Yesterday we published a story in which our editors looked at the watches from the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) and discussed which watches we’d personally enjoy wearing as “everyday” watches. The picks provoked some comments in which a lot of interesting points were raised – what’s an everyday watch anyway, why were the watches we picked so (relatively) expensive, and so on. After looking through them (and replying to one or two) I thought it might be useful to place the choices in a little context, which is where the watches we picked were seen. Let’s talk about the SIHH.
The SIHH is a very particular slice of the watch industry as a whole; it’s easily the single most un-democratic event the watch industry hosts. Unlike Baselworld, where you can see absolutely everything and everyone, from spring bar vendors working off folding card tables in one hall to million-dollar astronomical complications from Jacob & Co. in another, SIHH is straight high-end luxury watchmaking. The SIHH is a relative newcomer too, while Baselworld goes all the way back to 1917 when it began as the Schweizer Mustermesse Basel (the first watches-only pavilion opened in 1931).
SIHH began in 1991, when Cartier and four other brands – Baume & Mercier, Gérald Genta, Daniel Roth, and Piaget – chose to show privately at the Palexpo Center in Geneva, in an attempt to create a very exclusive, high-luxury atmosphere. This is still the atmosphere at the SIHH today – until this year, the event was strictly invitation only; the general public could not attend (this year, however, there was a public day at the Salon on Friday).
So who do you see when you go as a journalist to the SIHH? Very high-end luxury watch brands. All the Richemont maisons show, as well as a number of high end, non-Richemont and independent brands, including companies like Greubel Forsey, Richard Mille, H. Moser, Laurent Ferrier, and so on (you can see the full list of exhibiting brands here). A total of 17 brands show in the main hall of the Palexpo (which is walking distance from the airport) and an addition 13 small independent brands show at the recently established “Carré des Horlogeres” (watchmaker’s square). Who is there is as interesting as who is not there; no LVMH brands, for instance; obviously no Rolex, no Tudor, no Seiko, et cetera. Because so many journalists and VIP clients are in town for the SIHH, however, there are many so-called offsite events, with more brands trying to lure people to showrooms in Geneva and environs, than there are actually showing at the Salon proper.
Baselworld, by contrast, is yuuuuuuuuuuugggeee. There are around 1,500 exhibitors and last year attendance was around 150,000 press, buyers, industry folks, gawkers, rubberneckers, plus dogs and baby carriages (I’m not kidding). You can have a meeting with Casio to look at G-Shocks and half an hour later, you’re in a two story “booth” looking at the latest Patek Philippes.
That’s not to say that more affordable watches aren’t at the SIHH at all; companies like IWC, Baume & Mercier, Panerai, and so on, all offer more accessible price points. However, the origins of the SIHH as something much more exclusive than Baselworld are still very much with us today, both in terms of types of watches shown and in the general atmosphere.
Attending the shows is a very different experience as well, as you can probably imagine. For all that the SIHH is a trade show, it’s a pretty darned curated one and thanks to the fact that it takes place in a single environment with a single coherent overall design, the whole thing generally feels pretty harmonious. At Baselworld, on the other hand, there’s a bit more of a rugby scrum free-for-all feel and it’s not unusual for watch specialist editors and publications to do eighty to a hundred appointments. If you’re a serious watch enthusiast, I can’t strongly enough recommend seeing both at least once, if you can find the time and get over to Geneva and/or Basel when the shows are running; there’s really nothing like it for getting a feel not only of how the industry looks as an industry, and as a whole, but also how the industry at large, and the specific exhibiting brands, see themselves.