Watches & Wonders Geneva opened its virtual doors and unveiled a host of exciting surprises for the future of watchmaking.
Where do I begin? This famous line by American singer Andy Williams certainly rings bells when it comes to the ups and downs for the watch industry this year. Why? Well, let me start by saying that this has been a pretty bad year for the industry. In retrospect, it could have been great, as the watch industry is growing in terms of structural change as more and more brands transformed their distribution and increasingly looked at e-commerce. However, out of nowhere, the unimaginable happened.
The sudden, worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus that started earlier this year eventually forced the cancellation of the Watches & Wonders Geneva. Aside from the most obvious health safety reasons, the Swiss federal authorities have issued a ban on large-scale public and private events. This has led to the Watches & Wonders Geneva postponing its events to 2021 just a couple of weeks before D-Day.
Even though things seemed so dark at that time, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) made the quick and superb decision with the creation of an online platform for its Watches & Wonders concept, in order to respond to the challenges faced by the watch community and to offer a digital venue where said community can gather virtually.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with the finest watchmaking brands in the world to bring the Watches & Wonders concept to life online at a time when our industry needs it the most,” explained Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie at the time, in an official statement. “This dynamic new platform will allow watch lovers everywhere to discover exciting new products, engage in enriching experiences, and connect directly with our participating brands in one place.”
To be precise, this platform is a centralized portal where watch enthusiasts, retailers and journalists from around the world will be able to experience the fine watchmaking universe, as well as the newest watches of the year and connect directly with the 30 participating brands. On top of that, this new platform also provides dynamic opportunities for interaction, education, inspiration and business talks, all while showcasing the heritage, values and ambitions of the brands it represents. In the long run, the platform will also continue to be updated with new content, along with strategic e-commerce partnerships.
Then, on what was originally intended to be the first day of the physical trade fair, the aforementioned breakthrough digital platform launched worldwide through watchesandwonders.com by the FHH as an immediate online adaptation of the historic trade fair. For opening day, the FHH organized a series of new product launch presentations, where executives from participating brands showcase their novelties through 10-minute streaming videos. All of these videos will remain permanently accessible on the site.
The site also featured special dedicated pages for each brand, where visitors will have the opportunity to discover their respective universes, including the newest timepieces for 2020. Moreover, visitors can also view up-to-the-moment social media content and connect directly to the brands’ own sites and channels. Remarkably, beyond products, the new website also provides a range of expert and educational content created by members of the FHH Cultural Council and other leading opinion leaders—from product analysis, commentary from industry members, trend forecasts as well as in-depth business talks. This initiative proved to be successful, as shown by the number of visitors for the opening day and so on.
Furthermore, aside from the new website, this year’s Watches & Wonders also took a step forward in terms of its reach beyond Europe. For the very first time, Watches & Wonders came to Shanghai and also Sanya, in China. It carried on from the online Watches & Wonders platform, but there were only eleven brands—Parmigiani Fleurier and Purnell, as well as nine of Richemont’s prestigious watch brands, namely A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin— that exhibited both in Shanghai and Sanya.
“China has been one of the most valued markets for luxury watches maisons, especially for Richemont,” said Emmanuel Perrin, President of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. “This represents a unique opportunity for our participating maison to present their creations and connect directly to the Chinese clientele.”
All in all, while it’s safe to say that with the economic realities of today everybody in the business is looking over their shoulders, things are looking up. This was shown by the numbers of watch sales in the industry which are going up, despite Richemont having just reported its sales for the first half of the financial year showing the opposite. And perhaps there’s a silver lining to all this doom and gloom, as more and more industry leaders have also adopted new channels of communication and have started looking more intently at their customers’ different buying habits. In short, thanks to the pandemic, the watch industry has been confronted this year with an important paradigm shift.
“The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) made a quick and superb decision with the creation of an online platform for its Watches & Wonders concept, in order to respond to the challenges faced by the watch community and to offer a digital venue where said community
can gather virtually”
But then again, Watches & Wonders Geneva has always been full of surprises, and this year is no exception. By opening beyond its four walls, visiting its important clientele directly in the middle of the pandemic and by combining new types of content virtually, the historic fair attracted new audiences not just inside the venue but outside too, thanks to its immediate online adaptation and digital communications strategy.
In closing, perhaps American actor Clint Eastwood, said it best: “You improvise. You adapt. You overcome.” Sure, he was talking about this to his Marines in the movie “Heartbreak Ridge,” but then again, it was a perfect summation of this year’s Watches & Wonders Geneva.
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