Geneva Watch Days 2021 Round Table Discussion: What We Liked, What We Didn’t Like, And What We’d Buy From The Watches Presented At This Relaxed, Sunshine-Filled Fair
The second edition of the loose, sunny, COVID-19-friendly Geneva Watch Days has just come to a close. We were fortuitous to have three members of our team able to attend the week of watches. So please join this Quill & Pad round table discussion in which we discuss what we did and didn’t like at Geneva Watch Days 2021.
Our panelists are:
ED: Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Quill & Pad
IS: Ian Skellern, co-founder and technical editor of Quill & Pad
JM: Joshua Munchow, Quill & Pad’s resident nerdwriter
ED: With a decided focus on independent watchmakers and watches that had either been already launched in 2021 or have yet to launch later in the year and are still under embargo, there is now an unexpectedly small number of watches to talk about that were new at Geneva Watch Days 2021. However, there are enough to make us watch-starved nerds more than happy!
JM: The 2021 edition of Geneva Watch Days was, by most measures, a successful event as the watch world slowly gets back to a modicum of normality, even though it was clear that COVID-19 was still with us.
IS: I thought that the 2021 edition of Geneva Watch Days went very well. Great people, great watches, and great weather. Walking outside with warm sun on your face always lifted the mood, and the constant view of the lake with the Alps behind never fails to impress.
And the fair was bigger than last year and with many more international visitors.
ED: Yes, I’d call it a success with 350 retailers and more than 300 journalists attending – and so would the organizers, who have already announced that they intend to organize another edition for early September 2022. The organizers have confirmed that participants attended from as far away as the Middle East and U.S. – like you, Joshua!
This year, the tent installed on the quay across from the Beau Rivage hotel also served as exhibition space for watches from the 25 officially participating brands and the Phillips booth; the auction house brought a number of delicacies from its upcoming November auction, including four one-of-a-kind timepieces by Philippe Dufour (more about that in an upcoming story).
It also served as a space for panel discussions hosted by Phillips (see The Rise (And Rise) Of Independents: A Live Panel Discussion From Geneva Watch Days 2021 Featuring Felix Baumgartner (Urwerk), Pierre Jacques (De Bethune), William Massena (Massena Lab), Alexandre Ghotbi (Phillips), And Elizabeth Doerr) and the evening cocktails. The general public was welcome during the day.
In general, I felt like COVID-19 was still a topic, but not as strongly as at Geneva Watch Days 2020. I think we’re getting used to this new normal.
IS: I was surprised that COVID-19 regulations weren’t tighter. Switzerland has always been much more lax than France, but I expected that our vaccination passes or test documentation would be scanned at every appointment; they weren’t. But they were for the nightly cocktail party in the tent lakeside.
That said, thanks to the warm summer weather appointments were often outside on terraces and if inside the large windows were always open so plenty of ventilation. I never felt concerned but would have appreciated a stricter approach.
JM: The central GWD tent required proof of vaccination and temperature to be taken for entry, too. With that, people inside were generally maskless to eat and drink (during the cocktail parties), which was the only time I was more aware of being in a mass of people. I took it upon myself to stay near the edges until the place emptied out later in the night, but overall I felt like the event had an air of health and safety as we finally met again in person to share our passion.
Of course, not everyone was clearly concerned. But with masks being worn in most places, especially in meetings that weren’t requiring proof of vaccination, I never felt particularly unsafe. As an American needing a negative test to return to the U.S. I was also a bit cautious the entire time, which probably made me aware of how strict or relaxed everyone was.
The presentations by brands proved exciting as we could finally handle real watches instead of looking at them on a screen. I saw old friends, made new ones, and remembered why I love spending time talking watches. It wasn’t the same as SIHH or the old days of Baselworld with groundbreaking releases and excited talks about the latest and greatest from whichever brand, but there were many pieces to get excited about and news of things to come.
How brands have been weathering the pandemic
ED: By now it is probably no longer a mystery that brands and makers who reacted quickly and flexibly to the changing conditions of the pandemic era have been doing rollicking business in 2021, with most independent makers now reporting 100 percent sell through and even years-long waiting lists.
The panel discussion hosted by Phillips that I moderated – The Rise (And Rise) Of Independents: A Live Panel Discussion From Geneva Watch Days 2021 Featuring Felix Baumgartner (Urwerk), Pierre Jacques (De Bethune), William Massena (Massena Lab), Alexandre Ghotbi (Phillips), And Elizabeth Doerr) – made this abundantly clear if it hadn’t been before.
