time frame. They did.