Watches And Wonders 2022 Round Table Discussion: What We Liked And What We Didn’t Like At The World’s Biggest – And Now Only – International Watch Fair In Switzerland (Photofest!)
Unless you live under a horological rock, you might know that Watches and Wonders 2022 (previously SIHH) recently took place in Geneva, the only remaining trade show for luxury watches and the only one of its kind left in the world. It is an invite-only event for retailers, journalists, and collectors.
According to the fair organizers, nearly 22,000 unique visitors – including almost 1,000 journalists – traveled to Geneva for the event. The fair included 38 brands inside the Palexpo. There were of course satellite exhibitions taking place around the city, but we are not concentrating on those in this round table (though they might get mentions if warranted).
But enough about that, let’s get to what you’re here for: our unblemished comments!
Our panelists are:
IS Ian Skellern, co-founder of Quill & Pad
ED Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder of Quill & Pad
GG GaryG, resident collector at Quill & Pad
MG Martin Green, resident gentleman at Quill & Pad
IS: What a week Watches and Wonders 2022 was! I was surprised how quickly we all adapted to the W&W branding after two decades of calling the fair the SIHH, but Watches and Wonders it now is.
Then there was COVID – not that you would know from the nearly total absence of masks at the fully enclosed exhibition. I went there fully expecting to catch the virus as I figured that Watches and Wonders would be a super-spreader event. And while I haven’t yet tested positive, I’m expecting to any day now as I’m starting to get mild symptoms. It was a very tiring event, but it was great to catch up with so many friends again and there were many outstanding watches.
MG: It was great to have a large-scale, physical fair again. It was like the SIHH merged with Baselworld, and that is a good thing. Many aspects that were already good about the SIHH were further fine-tuned for Watches and Wonders and it worked. I truly enjoyed the atmosphere and large corridors that made it easy to get from one place to another. One could complain that the bathrooms were too long of a hike and that shuttlebuses back and forth to the hotel every 30 minutes is too long of an interval. But those are small issues compared to being among the privileged few journalists invited to the fair and being among the first to handle so many great watches.
GG: It was great to see everyone! The opportunity to get together with old friends and meet in person with recent virtual acquaintances was somewhere between exciting and healing for me – it’s been way too long.
It was a bit otherworldly to see significant parts of Baselworld having seemingly dropped from the sky into the Palexpo hall. On one end of the exhibition we had the soothing ivory tones we’ve come to expect from the Geneva show over the years, and on the other side the actual Baselworld booths of Patek Philippe, Rolex, and others transported and reconstructed, making for a slightly jarring transition.
With fewer collectors for sure and perhaps fewer people overall on hand, the atmosphere felt a bit more subdued to me despite the joy of seeing folks. The upside was that viewings were easier to get, but I did miss the bigger energy of former years.
Throughout, though, there were signs that a once-yearly, all-purpose industry gathering is becoming a dinosaur. And Patek Philippe’s launch of its latest technical blockbuster just a day after the close of the show was one clear illustration that we shouldn’t expect a return to the good old days of a single, concentrated, launch of brands’ new watches for a given year.
ED: I can only echo the sentiments of my colleagues regarding being among friends and colleagues again. However, I did notice that it took a physical toll on me – not sure if that was due to my recent bout of COVID, the relative inactivity of two years at home, or just the fact that I’m getting older (where did those two years go?). None of which has anything to do with Watches and Wonders of course.
IS: I do have an open plea to the FHH (which runs W&W), though: please, please, please stop the narrow-minded nonsense of forcing smaller brands and independents to exhibit all over town. That’s just a complete waste of everyone’s time and money. You have won the war with Baselworld and are the only big game left on the world stage: start acting like it. Next year I’d like to see a new exhibition space open in the hall beside Watches and Wonders – a miniature Baselworld in Geneva if you will – that’s open to the public (paid entry) and offering an array of affordable options for exhibitors. This new exhibition wouldn’t offer the luxurious experience of W&W, and it could start four days after W&W so that journalists and retailers aren’t diluting their time at W&W visiting offsite brands.