And then there was the “sale” of De Bethune to WatchBox, which was announced on the Tuesday of Geneva Watch Days, just in time to discuss during my panel session on Wednesday, which is in my eyes a positive effect of the success that both parties have been enjoying over the past year.
IS: By all accounts, the independents have been faring superbly!
JM: The news from brands regarding the last 18 months since the beginning of the pandemic varied from company to company, but I caught a sense of uptick in sales and interest, especially for independents. Some larger brands of luxury groups may have taken hits, but for companies that only make a few hundred watches a year business is going strong.
The biggest factor seems to be how easy the brands made it for the consumer to buy watches online, and since many independents already offered direct sales, they flourished in the now almost entirely online watch world. Visiting some manufactures after the fair told a mixed story as some brands were still not working at full capacity.
All in all, the future of watches seems hopeful as the popularity of watches has clearly increased with people spending more time online learning about all of their favorite brands and discovering new ones.
As the world tries to go back to normal, it will be interesting to see how the trends continue or shift to new realities, but it does seem like watches are still here to stay.
ED: Now on to the watches we saw.
Best in show
JM: This is always a difficult category for me because I love so many pieces, but this year especially the idea of “best in show” is hard because a lot of watches weren’t new for Geneva Watch Days, having been released earlier this year.
Plus, one of the highlights for me was the array from Phillips auction house, found in the tent, which had a ton of incredible pieces from the next auction taking place in November 2021. These were actually highlights of my visit to Geneva altogether. I also saw a few pieces earmarked for Only Watch, also pretty incredible experiences.
ED: I would have to agree with everything you just said, Joshua.
JM: Taking all of that into consideration, though, my best in show is the Czapek Antarctique Rattrapante, which went on sale during the fair and sold out in less than an hour. I’ve loved the Antarctique since it first launched, and an open-dial rattrapante is an incredible addition to the collection. There were many more watches that may have been wilder or more complicated, but I felt that a top-notch rattrapante in a stainless steel sporty case is really what stood out as what I need more of right now.
Czapek is also a fantastic company that is completely transparent about production, and you really feel you are getting a lot of value for your money.
IS: There were so many fantastic watches to choose from but my best in show has to be the De Bethune DB Kind of Two Tourbillon. As a De Bethune fanboy, this watch ticks all of the boxes for me plus it’s two watches in one. I thought it looked sensational and was very comfortable on the wrist.
ED: There really were a number of delicacies to choose from, making the choice of highlights a tough one. However, I may just have to go with the Bovet “turquoise collection” we saw during our visit with the brand at the La Reserve villa. While Bovet was not technically taking part in Geneva Watch Days as such, the location at La Reserve was well chosen to highlight the brand’s latest instalment in its ongoing partnership with Automobili Pininfarina – and to punctuate this, the incredible new Battista pure-electric hyper GT (just announced two weeks before) was in attendance for visitors to admire.
The turquoise collection may be composed of watches that already exist in Bovet’s collection, but the addition of turquoise-colored flinqué dials to these classics really crank them up a notch in the beauty department.
Object of desire
ED: We saw Arnold & Son early on in the fair, and I admit that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be as wowed as I was. I hadn’t yet seen the original piece from Watches and Wonders 2021 in the metal, and I was excited to see both it and the latest variation, the Luna Magna Ultimate 1.
But I had no idea at the time that I would fall hopelessly in love with it. I can’t think of a more intriguing and simply aesthetic moon phase watch on the market today (with the exception of De Bethune’s insane DB28 collection). The Arnold & Son Luna Magna Ultimate 1 has definitely become an out-of-reach object of desire for me.
IS: So many great watches, so little money! My ultimate dream watch from the fair was the unique piece De Bethune x Voutilainen Kind of Magic for Only Watch 2021. But the round Ferdinand Berthoud FB2RS.2 introduced at Watches and Wonders 2021 also got my heart beating and I’d be overjoyed to have one on my wrist.
JM: This is an almost endless list given all the cool pieces I saw, including some still under embargo and others still in development with only movements finished or prototypes that were yet to be completed. I even got lucky enough to see four Philippe Dufour watches in one place including the #1 Grande et Petite Sonnerie.
But out of all the watches, the one that sits as my most desired watch by the end of the fair is the Arnold & Son Luna Magna. Both the original that launched earlier this year at Watches and Wonders 2021 and the new Ultimate 1 are marvelous works of art that also feature my favorite poetic complication: the moon phase.
