Watch lovers, Geneva is calling. On March 27, the high-end watch industry will descend on the Swiss city for a week of presentations, dinners and networking events centered on Watches and Wonders. Home to 48 brands, from A. Lange & Söhne to Zenith, the show, which takes place at the Palexpo exhibition center adjacent to the city’s airport, is the single biggest event on the industry’s calendar. And now, for the first time, it will open to the public.
For its final two days (Saturday, April 1 and Sunday, April 2), Watches and Wonders will welcome enthusiasts and collectors to the plush salons that have until now been restricted to press and retailers. The expansion includes the show’s new “In the City” focus, which will see boutiques and event spaces around Geneva open their doors to watch enthusiasts in an effort to make the experience more inclusive and attractive to consumers.
When collector Henry Flores, founder of the New York City-based Classic Watch Club, learned of the public offering, he jumped at the chance “to see the veil lifted,” he says.
In December, after a fellow collector suggested they make the pilgrimage to Switzerland, he sent out a survey to Classic Watch Club members asking if they wanted to tag along. He got six takers.
Their group of seven is arriving in Geneva on March 30. From their homebase, an Airbnb just over the border in France, they’ll explore Watches and Wonders for a day and will use the rest of their time to visit a handful of manufactures in the Vallée de Joux, including Audemars Piguet and a movement-making facility owned by Vacheron Constantin.
“We’re all happy to see these amazing watches in the metal,” Flores tells Robb Report.
“It was always like we were on the outside looking in, and now it feels like someone’s opening up the velvet ropes,” he adds.
For enthusiasts looking for similar in-the-metal experiences, check out the events noted below to make the most out of your time at Watches and Wonders Geneva.
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The Main Event: Watches and Wonders
Beyond cruising through the halls of Watches and Wonders on the event’s two public days, enthusiasts will also be able to participate in educational talks and panel discussions in the Auditorium featuring experts and guest speakers discussing everything from the promises of blockchain technology to how the industry might capitalize on the metaverse. The sessions will also focus on practical topics, such as how to start a vintage watch collection.
For example, on Saturday, attendees can sit in on a “what’s trending” product-focused session (at 11 a.m.), a talk on value that will examine what a luxury watch is worth (at 12 p.m.), and a discussion on how digital technologies and Web 3.0 are connecting a traditional, and traditionally analog, industry (at 5 p.m.).
On Sunday, topics of discussion include how the circular economy is relevant to the luxury watch industry (at 3 p.m.) and “The ABCs of vintage collecting” (at 4 p.m.).
Adjacent to the salons, the show will host the LAB at Watches and Wonders Geneva, where attendees can experience the latest cutting-edge innovations and new technologies from exhibiting brands, and a special art exhibition by Swiss photographer Karine Bauzin entitled “What time is it?”
One-day tickets to the fair cost 70 Swiss francs (about $77) and can be purchased on the Watches and Wonders site.
Watches and Wonders “In the City”
From guided tours of Geneva to a deep dive into the history of fine watchmaking at the Patek Philippe Museum, the city portion of the Watches and Wonders agenda offers plenty of free activities sure to thrill watch aficionados.
The festivities kick off at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, when Watches and Wonders will take over the Rue Basses, from the Pont de la Machine to the Place Longemalle, where street artists, musicians and dancers will perform for the crowds. The route passes the major watch brand boutiques and stores on Rue du Rhône, which are staying open until 9 p.m. to greet passersby.
At 7 p.m., organizers will stage a presentation at the Pont de la Machine, in French, on “Geneva, Switzerland and watchmaking.” Immediately following the conference, partygoers will be encouraged to make their way to Quai Général Guisan, where they’ll find street artists, food trucks and, at 8 p.m., a concert by the French house and electro DJ Tristan Casara, known by his stage name The Avener.
Throughout the week, consumers wandering through the city center should keep their eyes peeled for watch boutiques that feature WandW display columns. That’s a sign that the shops have surprises in store for consumers who stop by, including historical pieces on display, demonstration workshops and opportunities to meet watchmakers and preview new pieces.
The organizers have also added an interactive “Watch Rally” element to the In the City portion: QR codes scattered along the route will indicate participating boutiques and emblematic sites. Using their mobile phones, enthusiasts will be asked to piece together a secret code that will enable them to enter a prize drawing to receive two tickets to the salon over the weekend, including meals.
Anyone looking to gain a broader understanding of Geneva’s role in the development of high watchmaking can join free guided tours of the city’s watchmaking landmarks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting at 12:30 p.m. and again at 4 p.m. On Saturday at 2 p.m., Geneva Tourism is holding its own tour. All tours start at the Pont de la Machine Building on the river, near the Watches and Wonders Geneva Foundation offices.
Time to Watches at HEAD – Genève
For the second year running, the Time to Watches event will open to the public from March 28 to April 1 at Le Cube, an event space on the campus of the Geneva School of Art and Design (accessible via a free shuttle service to and from Geneva Airport). Home to some 30 brands, including Frédéric Jouvenot, ID Genève and Perrelet, the show offers an opportunity to discover independent watchmakers in a creative, cool setting.
Executive director Christian Wipfli says he conceived the event as a place to discover new independent makers, vintage watches, fashion brands, certified pre-owned timepieces (look for the ReLuxury Pop-Up offering certified pre-owned watches for sale), even connected watches.
“I’ve always had a passion for watchmaking, and as someone who lives in Geneva and frequents the watch scene, I realized that we needed a complementary event to Watches and Wonders that would showcase creative independent brands but most importantly that would give the general public all access,” Wipfli tells Robb Report. “Time To Watches is dedicated to every lover of watchmaking, whether they are collectors, retailers, press or timepiece enthusiasts.”
On April 1, Time to Watches is planning a Watch & Match experience in which visitors will have access to the participating brands and be able to test, compare and purchase their favorite timepieces.
Tickets go on sale on March 15.