And if W&W worries that the new (more affordable) exhibition space might tempt brands away from Watches & Wonders, then that indicates that the fair is either not offering a competitive package or what the big brands want (or both). But better to compete with yourself than have somebody else open a competing exhibition next door.
Watches and Wonders 2022: how brands have been weathering the pandemic
ED: We have talked a lot about how brands have come through the pandemic over the last year, most recently at a panel of independent brands that I moderated during Geneva Watch Days 2021 called The Rise (And Rise) of Independents. The COVID era was unexpectedly good for artisanal independents. But what of the rest of the brands? Watches and Wonders 2022 was a good place to find out.
GG: As far as I can tell they’ve been weathering it quite nicely, thank you! The variety and quality of the new products seemed quite high to me, and any reduction in the grandeur of the brands’ presentations (for instance, A. Lange & Söhne’s smaller booth that dispensed with the auditorium and cut the number of meeting rooms from ten to three) can be explained by the overall shift to more boutique and direct-to-consumer distribution. Certainly the mood of the brand executives and marketers I spoke with seemed buoyant.
IS: It seemed to me that the brands didn’t just weather the pandemic, they thrived on it! I suspect that a year or more locked down and homebound in front of a computer screen had many new collectors learning about watches and many existing collectors broadening their tastes. The watch aficionado community has grown, and while that’s created a lot of demand in all market segments, it has also introduced a lot of less horologically educated collectors that are all about the “hot” brands, exceptionally model focused, and think that mass-market watches appreciating in value is the norm. I don’t see the bubble bursting, but it may well deflate somewhat.
ED: I will predict right here, though, that we see this bubble bursting by the end of 2022. I know it’s a tricky thing to forecast, but I don’t see it being able to continue as is and I believe I see signs of fatigue.
MG: The pandemic has caused quite a few problems in the industry, but not the kind one might think. Supply chains are tough to manage, but most of all demand has skyrocketed. Saying no to clients is the new norm, and sales staff has been made nearly redundant, which has resulted in an unprecedented situation in the industry. It is a pity as many brands have gotten even more in touch with their own “DNA” during the pandemic and brought out watches that are very aligned with what their brand stands for. So there is a lot to want, yet very little of which one can actually get.
ED: Which is in no way the fault of the brands, Martin. It’ll be good to see some normality come to the situation sooner rather than later.
Watches and Wonders 2022: on sustainability
ED: At beginning of Watches and Wonders 2022, on March 30, 2022, it was reported that Richemont brands would stop working with the Responsible Jewellery Council due to its failure to cut ties with Russia.
In what I am sure was a response to that, on March 31 Chopard released at statement that read, “As part of its journey to sustainable luxury, Chopard continually reviews its supply chains to ensure the procurement of responsibly sourced stones. Toward this end, and in light of the current international context, Chopard has ceased the purchase of newly mined sourcing diamonds from Russian sanctioned entities with immediate effect. Chopard takes its commitment to the highest standards of ethical sourcing very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation in Russia to help ensure that its principles are never compromised, either now or in the future.”
While this was not specifically the type of sustainability topic I wanted to talk about here, I thought it quite important to mention as it could kick off a rather important supply chain discussion in the near future.
MG: Brands struggle with sustainability, and I see why. In essence, luxury and sustainability are opposites of each other, so the most sustainable option would be not to buy luxury products at all. Many brands are trying to reduce their footprint yet still struggle. I applaud them because every step is one that was previously not taken and therefore helps. Is it enough? Not yet, but I am counting on a snowball effect. The most important thing to now achieve is how to make sustainability sexy and luxurious.
ED: Absolutely correct, Martin. And when we visited Maurice Lacroix (outside the fair) during the Geneva week, I certainly had the sense that this brand is taking it seriously with its Aikon #tide and “that’s what a drop makes” campaign. While it’s not revolutionary, and it isn’t making a huge environmental impact in real terms, every little bit counts – and so does awareness. Each Aikon Tide watch (with packaging) is worth 17 plastic bottles taken from the ocean and reused.
