The Watch Fair Returns

But Geneva Watch Days, the first gathering since the pandemic began, included the public — a group that hasn’t been a fair focus in the past.

By Robin Swithinbank

GENEVA — At the first organized gathering of watch brands since the pandemic brought the Swiss industry to a standstill early this year, a tanned, gray-suited Jean-Christophe Babin was waving an enthusiastic goodbye. “Good to see you, thank you!” he said in his rat-a-tat English, flashing a smile as wide as Lake Geneva.

But the Bulgari chief executive wasn’t bidding adieu to anyone actually in the Ritz-Carlton’s palatial Grace Kelly Suite, which the brand had reserved for Geneva Watch Days, a four-day event that began Aug. 26.

He was sitting in front of a jungle of cameras, lights, screens and wires, showing the company’s new watches, including the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic, to some international journalists who couldn’t travel to the event.

Outside, however, retail buyers, media representatives and watch fans walked along the city’s famous Quai du Mont-Blanc lakefront boulevard, visiting some of the 17 participating brands’ presentations and the tent headquarters of the event.

“Covid or not, the future of fairs must be phygital,” Mr. Babin said in an interview a few minutes later, referring to a blend of physical and digital features. “Because even with no Covid, many people cannot come to the fairs.”

More Than a Calendar Change

The two major Swiss watch fairs, which had been scheduled in April, were canceled as a result of the government’s coronavirus restrictions. Baselworld, later renamed Hour Universe, and Watches & Wonders Geneva now are scheduled for April 2021.

(Not all events will wait for next year though: Watches & Wonders Shanghai, was scheduled to open by invitation only on Sept. 9, with Vacheron Constantin and Cartier among the exhibitors.)

For anyone with even a passing interest in watches, the major fairs have been important events. Until this year, most brands used these primarily business-to-business gatherings to present most of their new collections and partnerships, with the news passed through retailers and media representatives to fans around the world.

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