Back to the future

Back to the future

The year’s first major watch industry event opened with none of the gloom of the past couple of years. In 2010, watchmakers were yet to come to terms with economic realities. Business had bounced back. But were things back for good? Or was this the lull before the second crash of a double dip?

The night before Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) 2011 opened in Geneva, Hublot supremo J.C. Biver told a packed house at at local hotel ballroom that 2010 had been spectacular. But 2011 would be even tougher. “Be prepared for anything this year," he boomed at a half-amused audience.

This nervousness in the watch industry was reflected in some clear trends that stood out at SIHH. Classic and heritage designs were a trend that first appeared last year. This year, brands have adopted it with greater commitment. Most brands have pieces that hark back to previous collections. Cases are smaller, dials cleaner, and there was hardly an oversized piece to be found anywhere.

Much of this is not only a reflection of economic sobriety, but also, more importantly, indicative of a large swing in the world watch market. Brands are looking to China and Hong Kong for revival. Therefore, new collections this year at Geneva, and later in Basel, reflected this trend. Not only were watches smaller and more elegant to cater to Asian tastes, but there was an abundance of pieces in rose and red gold, and bimetallic steel and gold combinations.

For many brands, price points have also dropped somewhat. Brands have used the minimal/classic/heritage trend to add entry-level models that can widen customer bases. Thankfully, this has not come at the cost of quality.

IWC’s new Portofino collection is both contemporary yet unmistakeably IWC. Baume & Mercier has taken a new leap of faith with a comprehensive brand overhaul and communication strategy—perhaps the biggest experiment at Geneva, in what is otherwise a tentative year for innovations.

For watch connoisseurs, it is a year to enrich collections with tributes and heritage designs. Not a time for new things, but old things done well.

This MintWatch—Geneva Issue will be the first of a series of special reports this year that will focus on the international watch business. Targeted at both connoisseurs and newbies, the reports will cover the two major watch fairs—Geneva and Basel—and other major launches year-round. We will look at trends, opinions and numbers. Some of the leading voices in the watch business will talk to us about movements and watches and strategy. But most of all, we will showcase some of the best timepieces to be launched this year.

We hope it is worth your time.

SIHH at a glance

Edition: 21st

Number of brands: 19

Number of brands which took part in first show in 1991: 5

Number of days: 5 (Baume & Mercier,Cartier, Piaget,Gerald Genta, Daniel Roth)

Total exhibition floor space: 30,000 sq. m

Distributors and retailers: 60% (Europe), 20%(Asia), 12%(Americans), 8%(Middle East)

Total number of visitors: 12,000

Journalists: 1,000

Points of sale represented: 1,500

Number of pieces from private collection exhibited by Cartier: 300