“We don’t want to greenwash anything,” a brand representative told us when we visited. “We just want to make a little contribution – a drop in the ocean if you will.” That resonated with me and made a lot of practical sense. In 2022, Maurice Lacroix will help Tide collect 10 million bottles from the ocean. That seems like a pretty substantial contribution to me after all.
GG: As one brand executive told us, “sustainability and ethical practice are not a selling point, but a base expectation” with the emerging generation of consumers. As a result, it was no surprise to see a proliferation of alternative strap materials, for instance, and the stance taken by Chopard in stepping away from all Russian diamonds was a welcome one.
IS: More brands are paying attention to sustainability, but I don’t think this should any longer be a big issue. We shouldn’t have to be patting a brand on the back for being sustainable anymore than we pat somebody on the back for using a trash bin instead of littering. Sustainability should be the expected norm and we pan those that don’t comply rather than praise those that do.
Watches and Wonders 2022: best in show
IS: Best in show for me was a three-way tossup (is that an oxymoron?) between the Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur (a joy to interact with); the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Minute Repeater (minimalistic perfection); and the Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222 reissue (it just works on every level).
The Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur is a useful complication with very clever execution and is incredibly simple to use and read. You simply use the pusher to rotate the hour/minute subdial around the dial periphery to the selected city and the time on the dial adjusts automatically. But the best thing is that it’s a pleasure watching the subdial orbit the dial. It puts a smile on your face.
The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Minute Repeater is the purest essence of Lange distilled into one watch: incredible complication, sensational movement, and absolutely nothing extraneous. It looks like an unassuming dress watch . . . until it sings!
While I’m not against reissue models, I have been against the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève awarding prizes for reissues as I think that the last thing brands need is encouragement for tapping their back catalogue. But the Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222 caused me to rethink. While it’s both incredibly faithful to the original and sports a modern movement and better everything (including a much more comfortable bracelet), the fact that this is a reissue is bye the bye: the new 222 is simply a fantastic Vacheron Constantin.
ED: I am always a fan of Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques collection, which for me has always has been the definition of perfection in the art of reissuing a past watch. And the 222 is not different from the others in that respect; it was definitely one of the best watches I saw at Watches and Wonders 2022.
But it’s not hard to take a beloved watch and make it even more amazing by using modern technology and materials. What is harder is creating an amazing watch with the possibility of becoming a modern classic from scratch, which is why my heart is telling me that the Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur has to be the best watch of the show, even if it didn’t quite generate the same amount of on-location buzz that the 222 did.
GG: For me, best in show was the Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Sapphire. The original Full Strike with its sapphire crystal gongs machined in a single piece with the dial was already fantastic. And in a side-by-side chime-off against the gold-cased version, all the members of our group felt that the new sapphire crystal-cased version had an even fuller and sweeter tone.
I was sad that due to the busyness of our schedule and some unforeseen circumstances I simply didn’t get to see some other watches that could have vied for my top slot, including the Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur, Van Cleef & Arpel’s Lady Arpels Heures Florales, and Cartier’s Masse Mystérieuse.
MG: It’s nearly impossible to choose, especially this year. I have to turn to Parmigiani when pressed on the matter, although I am very divided whether the Tonda PF Skeleton should get the title or the Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante. Both combined would make for an incredible watch, but for now I am giving the honor of best of show with a marginal difference to the Tonda PF GMT Rattrapante.
ED: It was simply an ultra-creative fair with so many beautiful and desirable watches. I feel like the brands were holding back the last two years!
Watches and Wonders 2022: object of desire
MG: I was drooling over Chopard’s minute repeaters, which are not only stunning but also technically enticing. The same can be said of the new Alpine Eagle Tourbillon, which is to me what a very high-end, stainless steel sports watch should be.
At Vacheron Constantin, the Traditionnelle Perpetual Calendar really hit the right note. A classic beauty, so very well executed, while I got the same feeling from the refreshed Lange 1. The fact that the brand invested in further refining one of its most defining models says a lot.
