5 Days of Horological Madness – A Personal Look Back at the Second Edition of Watches & Wonders

With the B2B part of the undoubtedly “largest watchmaking event of the year” just having wrapped up (this weekend is reserved for the public), it is about time for a first (but definitely not last) summary of the 2023 edition of Watches & Wonders (March 27-April 2, 2023).

“Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023 closed with record figures, with 43,000 unique visitors (22,000 in 2022) over the whole week, 5,400 retailers, 125 nationalities, and 35,000 overnight stays, while the number of end-consumers doubled during the first five days.”

Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023 Closing Press Release

The good news first: in my opinion, the show was as great as it was impressive:

On top of that, the Swiss watch exports had just risen to a very high level (2.2 billion francs), people were visibly optimistic and happy to reconnect, and a majority of the new releases can perhaps best be described as crowd-pleasers.

Some of the watches that caught my eye are quickly summarized here:

Needless to say, most of the WatchTime team was on site to cover the show (and will continue to introduce you to new releases in the coming days), and we will start soon with in-depth coverage for the upcoming print edition. Right now, my guess is that most of the team members still have to process both the event and the transatlantic flight back to the U.S., and also get some well-deserved sleep.

Waiting in line not for a MoonSwatch, but a taxi – the significantly higher number of visitors made logistics definitely more challenging this year.

Meanwhile, here are some personal observations:

  • Same same, but different: From 2022 to 2023, Watches & Wonders went from 38 to 48 participating brands. While the main exhibition space with Rolex, Tudor, Patek and Chopard hadn’t really changed, what was different, however, was the number of visitors: Compared to 2022, and with travel bans and restrictions having been lifted almost everywhere, the show was much more packed (the word “shattered” was more than once used when comparing last year’s numbers of overall attendance and impressions with 2023). The result: Watches & Wonders 2023 was significantly busier and more crowded. Quite often, visitors had to wait quite a bit in line to get through security in the morning, usually having a negative impact on product presentation schedules.
  • Geneva, we need to talk: People used to make fun of the veal sausage sold in front of Baselworld. With a price tag of CHF 8.50, the famous white St. Galler Bratwurst quickly became a symbol of how insanely expensive everything around the show had become. Meanwhile in Geneva, a Diet Pepsi at the President Wilson hotel set you back CHF 12.50, a (btw fantastic!) hamburger at the Beau Rivage cost CHF 38, or CHF 50 when you wanted a carbonated soft drink and fries with it. Even at Five Guys in front of Cornavin train station, a cheeseburger costs a whopping CHF 18.50 (compared to $10.99 in New York). Which brings me to the real issue: The proverbial take-away is that there are almost no hotel rooms for mere mortals available, and – you’ve guessed right – accommodation in general doesn’t come cheap. As a result, some people had to stay in hotels as far away as Lausanne (44-min by train), in order to have a place to sleep. The good news, however, taxi fares seemed almost ridiculously low in comparison (and believe me, Switzerland is not known for cheap taxi fares). Should Watches & Wonders (or Time to Watches, Geneva Watch Days etc.) continue to grow (which is to be expected), Geneva has to become more accessible, manageable and affordable for visitors.
  • 2024, the year of the Submariner: With the 60th anniversary of both the Daytona and Carrera taking place in 2023, the launch of the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus Chronograph, Grand Seiko’s Tentagraph, the new Reverso Tribute Chronograph from Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek’s Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph or Montblanc’s 1858 The Unveiled Timekeeper Minerva Limited Edition (a chronograph without pushers), it is safe to say that chronographs took center stage this year. Which also means that we can most likely expect to see a lot more Submariner releases in 2024, since the model’s 70th anniversary didn’t result in the introduction of the next evolution of the famous dive watch in Geneva (as a consolidation, the Yacht-Master in titanium, however, looked absolutely stunning).
  • Uniting the watch industry apparently is as difficult as assembling a Grand Complication while blindfolded: Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille announced in 2018 that they would end the collaboration with SIHH (Watches & Wonders’ predecessor) after 2019. Swatch Group pulled out of Baselworld in the same year, Breitling decided in 2019, not to return to Baselworld for the (then cancelled) 2020 show, shortly followed by Bulgari (which explains why I didn’t list the new Octo Roma Chronograph above). All those industry giants have in common that they’re currently not directly participating in any of the larger shows in Switzerland, same goes for MB&F, Greubel Forsey or Moser. Which is good for the success of international shows like Dubai Watch Week, but not necessarily for a country that sees itself a driving force in watchmaking.
  • Crossing the finish line: obviously, a display caseback shouldn’t be the big news of a show like this. If, on the other hand, said display caseback was introduced by the most well-known and best-selling luxury watch brand in the world, things are a bit different. Rolex is traditionally focused on producing reliable luxury watches on an industrial scale, and thus on reducing tolerances whenever possible. Having opted to a) decorate and b) showcase their brand new 4131 movement with a display caseback for the first time, the often silent giant of the watch industry obviously did something that is not directly linked purely to the function or reliability of the watch. Same goes with the new (and stunning) 1908, or even the Day-Date with emojis and inspirational words instead of the day and date. In short: It appears Rolex is becoming less conservative these days.
Another personal highlight of Watches & Wonders: WatchTime’s current issue was extremely well received

Follow this link for more Watches & Wonders coverage.

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