Celebrating 25 Years Of SIHH
It is impossible to think that the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) has been around for 25 years already . . . you know what they say, tempus fugit (time flies).
I’m going to spare you any long reminiscing and recap a few memorable moments and timepieces from the past 25 years of this Geneva fair, which was called to life in 1991 on just 4,500 square meters of Geneva’s Palexpo exhibition center (compared to 40,000 today!) with five exhibitors: Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier – who formed the base of the Vendôme group, which would later morph into the powerful Richemont group – as well as two independent brands, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth.
Then, as now, and in sharp contrast to Baselworld, only trade was invited to participate in this ultra-luxurious fair, meaning jewelers and specialized press only.
In 1993 Franck Muller joined the SIHH, and in 1994 Alfred Dunhill arrived after Vendôme Luxury Group was formed as an umbrella to house Cartier, Dunhill, Montblanc, Piaget, Baume & Merceri, Karl Lagerfeld, Chloé, Sulka, Hackett and Seeger (the latter five being fashion brands).
In 1996 there were already six exhibitors: Cartier, Piaget and Baume & Mercier, Gérald Genta, Franck Muller, and Alfred Dunhill. Additionally, four independent watchmakers were invited to exhibit: Svend Andersen, Roger Dubuis, Paul Gerber, and Jean Kazes.
This was also the year that Cartier held a bombastic party to introduce the Tank Française, just a year ahead of the brand’s 150th anniversary. With exquisite food prepared by Paul Bocuse and a multitude of celebrities freely roaming the grounds (I recall seeing John Kennedy, Jr., Dr. J and various European soccer players), this was probably one of the very first such parties thrown in honor of a watch in the modern era. The icing on the cake? At midnight the dining room’s walls fell away revealing exquisite scenes of Paris to experience, complete with a café and an ice-skating rink tempting guests to trade in their high heels for a pair of blades. (And that was one of those times when I really wish we’d had mobile phones with photography capacity in those days!)
In 1997 Vacheron Constantin joined the SIHH as Vendôme had acquired it the previous year. Montblanc exhibited alongside Dunhill and YSL Collection in the fair’s so-called Espace Luxe. Dubuis, Kazes, and skeletonizer Kurt Schaffo were among independent watchmakers invited to exhibit.
In 1998 the promise of the show really began shining through and it now boasted ten exhibitors including Parmigiani for the first time. Franck Muller had departed to open his own WPHH on the new grounds in Genthod, just minutes away from the Palexpo, after founding Watchland SA. Independents on hand included Christophe Claret, Antoine Preziuso, and Kurt Schaffo and his son Christophe.
In 1999, the fair’s 17 exhibitors included (the freshly relaunched) Officine Panerai, Audemars Piguet, and Bovet for the first time. Roger Dubuis joined as an official brand, not an independent watchmaker, and Breguet came to stay for just two years as in 2001 it moved to Baselworld as the crown jewel of the Swatch Group.
Girard-Perregaux and (Daniel) JeanRichard made their first appearances here, the latter as new sister brand to Girard-Perregaux. In those early days, JeanRichard was conceived as a lower-priced brand much like the relationship between Rolex and Tudor. The independents were not invited back, very likely due to space constraints.
Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth were purchased by The Hour Glass, who in turn sold them to Bulgari. They therefore last exhibited at the SIHH in 2000.
2002: the LMH brands arrive
The year 2002 was a big one for the SIHH as it welcomed the “LMH” brands A. Lange & Söhne, IWC, and Jaeger-LeCoultre as Richemont’s newest acquisitions. Van Cleef & Arpels also joined the fair in this year as a result of its takeover by Richemont. As Montblanc and Perrelet had joined in 2001, there were a total of 18 exhibitors now.
Perrelet, relaunched in 1995 and now known for its interesting double-rotor Turbine line, left the fair in 2003 due to its imminent takeover by the Festina Group.
In 2005 the organization of the SIHH became the duty of the newly founded Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), and the exhibition moved into a larger space at the Palexpo with new architecture designed by Giampiero Bodino.
A core of regular 16 exhibitors, the majority belonging to the Richemont group, was now established: A. Lange & Söhne, Alfred Dunhill, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, (Daniel) JeanRichard, Girard-Perregaux, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Parmigiani, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
In 2010 Richard Mille and Greubel Forsey exhibited for the first time at SIHH. Greubel Forsey showed three new watches: the Double Tourbillon Technique, the Invention Piece 3, and the Tourbillon 24 Secondes.
In this year, there were a record number of 19 brands exhibiting, including Ralph Lauren Watches & Jewelry, which made its debut at the SIHH in 2009 as the result of a fifty-fifty partnership between Richemont and Ralph Lauren.
The 2012 SIHH stands out
Girard-Perregaux and JeanRichard were taken over by Kering (which was still called PPR at that time), which meant that 2012 was the last year they exhibited at the SIHH. Dunhill did not exhibit.
The year 2012 was a standout for timepieces like Richard Mille’s incredible RM056 with a case made entirely in sapphire crystal and a more than $1 million price tag to match.
Audemars Piguet also celebrated the Royal Oak’s 40th anniversary with eight new models led by the Openworked Extra-Thin Royal Oak Tourbillon, a limited edition of 40 pieces paying tribute to the 1986 timepiece containing the world’s first serial tourbillon escapement in a wristwatch.
Any visitor to the 2012 edition of the SIHH likely stood for a long while admiring Le Dragon et la Perle du Savoir (The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom) in front of Parmigiani’s booth, an incredible automaton making a full turn around its own axis once an hour and featuring a dragon made of hand-chiseled polished silver and decorated with 555 gold scales that are set with jadeite jade. Jade is a fascinating gemstone, and the Dragon offers it in natural shades ranging from imperial green (which is the emerald-like green we usually think of), light green, white, yellow, orange to brown-red.
In 2013, the number of SIHH exhibitors returned to 16, the amount that holds to the present day. For a look back through the past 25 years with Fabienne Lupo, chairperson of the FHH and the SIHH, please watch this interesting three-minute video.
For more information on the fair, please visit www.sihh.org.
The 2015 edition of the SIHH opens its doors on Monday, January 19 with 16 exhibitors on close to 40,000 square meters. Follow us right here and on our social media outlets for regular updates and end-of-day wrap-ups.