A New Watch Salon In Geneva

A New Watch Salon In Geneva: Showcasing Exclusive Small Producers

Launched in 2010, the Geneva Time Exhibition (GTE) took place from January 17 to 22 backed by solid official partners including BMW, Laurent Perrier Champagne and international auction house Sotheby’s. Exhibitors were mostly Swiss with a sprinkling from other nations in Europe and one from the USA.

The event coincided with the 20-year-old, invitation-only SIHH, or Salon International de Haute Horlogerie (sihh.org), where brands like Cartier, Jaeger-Lecoultre, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels present their new collections to clients, distributors and media who fly in to the Swiss city just for the salon. This year, SIHH attendees had a second venue, the GTE, to check out.

GTE Well-Attended

GTE: Well-Attended

Which they did, accounting in large part for the pleasant atmosphere of bustle, exchange, business getting done, that prevailed at the GTE exhibit. Unlike the SIHH, the GTE also opens its doors to members of the public who register ahead on its website. Paola Orlando, one of the co-founders of Time Exhibitions Sàrl, the company that launched the GTE, said that nearly 5,500 people – including 500 representatives of the international media – attended the fair, well in excess of the number expected. (SIHH registered 12,500 guests, up 10% from 2009).

GTE exhibitor Janos Kozma, head of brand development and sales at the Geneva firm of Peter Tanisman (peter-tanisman.com), characterized the GTE as ‘’b to b’’, citing contacts with distributors from the Middle East, Russia and Asian countries, click here for more info.

Amir Zandidoust, son of Ali Zandidoust who founded the family firm (Zandidoust.com), was also struck by visits from private individuals on the lookout for watches produced in small numbers. ‘’They attached value to the fact that we are a three-person workshop producing only ten watches a year,’’ he said.

GTE: Watch Trends

Zandidoust models like a large watch made of 110 grams of gold with mounds of diamonds (20 carats worth) and a sting ray skin strap, selling for over $200,000 – price-wise, top range at the exhibit – made more of a statement as jewelry than as a watch. (Our illustration features a less extravagant model.)

Most of the pieces on display at the GTE, however, veered more to the watch side, including watches with ‘’complications’’ such as automatic winding, alarms, chronographs, calendars and more.

‘’To fit three or more complications into a watch, it’s obviously got to be large, and have a certain thickness,’’ said designer Olga Corsini of the Lausanne firm of Valbray (valbray.ch) where sleek contemporary models devoid of bling run between $8,000 and $14,000.

Tanisman’s range was somewhere in between, combining jewels and complications in models that could have a classical modern or quirkily contemporary look, price range $8,000 to $80,000.

General Style Trends At The GTE

Marked trends were the use of titanium for cases, exposed inner workings, and imaginative solutions for turning complications into unique design features. The dual time zone Persepolis watch by Ritmo Mundo, for example, had an orbital case with a watch face on each side.

GTE exhibitors also steered away from metallic straps: aside from plain leather, textured leathers like crocodile – sometimes dyed bright colors like pink – or off-beat materials like embossed black rubber, were the rule.

With the practical functions of timepieces like these now easily available to anyone with a smart phone and the relevant apps, the focus of those continuing their tradition centers on design, craftsmanship and precious materials. Equally important as any practical function is the watch’s role as adornment that reveals the taste and affluence of the wearer while providing conversation value and diversion, in one model through moveable elements that could be worked like worry beads.

Ritmo Mundo At The GTE

Ritmo Mundo At The GTE

But whether they are more jewelry than timepiece, contemporary or classical modern in style, with few exceptions most of the watches in the show were large to oversized – or as Ali Soltani, owner of Ritmo Mundo based in Beverly Hills said in reference to his own production, ‘’monster watches.’’

Striking too throughout the fair was that few watches looked as if they’d been made for women. ‘’The same watches are often worn by both sexes,’’ said Soltani. ‘’I have Japanese women clients who buy the biggest we’ve got for themselves.’’ Soltani prides himself on Ritmo Mundo’s ‘’Italian design, Swiss manufacture and Hollywood marketing’’.

No stranger to the luxury market (his family owns David Orgell on Rodeo Drive; Michael Jackson bought a Vacheron Constantin watch for 2.3 million dollars at the store, he said), Soltani’s line is geared more to fashion and larger distribution and less to extremes of handcrafting and top-price materials than many of his GTE co-exhibitors. Indeed, some of his models made a design feature out of a witty mix of less expensive materials with precious ones, and overall the approach was reflected in lower prices ($500 to $7500).

GTE: Why Open A New Salon Now?

According to GTE organizers, although the world economic crisis slowed the market, consumers at this level regained confidence in 2009, so the market is still huge.

Which is not to say that the luxury watch sector hasn’t suffered heavy setbacks or that players large and small aren’t seeking more business. However, Orlando said, the budgets of many GTE exhibitors often do not enable them to attend big-ticket fairs like Baselworld (baselworld.com), nor do many have high street shops, developed distributor networks, or advertising budgets. So for them the GTE is ‘’a fantastic platform’’. The success of the launch ‘’clearly shows there was a need for these brands to find a space to exhibit together at a reasonable price and increase their profile’’. It should be noted that Geneva is the world capital of luxury watch making, home to Rolex, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Franck Muller and other majors in addition to many of the GTE indies. It is also the city where Sotheby’s, Christies and Antiquorum hold watch auctions twice annually. Today’s production by both major luxury brands and GTE exhibitors is tomorrow’s collector items at those very sales.