With all of the timepiece coverage flooding in from our trip to Geneva, Switzerland in January, I thought it might be a good idea to slow down for a moment and give you all some context pertaining to the whos, whats, whys, hows, and wheres of SIHH. Who puts on this show, why is it put on, how is it executed, and where are the attendees coming from? In short, what is SIHH?
As a first-time attendee, I am going to give you my overall impressions and analysis of the event, while I attempt to explain the goings-on of this annual affair from an insider’s perspective. There is much more to this showcase of luxury timepieces than just the watches, and while my opinions and experiences are mine alone, I hope they will shed some light on the inner workings of the luxury timepiece industry.
SIHH stands for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, and can briefly be summarized as an invite-only trade show put on by The Richemont Group in collaboration with a few independent luxury brands, which is put on annually in Geneva. Last month’s event marked the 24th year of the show, which by all accounts is growing bigger and more extravagant by the year. To better understand the who’s and why’s of SIHH, how it came to be, and its significance in the timepiece industry, it is first important to know a little bit of history.
SIHH was borne from the desire of several major brands to separate their annual product reveals from the competition at the original Swiss annual watch show – BaselWorld. The first SIHH took place in 1992, and featured 5 brands, and has grown in size and scope ever since. This year’s SIHH featured 16 brands – including all those under the Richemont Group umbrella, along with several independents such as Richard Mille and Audemars Piguet. Originally, SIHH ran right after BaselWorld (which takes place in March or April), but in more recent years it has moved up to January, making it the first major international watch event of the calendar year. It is important to note that this move is reflective of a major political issue in the timepiece industry: the issue of conglomerates.
To explain, BaselWorld, which is the largest and most heavily attended watch show in the world, is dominated by the Swatch Group, which is the largest timepiece conglomerate in the industry. Swatch owns a significant portion of the exhibiting brands, giving it a clear “advantage” when it comes to exhibit space and brand presence. The LVMH Group (Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey) also exhibits there, as does Rolex – which is of course the largest independent watch manufacture in the industry. In short, it is a full house of competing luxury brands, and the creation of SIHH was a way for a few of them to distinguish themselves and stand out to attendees to get undivided attention for their products. Today, SIHH is primarily a Richemont Group affair, and seeing as Richemont brands are primarily high end, it makes for a difference in presentation throughout the event. I should disclose that I haven’t personally attended BaselWorld, so I won’t make any further comparisons to it, but I will convey this: Richemont and their collaborative independents have gone to a lot of trouble to differentiate the SIHH experience from that of BaselWorld, and it is an extremely posh and luxurious atmosphere, which we will get into shortly.
Something many enthusiasts may not know about SIHH is that despite all the coverage pouring out during the event through social media and on websites like ours, it is primarily an event for retailers, not journalists or enthusiasts. So for those of you who think luxury brands put all of this on just for us, think again! The scale and expense of the event is understandable when you consider that it is essentially a retailer showcase, and most retailers place their orders for the year during or immediately following the show. Strong impressions are important for branding and sales to retailers just as they are to the general consumer public, and the brands are out to win their hearts and open their wallets. Fortunately, writers and news outlets are invited along for the ride, and are given some firsthand opportunities to scope out the new collections and meet with brand executives…between their retailer meetings.
This is not to suggest that the brands don’t value editorial coverage; quite the opposite in fact! Throughout the rest of the year we are given tremendous access and personalized attention, which we of course take advantage of to get you the best coverage possible. But during the show, the priorities are clear: getting the product in front of their best customers, the major chain and independent retailers worldwide. As a result, this was an interesting opportunity for me, both as an enthusiast and as writer to see how the “other” side operates. As some of you may know, I also run a small online boutique for vintage timepieces – but at SIHH I was able to meet some of the “big names” in luxury timepiece retail and get a glimpse as to how the big players organize and operate. And in true luxury-industry fashion, editors and retailers shared in the pomp and circumstance of the entire operation.