The Times, They Are A Changin’ At SIHH And Why That Matters: Observations From A Third-Timer
That’s the word that comes to my mind whenever I think about those two weeks in the first quarter of the year when we (we as in the lucky-to-be-invited watch nerds and watch media) travel to Switzerland to witness the new and the old of the watchmaking world come together for five days.
While our friends might think we are taking a nice holiday in the land of prosperity, money, chocolate and cheese, what we are actually doing is packing heavy suitcases full of fancy clothes and taking an expensive flight to Geneva to do what our job is all about: learning about a fresh crop of luxury watches.
The 2018 edition was just my third time attending the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) but, despite a few very minor glitches, I do have to admittedly say I’ve grown fond of this fair.
Here is why that is so, and why it matters.
Among the two big watch fairs of the year – the other being Baselworld – the SIHH was always (well, for the nine years I’ve been in the business) the smaller, less impressive, and far humbler [in size and scope– ed] of the two.
It used to be pretty much Richemont’s annual showcase of what’s new, but with time the event has grown bigger and bigger like a well-watered plant: a total of 35 brands exhibited in 2018, making it the biggest Salon so far in terms of exhibitors. [For a more complete overview, see Celebrating 25 Years Of SIHH– ed.]
There were also more people attending, more accredited journalists, quite impressive public-day attendance, more great-quality food and wine served, and in general more of everything. More does not automatically mean better, but in the case of the SIHH it truly does.
And not that you think it is all just a life of luxury for us there: one tiny fly in my ointment is the overall physical exhaustion we already experience by day two . . . out of five, mind you. This is caused by meeting (or bumping into) hundreds of people, running around the halls of Palexpo trying to see as much as possible, and the heavy schedule required to see the new watches put out by 35 quality brands.
Funny enough, I did not miss my gym time one bit (and did sympathize with the ladies wearing high heels).
Other than being physically exhausted, I enjoyed the 2018 Salon very much and for a number of good reasons: kudos should given to the FHH for setting up the entire show, making it smarter, better planned, and quite cleverly oriented toward a new, more digital world.
But the digital world takes a bit of getting used to
There were many more bloggers and so-called Instagram influencers in attendance, but happily either I did not notice or they simply did their jobs (whatever that might be) quietly.
The SIHH even had new dedicated areas for digital media.
The desire for more exposure through bloggers and so-called influencers is said to have been expressed by the brands, though apparently not all of them were on board with this decision: there was one incident in a press briefing in which an overexcited CEO destroyed a blogger’s mobile phone – grabbing it out of his hand and flinging it across the room – as said blogger was filming the CEO’s request for the best question, which was to be rewarded with a bottle of champagne (true story).
The #SIHH2018 hashtag generated almost 24,000 posts on Instagram alone and reportedly more than 400,000 overall on social media and the web. Times, they are a changin’ and the SIHH is adjusting accordingly, though gladly not forgetting about the hardcore, old-school journalists along the way.
I feel welcome and taken care of at the SIHH.
“SIHH is developing at a fast pace in terms of digital. The Salon actually showed a totally new approach this year by actively promoting itself on digital media and social networks with coverage that is totally unprecedented for any other watch event worldwide. Our SIHH Live TV studio broadcasted numerous live presentations, round tables, and product launches that were available via live streaming on the sihh.org website and through our social network platform,” said Pascal Ravessoud, international development director and secretary-general of the FHH.
“On top of that, the SIHH welcomed more online media, bloggers, and influencers than the previous editions, and this is a trend we intend to continue to reinforce in the future.”
And then there are the watches
I’ll be quite frank with you here – I like watches.
I enjoy every watch fair and look forward to seeing what comes next with very few complaints. And this gets even more exciting in hard times when the brands need to work much harder to overcome falling sales and overall gloomy moods.
Jean-Claude Biver, the mastermind behind LVMH’s watch division, once told me in his very expressive way that, “Crisis is an opportunity, an opportunity to invest, to work better and harder in finding solutions that make a proper change.”
This year, unlike the years before, I feel that what he said might have come to pass. It even looks surprisingly like brands have started to listen to us end customers, appreciating what we truly want to pay money for.
A lot of the marketing “BS,” so ornamentally dressed in sophisticated wording, fancy livery, and artificially smiling ambassadors seems to have (for the most part) stepped aside to be replaced by proper value-for-money watchmaking that is not only (relatively) affordable, but actually kind of cool.
I’d wear that Baume & Mercier Baumatic with five-day Richemont-in-house movement with pride and I could definitely see myself walking around on elegant SIHH carpets wearing that Drive de Cartier in steel with a blue alligator strap to match my favorite blue suit. With my head held high.
And I could point out more examples in almost every booth of simpler, more basic watchmaking.
Why am I so excited, you ask? Well, watches are what they are: functional tools for the wrist that are meant to look good and tell the time. Form follows function – that dusty old motto that is (and should be) the true essence of good watches.
You can call the 2018 SIHH a blogger-oriented fair, a modest return to reality, or the place where horology came back down to earth. I’d call it the best fair I’ve been to so far – all watch fairs included.
It might sound a bit self-satisfied of me to say that after all those great lunches, glasses of champagne, and parties with ever-so-famous guests (Bradley Cooper and Ryan Reynolds for starters), but for me it really was that good.
Kristian Haagen, my longtime watch friend and journalist-turned-blogger-turned-photographer (see Book Review: ‘Hashtags And Watches’ By Kristian Haagen) seemed to agree. “SIHH this year was different in terms of looks. I liked the open-space interior upon entering. I also liked the seminars reminding me of Dubai Watch Week (and, yeah, they work well).
“Did I notice the influx of young bloggers? Nope. I didn’t even see a single one taking selfies in the dedicated ‘white rooms.’ Instead, I noticed I didn’t get any lunch due to a packed schedule. But I heard it was good.”
It was good, Kristian, and I did see you eating once . . . sitting on your suitcase.
The FHH – the organizing body of the SIHH – learns fast and, more importantly, is willing to change accordingly.
One of my fellow journalists once said that the SIHH should be a role model for all the other fairs out there – just because it takes care of everyone and everything that matters. And people are what matter most.
Honestly, I already look forward to January next year and a probably even bigger SIHH of the future . . . a bientôt.
Łukasz Doskocz is the editor-in-chief of the premier Polish watch publication, www.CH24.pl.
Also published on Medium.