IS: My object of desire isn’t some wildly expensive super complication, but the simplest (and most affordable) watch to date by a small brand: it’s the Ressence Type 8. From the photos, the Type 8 looked to have too much blank space on the dial, but in the metal it’s just perfect. In fact, it looks like an ideal contemporary dress watch. At 43 mm in diameter it might seem on the large size, but there are no protruding lugs and the strap drops straight down to wrap around the smallest of wrists. I love it!
In the world of the unobtainable (for me anyway), I fell in love with the Bulgari (exhibiting off site) Octo Finissimo Ultra.
I love it not just for its design and mind-blowing slimness, but the fact that it paradoxically feels so solid and reliable.
ED: As Gary always says, if you’re buying! I have a wish list of three watches (that I can’t buy) from Watches and Wonders 2022: the Jaeger-LeCoultre Rendez-Vous Dazzling Star, Czapek & Cie’s Frozen Star S, and the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Minute Repeater.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Dazzling Star had already stolen my heart from the pictures before the fair even began. It’s not that I love so many jewels – however beguiling – in one place, but more that this sweet little complication is so romantic and creative that I feel myself entirely drawn to it. This new horological complication randomly shoots a “star” across an exquisite blue aventurine dial, thereby capturing the unpredictability of the natural phenomenon. Activated by the movement of the wrist (just like winding the movement), the shooting star appears on the dial at random moments, usually four to six times per hour.
The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Minute Repeater is just pure class. Pure wearable class.
GG: If you’re buying, I’m taking the Patek Philippe Reference 5374P gem-set version with baguette-cut diamonds and sapphires and blue-lacquered dial. The sound of the 5×74 series of cathedral-gong repeaters is already legendary, and for me the brilliant-cut diamonds surrounding the dial and the protruding sapphire hour indices both provide an unmistakable wow factor and make the look much more balanced than the Breguet-numeral design of the regular Reference 5374.
Watches and Wonders 2022: fun watch
IS: My personal interest in watches (which unfortunately doesn’t align with my budget) is focused on high-end mechanical watches by niche independents. And a plastic quartz watch produced in relatively large quantities is about as far removed from that as you can get. But that didn’t stop my face from breaking into a broad smile when handling the colorful (and quite sustainable) Maurice Lacroix Aikon Tide when we visited the brand outside of W&W.
Everything down to the coffee cup-type packaging has been extremely well thought out in terms of design, practicality, and the environment. It’s FUN!
And in comparison with another fun watch shown outside the fair, the playful MAD1 Red by MB&F, the Aikon Tide is both more affordable and a watch that is AVAILABLE! The latter being increasingly rare in the watch world today.
MG: There were actually quite a few fun watches. I was in particular taken by the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales, which displays the hour by opening flowers. I got a similar smile from the Classic Fusion Takahashi Murakami Sapphire Rainbow by Hublot in a sapphire crystal case inside of which a rainbow-set flower smiles at you as it waves its petals along with the motion of your wrist.
The Hermès Arceau Le Temps Voyageur might be a very serious watch, but the way it was made and the romantic sense of traveling it evokes made me smile also.
GG: I’ll confess that I didn’t see that many watches during the week that would qualify in this category! Most makers seem to be migrating further upmarket by the moment and this was a show for serious stuff, at least as I saw it.
The exception would have to be the MAD1 in red with improved crown and slimmed bezel compared to the original blue version. I’m not getting one, but everyone who did seemed delighted.
ED: I was one who got one, Gary, and I am delighted.
But another fun watch I saw and very much appreciated is the Trilobe Une Folle Journée, which takes the original Trilobe disk concept and ratchets it up a notch to make it very three-dimensional and much easier to read. It reminded me slightly of MB&F in a very good (and original) way.
Watches and Wonders 2022: what we might buy with our own money
IS: If my budget could stretch that far I’d love a Ressence Type 8, but the Maurice Lacroix Aikon Tide could easily find a spot on my wrist and looks like a perfect holiday watch.
I appreciated that Tudor brought out a few smaller case sizes with manufacture movements for its popular Black Bay collection.
MG: Always a tough question, in particular this year! There are actually a few contenders for me as I love what Ressence did with the Type 8, which offers a purer form of the boutique brand’s innovative concept. I am also quite taken by the Armin Strom Orbit with its innovative on-demand date function.
