As the global COVID-19 pandemic drags on, the watch industry continues its efforts to adapt to the changing market landscape. Physical trade shows such as Baselworld were obviously an early casualty of the lockdowns and travel restrictions put in place due to the pandemic, but a continuing demand for new timepieces has led to a shift toward digital release events and online trade shows across the industry. Trade show giant Watches & Wonders has just announced its schedule for 2021, signaling a potential sea change as vaccines begin to roll out and an end to global pandemic restrictions draws closer. Watches and Wonders calls its 2021 plan a “phygital” experience, dividing its plan into two separate digital and in-person events in April 2021 with potential for more events later in the year. First up is the Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021 Digital Salon, an online-only event showcasing 38 brands from April 7 to April 13, 2021. Shortly afterward, Watches and Wonders will follow up with the Watches and Wonders Shanghai 2021 Physical Salon, bringing together 15 high-profile brands for an in-person showcase at Shanghai’s West Bund Art Center.

The Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021 Digital Salon bills itself as the first online event to showcase so many high profile brands, and the full exhibitor list is undoubtedly expansive. Brands expected to showcase in the online event include A. Lange & Söhne, Arnold & Son, Baume & Mercier, Bulgari, Carl F. Bucherer, Cartier, Chanel, Chopard, Chronoswiss, Corum, Ferdinand Berthoud, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie., Hermès, Hublot, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Louis Moinet, Louis Vuitton, Maurice Lacroix, Montblanc, NOMOS, Oris, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Purnell, Rebellion, Ressence, Roger Dubuis, Rolex, Speake-Marin, TAG Heuer, Trilobe, Tudor, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, and Zenith. The online platform is designed with a focus on interactivity, aiming more at the general public and media than the retailer-focused trade shows of the past. In addition to the usual slate of watch releases and brand announcements, the Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021 Digital Salon will offer multiple opportunities for attendees to communicate directly with brands including live chats, streams, and panel discussions with high profile industry figures and influential personalities. In addition, Watches and Wonders will produce a live morning show offering analysis of the show’s biggest news each day.

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For the second half of its “phygital” 2021 plan, Watches and Wonders will host the Shanghai 2021 Physical Salon at the West Bund Art Center in the heart of Shanghai. Interestingly, this show does not yet have a set schedule, with Watches and Wonders only stating it will occur a few days after the digital event. This will be an invitation-only event, with media, retailers, and VIP enthusiasts viewing the new releases announced at the digital event in person for the first time. aBlogtoWatch currently tentatively plans to attend this event, offering our readers insightful and thorough coverage of the novelties on display. The Shanghai 2021 Physical Salon is scheduled to host a smaller roster of 14 brands, but the lineup includes many of the most influential marques in watchmaking. Brands expected to exhibit include A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Chopard, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Rolex, Tudor, Ulysse Nardin, and Vacheron Constantin.

While the announcement of these two major events is a hopeful sign for the watch industry in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, there are many questions left to be answered. First and foremost is the scheduling of the Shanghai event. With roughly three months to go, exhibitors and attendees alike have no concrete event dates. Beyond that, the new “phygital” event concept requires a markedly different approach from the traditional Baselworld booth concept, and many exhibiting brands may still not know how best to prepare for this new approach.

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Another question this announcement brings is how much of Watches and Wonders’ 2021 philosophy is a temporary reaction to COVID-19 restrictions, and how much of the new plan represents a genuine shift in focus by the industry. Although the move to a primarily digital trade show with a highly regulated invitational physical component is a necessary response in the age of travel restrictions and lockdown orders, it also shows a willingness by watch brands to refocus event efforts on direct consumer outreach. In the past, major trade shows were primarily catered to large scale watch retailers and trade media, but in an age of growing online sales and an enthusiast driven marketplace, the importance of direct sales and social buzz for new releases is greater than ever before. This could more or less prove to be a course correction for the industry’s overall sales strategy, and could carry on long after the pandemic is over.

Watches and Wonders also claims that further physical events could be added to the 2021 calendar, contingent on the evolving COVID-19 situation across the world. aBlogtoWatch will continue to monitor the announcements and preparations surrounding the 2021 Watches and Wonders event schedule, and will provide our readers with updates on major developments. For more details and to experience the digital trade show, visit Watches and Wonders’ website.

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