It’s the rise of the independents at 2021’s Geneva Watch Days

Informal events like Geneva Watch Days and instant feedback on social media platforms are helping independent watch brands adapt and grow during the pandemic

September 18, 2021 05:22 pm | Updated 05:42 pm IST

Moser & Cie’s Edouard Meylan with fellow CEOs Jean Christoph Babin of Bulgari (far right) and George’s Kern of Breitling at Geneva Watch Days 2020

Moser & Cie’s Edouard Meylan with fellow CEOs Jean Christoph Babin of Bulgari (far right) and George’s Kern of Breitling at Geneva Watch Days 2020

As the luxury industry tackled a tumultuous year, it appears the watch market continues to show remarkable resilience. There is a boom in demand, led by younger generations, and especially at auctions. Sotheby’s and Phillips are some auction houses that have had cross-category sales, with watches presented alongside jewellery and contemporary art. Or paired with sneakers.

And then there is the traction around digital and phygital versions of watch events like Watches & Wonders in April and the more recent Geneva Watch Days.

The latter, a format not controlled by a consortium and not your typical watch fair. Set up at hotels and boutiques across the city, it ran from August 30 to September 3 and saw many independent watchmakers participating, together with a few names like Bulgari; after all, Bulgari CEO, Jean-Christophe Babin, was responsible for conceptualising the event and has announced its return next year.

The Czapek & Cie Antarctique Rattrapante

The Czapek & Cie Antarctique Rattrapante

Informal events get traction

“Everybody was smiling so that’s a good sign that business is up for most,” H Moser & Cie CEO, Edouard Meylan, tells The Hindu Weekend over a video call. “Looking at most high prices at auctions, that too shows a very healthy market. If brands are doing well, then they have the time and money to focus on more creativity,” he adds.

Read More | Edouard Meylan of watchmaker H Moser & Cie : not stuck in time

Meanwhile, US-based wristwatch enthusiast, Stephen Foskett, also founder of the website Grail Watch, believes the “grass-roots feel resonated with people following along at home”.

A historian and writer, Foskett expects this format to work across the board. “The independents need an outlet and I could see this being a model for the big watch shows and luxury groups. Today’s buyers are hungry for credibility and connection, not another slick corporate production,” he shares on email.

That said, the Geneva Watch Days PR could have improved its social media game - right through the event, there was just one post on the official Instagram page.

Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett

Working through the year

What about criticism that there were no serious developments or new ideas in Geneva this time? “I’m not sure the companies really knew what to expect from Geneva Watch Days… But today’s watch industry isn’t so focussed on spring releases, thanks to 24/7 social media coverage and direct sales. Instead of presenting the year’s watches at Basel, they can spread things out and get some real buzz.

Read more | H Moser & Cie’s Edouard Meylan on running for a cause

That’s exactly what H Moser & Cie and Bulgari did, not to mention Czapek and Greubel Forsey. They showed some really interesting and important pieces. And then there was Breitling’s rainbow Classic Cars collection and the Parmigiani Tonda PF. I’d say it was a really interesting event!”

Taking it to Clubhouse

Independent watch brands that are already using digital platforms and the direct-to-customer approach can benefit from the exposure offered by such events.

London-based marketing professional, Mohamed Muraj, says informal events have allowed the conversation to go beyond the venue. “This has led to many conversations on social media platforms. Independents have benefitted from the dialogue between the consumer and the brand on platforms like Clubhouse, Instagram, YouTube and others,” add the founder of Watch Club on Clubhouse.

Read More | All you need to know about Clubhouse

Mohamed Muraj

Mohamed Muraj

“They can move freely and adapt their content quickly due to the sheer nature of them being an independent watch brand.” He expects more experiential retailing, be it “roadshows, pop-up or working closing with their distribution networks or point-of-sale to create a personal experience”.

There will also be a rise in the power of partnerships. “Brands will work with the influencer groups and communities to really create something special that's unique to their audience,” Muraj concludes.

Phillips’ fourth edition of Intersect, a mixed online auction, is underway till September 23.

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