The last one that caught my eye on a personal level is one that surprised me the most: the Tudor Black Bay Pro. I wasn’t a fan of it on paper as it leans very much on Rolex heritage and proportions seemed a bit off. And I always get lost in the wide variety of Black Bay models. However, it all came together on my wrist and I was so impressed that this might make me run to a Tudor AD for the first time very soon.
ED: Well, I actually did indulge in the purchase of the MAD1 Red while in Geneva . . . does that count?
GG: The Vacheron Constantin 222 is tempting, but the one piece I saw that really grabbed me was also from Vacheron Constantin: the ultra-thin Overseas skeletonized perpetual calendar in pink gold.
Watches and Wonders 2022: best date window
ED: For this round table, I thought it might be fun to award the best date window we saw since this particular element is always a huge point of contention among connoisseurs and collectors.
IS: While, like my colleague Martin Green, I can’t help but notice and mark down any watch I see with mismatched dial and date disk colors, I tend to notice the watches that get date disks wrong rather than get them right. For an expensive watch that should be expected not rewarded. But I did notice that the matching date disk on the new Vacheron Constantin 222 was one of the many things that made this watch so appealing.
MG: I don’t like date windows, but I think that brands are getting better at it. The best to me was on Chopard’s L.U.C XPS 1860 Officer. It even took me a while to realize that it displayed the date, the best compliment I can give. The brand even went for a rather straightforward solution, but it shows that matching the background of the date wheel to that of the dial can already work like magic.
ED: For me it was hands down a Vacheron Constantin, but not the 222. The lovely Patrimony Self-Winding in blush-colored and blue-hued colorways are delightful in every single little detail. “We completely rethought our ‘feminine offer’,” Christian Selmoni, the brand’s heritage and creative director, explained, “creating a 36 mm watch with redesigned curves, longer lugs, a more rounded crown, and subtle details that still retain the purity and timelessness of this collection.”
Each variation comes with or without 72 diamonds (0.74 ct) set into the bezel. The variations without diamonds feature a dazzling minute track encircling the dial with 48 diamonds, a complex operation performed on an underlying domed surface, though that part is not visible in the end. The variations with diamonds on the bezels have elegant minute tracks comprising gold dots.
The result is stunning, but even more impressive are the matching date wheels that are hand-painted in two layers of the same gradient coloring as the dial. Exquisite.
Watches and Wonders 2022: special mentions
ED: This fair was so chock-full of creativity and interesting watches that I believe I must mention a few more that didn’t get much love in the categories above but that deserve a lot more recognition: Armin Strom’s innovative and attractive Orbit, a whole row of Chopard pieces (could this have been Chopard’s best year to date?), Jaeger-LeCoultre’s astronomical beauties, Cartier’s extraordinary 84 new references, some of which are outstanding, and – and I realize this might be controversial – Roger Dubuis’ playful, creative, and inventive new Knights of the Round Table, even if it is very hard to read the actual time on it.
IS: While I could easily add at least another ten watches to this list, a couple of watches that I think are worth mentioning are the incredible Moser Streamliner Chronograph “Blacker Than Black” concept watch and the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales.
After presenting the new watches to the Quill & Pad team at Watches and Wonders, Moser CEO Edouard Meylan led us to a display cabinet with a nice-looking chronograph on a stand in front of a black background and started describing how it was pushing the limits of Vantablack. As Meylan was talking I searched the watch closely but I couldn’t see any black on it. So I asked which bit of the watch is black and he replied smiling, “All of it . . . you are looking at the wrong watch.”
Apart from its hands, the “Blacker Than Black” was completely invisible against the background.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Heures Florales must be the most complicated watch ever made that only indicates the hours. And good luck reading those! But it does so in an absolutely delightful way. You read the hours by counting how many flowers on the dial are open, but rather than open in turn around the dial, which would make reading the hours (too) easy, they bloom seemingly at random on the dial as if in a wild meadow. Poetic horological art at its best. Crazy. I loved it!
And then there are the Armin Strom Orbit, the Urwerk UR-100V-C52, and and and . . .