Why Geneva Watch Days And Dubai Watch Week Are My Favorite Watch Fairs
by Ian Skellern
While the last 18 months have wreaked havoc on the big (and not so big) watch fairs – and everything else – the world of international watch exhibitions was changing long before the world got upturned by COVID-19. Baselworld, which had been declining for years, was canceled in both 2020 and 2021 (and may return in 2022), and Watches and Wonders (formerly SIHH) was canceled in 2020 and ran digitally in 2021.
But there have been two rays of horological sunshine in the last couple of years: in November 2019 (just months before COVID-19 hit) the biannual Dubai Watch Week took place, which was bigger and better than ever. And then in August 2020 the inaugural Geneva Watch Days (which I initially panned), turned out to be only the second in-person watch event of the year after LVMH Watch Week in January in Dubai, both of which were fantastic and a real pleasure (rather than work) to attend.
The problems (well, some of them) with Baselworld and Watches and Wonders (SIHH)
Before I get into stating what I think are the main problems that I found with Baselworld and Watches and Wonders, I should to make clear that the two biggest fairs of the year had two great things going for them: mainly the people (you could catch up with a plethora of fellow journalists, collectors, and watchmakers) and the watches. So many absolutely fantastic watches.
But as good as the people and watches were, they came at a cost. Baselworld was so big and had so many brands exhibiting that it necessitated 10-15 kilometers a day just walking from appointment to appointment. It was exhausting. And the problem with seeing hundreds of great watches is that after the first day they all start blending into each other. After just a couple of days, Baselworld feels like something to be endured; a fair to survive rather than enjoy.
And then there were the rip-off hotels, apartments, and restaurants.
Watches and Wonders/SIHH had the advantages of Baselworld – great people, great watches – plus it was (and is) more upmarket with comfortable places to sit, restaurants (if you booked early), and free drinks (never underestimate the attraction of free drinks!).
But in recent years, it seemed to only be interested in a quest to grow and ensure that if Switzerland came down to just one big watch fair, it would be the last man standing. More brands squeezed into the same time frame ensured that it was impossible to see (or do justice to) all, with everyone spending a king’s ransom to participate.
I’ll never forget a few years ago when some brands had to close the doors to journalists attending their press conferences – some of which were paying through the teeth to attend – because there was not enough time allocated for all of the press to attend presentations.
And with Baselworld gone, so has the comparison that made Watches and Wonders seem so good. And next year (assuming W&W runs) it promises to be even bigger, having attracted many brands who fled from Baselworld.
It’s possible (though I’m not convinced) that the horological world needs one major watch exhibition. And while Switzerland is the obvious choice, the problem is that the country has no city (including Basel, Zurich, and Geneva) with the hotel and restaurant capacity to easily absorb the huge number of visitors to a major fair, hence price-gouging accommodation is the inevitable consequence of (insufficient) supply and (too much) demand.
Watches and Wonders is the last big fair standing and it has improved significantly over the years, but it still has its work cut out for it . . . especially as in all sectors – including cars, telecommunications, electronics, as well as watches – the world has moved away from massive international fairs to medium-sized regional fairs.
Just as central mainframe computers evolved to personal computers, putting the power in the hands of the user, big international watch exhibitions are evolving from the people moving to the watches (in Switzerland) to the watches moving to people.
Small and local is beautiful, especially when it’s close to the visitors attending.
Dubai Watch Week and Geneva Watch Days
Dubai Watch Week and Geneva Watch Days are my two favorite watch fairs for all of the same reasons, which include the following.
Relaxed and casual: there’s plenty of time to check out all of the watches (and catch up with friends), but there’s also plenty of time to enjoy the watches. These fairs are easily manageable and not a survival mission like the massive exhibitions.
Visitor numbers are easily absorbed by the hospitality capacity, so prices do not rise for the duration of the fairs.
Beautiful warm weather! Geneva in summer is (or at least can be) sensational. The views of sunshine on the lake with the Alps in the background are breathtaking. Why did we ever have to put up with Baselworld and Watches and Wonders/SIHH during the short, cold, dark days of the European winter?
Dubai Watch Week is educational (in an enjoyable way) with discussion forums, talks by specialists, and hands-on watchmaking experiences.
Dubai in late November is just perfect, benefiting from the comparison of winter approaching for those traveling from the northern hemisphere.
While, yes, I’m looking forward to Watches and Wonders in April 2022, that feels like work. Dubai Watch Week and Geneva Watch Days feel like pleasure and remind me of why I got into watches in the first place. I hope to see you there.