The Ultimate 1 has a dial encrusted with blued ruthenium crystals, a three-dimensional spherical moon set with diamonds and sapphires, an offset dial in white opal, and a diamond-set case – all of which glitters madly in the sun.
The original moon phase of the Luna Magna is made of white marble and blue aventurine with a matching aventurine dial, a subtler yet stunning presentation of a moon phase.
I’ll probably want this watch until the day that I die, and my time handling both of them at Geneva Watch Days were moments filled with intense desire!
ED: Ah, Joshua, I didn’t realize we’d be picking the same watch! In that case, I’ll add the Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Flying Bridges in pink gold. Back in May of this year, I had the chance to inspect the edition made to kick off the Aston Martin partnership in a black DLC-coated titanium case over Zoom, but I hadn’t touched it. And now comes the pink gold edition in honor of Girard-Perregaux’s 230th anniversary – it took my breath away with its transparency, technicity, and sheer beauty. More coming on both of these stupendous watches in the next days for sure, so stay tuned!
JM: While most might say that the Gérald Genta Arena Retro Mickey Mouse is the most fun watch of Geneva Watch Days, I’m going to have to go with a long-standing favorite watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin for mine with his newly released Wristmon Minotaur.
The Konstantin Chaykin Wristmon Minotaur is a variation of the ever-popular Joker collection, but this time replacing the moon phase with a weekday indicator that becomes the nostrils of the mythical beast. Made to celebrate the year of the bull in the Chinese zodiac, which is next in line, it is quite possibly my favorite model in the Joker collection and one that I would consider buying. The Joker collection often finds itself as a pick for this category, and this year is no different.
IS: There were two outstanding fun watches for me: the new Gérald Genta Arena Retro Mickey Mouse and the La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein. They both made both smile and want one of my own. And I’m with you, Joshua, that anything based on Konstantin Chaykin’s Joker is winner!
ED: It’s probably no surprise to you, then, Joshua, that I am picking the Gérald Genta Arena Retro Mickey Mouse made by Bulgari! For anyone who knows me, this should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever since I am a known Genta fan, with the Retro line always having been my favorite – and within that line the many Mickeys having always been able to make me smile.
Like last year’s rebooted Bulgari Gérald Genta Arena Bi-Retro Sport, I do feel that these new editions of Genta’s classics are right in line with how the master himself might have updated them. When I saw this playful new Mickey Mouse edition on its perfectly matched red strap, I couldn’t help but be enchanted. And that is a fun watch to me.
What we might buy with our own money
ED: Offered only in an edition of 178 pieces by one of my favorite designers of all time? Thank you very much, the Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein La Semaine day-date at a price of CHF 3,500 is an absolute no-brainer for me!
IS: Me too, Elizabeth. The Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein La Semaine also caught my eye and, if funds permitted, I’d be very happy to buy both that and the Bulgari Gérald Genta Mickey Mouse as well.
JM: Since my watch-buying budget could never reach the levels of my favorite watches, this dramatically helps me narrow down the field of what I would buy with my own money. There are still a lot of good options and this year I am torn between two brands I haven’t really discussed before, Oris and Louis Erard.
The first watch I would choose is the Oris Aquis Date with upcycled dial. It is a solid diver-style watch with stainless steel bracelet and ceramic bezel, which would make for a perfect daily wear watch with a dial that could literally start conversations about conservation. After talking with the brand and seeing the watches, I am happy to say the ideology that Oris is focusing on is one that I deeply agree with and would be happy to support.
ED: The same goes for me, Joshua: those new Oris pieces with the upcycled plastic dials are wonderful in both the looks and ideology departments. And they are affordable!
IS: Oris also surprised me, Elizabeth. I’m ashamed to say that the brand hadn’t really been on my radar, but we saw quite a few pieces that had me turning back for another appreciative look.
JM: The second watch I would consider buying with my own money is – like Elizabeth – the La Semaine Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein, a fun, three-hand date watch with additional window showing different smiley faces – you can assign each face the day of the week to represent yourself – for a bonus bit of fun.
I haven’t been a devoted Alain Silberstein fan like some others, but when handling these watches (this is part of a new triptyque set) I really enjoyed the style as well as the more unique case styling. The bold colors and shapes of the hands are unique to Alain Silberstein and owning a piece of art like that would be a fun investment.
You may also enjoy:
The Rise (And Rise) Of Independents: A Live Panel Discussion From Geneva Watch Days 2021 Featuring Felix Baumgartner (Urwerk), Pierre Jacques (De Bethune), William Massena (Massena Lab), Alexandre Ghotbi (Phillips), And Elizabeth Doerr