Fair: SIHH 2014 in Geneva

THE LUXE 16. Have a peek behind the closed doors of this year’s preeminent trade show for high-end timepieces from 16 top-end brands

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 A view of the IWC Booth

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SIHH Lounge

There have been quite many new high-end timepieces hitting the stores just now. Naturally, a lot of this year’s highlights were chosen at trade shows held during the first quarter. In fact, some fine specimens were chosen at the very first month of this year, during one of the largest trade shows for luxury timepieces: the 24th SIHH. “But wait,” the more knowledgeable reader might think. “Isn’t Baselworld the biggest trade show for
watches and jewelry?” True. But SIHH, which stands for Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, is arguably a close second and plays a major role in deciding what patrons will see in their favorite stores and boutiques.

SIHH 2014: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT ISN’T
Now, before we get into what SIHH is and what 2014’s event has to offer, it is perhaps prudent to understand that the SIHH is not a consumer event. Put simply, the SIHH is an event aimed primarily at retailers. This is a strictly invitation-only event, and even then “an invitation alone is not sufficient,” as pointed out at SIHH’s official website. No, you need to have one of the exhibiting brands to register your name for you.

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A watchmaker at the Audemars Piguet‘s booth

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Piaget Altiplano 900P

Still, journalists and writers are invited, and an assortment of celebrities also make an appearance—both at the show proper and at the various after-event parties. A great example would be Montblanc’s dinner party held at the Hôtel d’Angleterre. Hugh Jackman, the brand’s ambassador, was seen wearing the elegant Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar. Also attending was French actor Pierre Niney, French actress Clotilde Courau, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and top model Elettra Wiedemann.

The example above, though, brings us to another lesser-known facet of SIHH, especially among those new to the luxury watch trade show scene. See, Montblanc is a major exhibitor at SIHH and a respectable brand in its own right, but it was nowhere to be seen amongst the more than 1,500 brands shown at this year’s Baselworld. This situation is perhaps reflective of a major issue in the luxury watch industry: conglomerates. Baselworld is basically dominated by the Swatch Group, which has an immense brand presence there, along with the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessey) Group and Rolex, the largest independent watch manufacturer in the world.

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Roger Dubuis‘ booth

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Vacheron Constantin‘s decorated panel

SIHH was established back in 1992 as a way for several major brands (five, to be exact) to reveal their new products for the year in a separate venue from their competitors at Baselworld. This year, the SIHH features a total of 16 brands, mostly from the Richemont Group (including, for example, Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille) as well as several independent names. Yes, 16 brands is a far cry from Baselworld’s 1,500, and the number of exhibitors is actually down from 19 in 2011. However, the Richemont Group comprises mostly highend brands, and, as such, the SIHH takes on a much more exclusive and luxurious air.

 

“SIHH was established back in 1992 as a way for several major brands to reveal their new products in a separate venue from the Baselworld”

 

THIS YEAR’S HIGHLIGHT
This year’s SIHH was held in late January at the Palexpo Exhibition Center in Geneva. (The event used to take place following Baselworld in March or April, but it has recently moved to the start of the year). Within the walls of the venue, you can see attendees milling about in swanky tailored suits. Again, it needs to be stressed that SIHH is a private event for guests and journalists of the exhibiting brands.

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Inside Cartier‘s booth

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The exterior of Parmigiani Fleurier’s booth

Instead of open booths, each exhibiting brand will create their own mini exhibition venue that is fitted to match the brand’s current theme or overall style. Case in point: the IWC booth.

To commemorate the launch of the new Aquatimer collection, the IWC corner booth was decorated in a lively undersea motif. A longtime favorite of IWC collectors and dive watch enthusiasts alike, the revamped and re-launched collection was one of the major highlights of SIHH 2014. Included in this new lineup are the Deep Three and the Perpetual Calendar Digital Date Month timepieces, along with the Galapagos and Jacques-Yves Cousteau Limited Edition watches. A spectacular lot of course, but what really stole the show is the base of all the new Aquatimer models. This dive watch takes a lot of cues from earlier models but also features the new IWC SafeDive system. A dive time scale is presented in the internal bezel that is adjustable following only an anti-clockwise turn of the external bezel. This ensures that the dive time is not inadvertently exceeded. Another improvement would be the revised lugs and strap removal system, which have significantly improved those of the last Aquatimer generation.

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IWC’s bar

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The SIHH hall

Panerai, on the other hand, went for a vintage look for the exhibition space with immaculate riveted bronze paneling. It’s not hard to guess that this décor is meant to showcase the brand’s focus on its heritage, which is always balanced by its ability to adapt to the modern times. Naturally, this theme goes hand in hand with the Italian watchmaker’s star of the show: the Panerai Luminor 1950 Chrono Monopulsante Left-Handed 8 Days Titanio. This model’s neat 1950s-styled case houses a technically robust in-house movement and features a single pusher chronograph, as well as eight days of power reserve along with a power reserve indicator on the back of the movement. Sharp-eyed readers might also notice how the crown is placed at the 9 o’clock position, since—as the name suggests—this is a model designed for left-handed wearers. All in all, this is a comfortable and deceptively modern timepiece that is a definite must-have for Panerai collectors.

If there were an award for “the most unique presentation,” it would definitely go to Roger Dubuis. The brand’s corner of the exhibition featured a surreal steampunk motif and even had a giant cuckoo clock that was a definite crowd favorite. The steampunk theme was also evident in most of the brand’s offerings at SIHH 2014, from the casual Roger Dubuis Hommage Automatic to the exquisitely complex Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor Titanium. Of particular note is the introduction of the extravagant Roger Dubuis Hommage Double Flying Tourbillon that’s available in three versions. The watch face features a deep-cut guilloché made by hand, and the case has a transparent case-back that shows off a gorgeous in-house movement decorated with a circular Côtes de Genève pattern or Geneva Striping. Interestingly, the Hommage Double Flying Tourbillon doesn’t actually have a dial plate, and the watch face is actually designed right on top of the movement—which is exactly the kind of unique and edgy approach that has become the hallmark of Roger Dubuis. A definite choice for those who prefer statement pieces.

“Roger Dubuis’ corner of the exhibition featured a surreal steampunk motif, and even had a giant cuckoo clock”

 

Naturally, there are many more surprises revealed at SIHH 2014. Jaeger-LeCoultre, for example, gave us a peek at the function-packed Duomètre Unique Travel Time. Not to be outdone, Cartier showcased an update of its classic Tortue, as well as a daring challenge to tradition with the colorful Ballon Bleu de Cartier Floral-Marquetry Parrot and the brand’s headliner of the year, the Calibre de Cartier Diver. Then there was Piaget
unveiling the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, the Altiplano 900P—of only 3.65mm thick!

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A box of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s heritage movements

WHY SIHH MATTERS
Ultimately, though, one might ask, “Why does it matter?” And that is, of course, a legitimate question: What does it matter what goes on behind the closed doors of a trade show for the luxury timepiece industry that very few of us will ever get invited to?

First and foremost, SIHH provides ranges of watches from certain brands that most of which, if not all, will eventually hit the watch stores in major cities around the world. More importantly, it drives the success of a number of important luxury brands, which in turn drives a huge portion of the industry itself. Besides, the annual stream of news and photos featuring the most opulent watches is something to get excited about, no?

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