s the eyes of the watch world turn to Geneva this spring, the complementary show, Time to Watches, will welcome brands that don’t have a presence at the Watches and Wonders exhibition in Palexpo, but nevertheless want to showcase their wares. Alongside these two events, we can expect to see a myriad of “fringe” events throughout the city and beyond.
Unlike almost all of those events, the Time to Watches show, which will take place on the campus of the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD), has the approval of the organisers of Watches and Wonders. And the support of the Geneva authorities. Hosted in a leading educational establishment, the event also aims to build bridges between the watchmaking and academic worlds.
- Located halfway between Watches and Wonders, at the Palexpo exhibition centre near the airport, and the lakeside hotels, Time to Watches will host 50 exhibiting brands at HEAD Geneva. The venue, Building H or “Le Cube”, as it is known, embodies Geneva’s industrial heritage. It offers exhibition areas, a press room, meeting and catering areas.
Round table discussions will be on the agenda, to bring life to a space that is expected to host some forty to fifty exhibitors, from 31 March to 3 April 2022. The price of booths is deliberately moderate in order to attract brands that don’t have the financial resources of the Watches and Wonders exhibitors. We met the co-initiators of this new show, Marc Angebault and Christian Wipfli.
Hosted in a leading educational institution, the event aims to build bridges between the watchmaking and academic worlds.
Europa Star: What were your backgrounds before you came together to co-found the Time to Watches show?
Marc Angebault: After my studies in the US, I started as an employee in an international advertising agency in New York before being transferred to their Geneva branch. Then I worked for Saatchi & Saatchi, in Switzerland and Hong Kong, in strategy and client management. I then set up my own business with a partner, launching a marketing, strategy and creative agency in Lausanne, an adventure that lasted 15 years. That was when I met my friend and associate Christian Wipfli. He’s an event specialist, and I did some consulting for him on a project to create a sailing content brand. The Time to Watches project came about quite naturally.
Christian Wipfli: My professional career started in graphic arts, then in 1995 I quickly created my first company specialising in multimedia and website development. I’m passionate about the media, and my career has always been focused around this sector, as well as advertising and television. In 2012 I combined my favourite hobby, sailing, with my professional activity, which gave birth to the Salon nautique du Léman, held every year at Palexpo. Organising events was another revelation – I have since set up a dozen other annual events. Then, one day, I called Marc to talk about the possibility of creating Time to Watches together.
Where did the idea come from?
Marc Angebault: Through his company Poseidon & Co., Christian knows the event world in French-speaking Switzerland very well. In March 2020, during the first wave of Covid, he called me. Baselworld had been cancelled, and the fine watchmaking sector had coalesced around Geneva. In the face of all the upheaval caused by Covid, we started to think about designing a new watchmaking event in the region, starting from a blank page. One that would be based on the values of collaboration, sharing and transparency rather than opportunistic competition. Given that Watches and Wonders cannot accommodate everyone, there was room for a high-quality, complementary alternative. We tested this vision with friends in the watchmaking world, then presented it to the organisers of Watches and Wonders.
“As Watches and Wonders cannot accommodate everyone, there was room for a high-quality, complementary alternative.”
- Marc Angebault
What was their reaction?
Marc Angebault: First, polite interest, which turned into support in the autumn of 2020, as they realised that our initiative responded to a real need. That helped us a lot. The era of large, monolithic global fairs is over – there is room for several complementary players. What is certain is that the market has crystallised around Geneva. We developed our project around two pillars: working closely with Watches and Wonders, and finding a location that made sense, offering a gateway to the academic world and an openness to culture in the broadest sense.
In Geneva this spring, there will be the main Watches and Wonders event featuring the major luxury brands, then the Carré des Horlogers with the independent artisan watchmakers. We are positioned as the “fringe” event, with brands whose profile is not completely reflected in the two other events. We are nevertheless being very selective, to ensure a coherent perimeter. I would like to add that some independent brands that have participated in the Carré des Horlogers in the past could very well be present at Time to Watches. Some of them are thinking about it!
From this initial agreement, how did you develop the concept?
Marc Angebault: At first, we considered using the SwissTech Convention Center at EPFL for April 2021, and drafted some initial sketches of the layout. We then came back to the idea of holding a show in Geneva. Distance was a factor, but our primary concern was reinforcing the unity of place with Watches and Wonders.
How did you end up collaborating with HEAD Geneva?
Christian Wipfli: Through consultant Manuel Emch, who has been helping us develop our concept and our strategic thinking. It was particularly interesting to choose the Cube at HEAD Geneva, because it gave us the opportunity to create a link with a leading watch design institution. We’re doing more than just renting a space: we’re developing a genuine collaboration, a long-term partnership, through the organisation of thematic round tables and reflection sessions during the event. The HEAD will also be able to promote its training courses within the framework of this partnership. And the Geneva cantonal authorities are supporting us.
How will the space be set up for exhibitors and visitors?
Christian Wipfli: We started with the idea of a plug-and-play modular system, so that even the smallest brands can exhibit according to their financial means. The basic module is 9m2 and starts at CHF 13,750. Other 18m2 and 27m2 modules are also available, and we even have a 4m2 option for startups! The concept is a basic package that is affordable and can be expanded with features of the exhibitor’s choice. After submitting their application, the brands are chosen by a selection committee composed of independent experts, including three journalists. Poseidon & Co., the company that I manage, is an established event organiser, which saved us a lot of time in the planning and logistics.
“We started with the idea of a plug-and-play modular system, so that even the smallest brands can exhibit according to their financial means.”
- Christian Wipfli
What is the profile of your exhibitors?
Christian Wipfli: We have identified a perimeter of 150 brands, Swiss and foreign, that meet our criteria, i.e. independent companies offering mechanical watchmaking with a good dose of innovation.
How many will there be?
Christian Wipfli: We expect 40 to 50 exhibiting brands.
Can you give us the names of some of the exhibitors?
Christian Wipfli:} Yes, of course. To date [January 2022], we can count on about 25 brands including Corum, Sinn, Louis Erard, Reservoir, Chronoswiss, Raketa, L’Epée 1839, Pierre De Roche, Schwarz Etienne, Perrelet and Pequignet.
Could you share some details about the infrastructure put in place (accommodation, transport, etc)?
Christian Wipfli: For accommodation, we have negotiated special rates with hotels in the Geneva region. For travel, we will have a shuttle service from the airport, a 10-minute walk from Palexpo.
Will you be setting up online initiatives during the event?
Christian Wipfli: First, each exhibitor will have an online space on our platform to promote their news, brand and content. Then, with the help of HEAD Geneva, all the content from our conferences and roundtables will be recorded and then relayed to various platforms including LinkedIn and Instagram.
How many visitors are you expecting, and what profile do you think they will have?
Marc Angebault: It’s difficult to say with any precision, as this is our first year. The event will take place over four days, three of which are reserved for professionals (distribution, media, influencers, collectors’ clubs, VIPs) and one for the public. For this last day, we are working closely with HEAD Geneva to concoct a targeted and very attractive programme for watch aficionados.
Are you confident that the event will go ahead, despite the new Omicron variant?
Marc Angebault: We are confident insofar as management of Covid is not our responsibility, except of course in terms of implementing the public health measures. Our desire is to contribute to the creation of this major event for the watch industry in Geneva in the spring. We are therefore bound by the decisions of the event organiser, Watches and Wonders.