t’s comforting to believe that the need for community, the desire – whether conscious or unconscious – to come together around a common focus, is not yet dead in the watch industry. The demise of the Basel fair left a void. It felt as if the watchmaking community had been cast adrift. And yet, it would seem that the “spirit of Basel” is gradually being revived in Geneva, the city that was once its main rival for the watchmakers’ attentions.
But watchmaking is more than just the big-name brands. They all rely on a hidden multitude of stakeholders, contractors and agents with a range of different skills and expertise, not to mention all the instructors, agents, intermediaries, influencers and helpers of all kinds. And they all depend on an array of tools, machines and technologies, and the logistical systems that connect them. In short, there’s an entire ecosystem of interdependent moving parts; a community, in fact – some in the public eye and many more operating behind the scenes.
Basel had the virtue of gathering together, in one place and one time, all these actors from every milieu. Perhaps they merely passed each other in the aisles. They may have deliberately avoided one another. But it was impossible to ignore the fact that everyone was there (even if not everyone gave it much thought). You could feel it.
From the shores of the Rhine, this community is now being rebuilt on the banks of the Rhone. Around the core of the former SIHH, now reborn as Watches and Wonders, more and more watch pilgrims every year are congregating in little clusters all over the city.
This year, well over a hundred watch brands are present, whether in the main Salon or on the fringe. And the more there are, the more there will be. It’s a mathematical phenomenon. Just look at the Cannes film festival: everyone wants to be there, whether under the bright lights of the red-carpet events, or in the dim alleyways of the Marché.
Obviously, there’s a lot of noise, and the smaller voices can get lost in the hubbub. Some are naturally tempted to go off and hold their own party elsewhere. But before the big event, no one has the time; and afterwards, everyone is partied out. So you might as well just turn up and make the best of it.
It’s a safe bet that the fair will continue to grow, year on year. And yet Geneva will remain dispersed, unlike Basel, where everyone came together under one roof. It doesn’t have quite the same atmosphere but that irresistible force that keeps pulling us together is not going away.