What an Exhibitionist : A beginner's guide to SIHH 2015

When my wife arranged for a surprise birthday trip to Switzerland for me, she was unaware that Baselworld 2014 was on and only a forty minute train ride away. With only ten days until the event I managed to get into contact with two brand reps from my work who arranged for me to have appointments at the show to see the new products. For those who haven't been to Basel it is a phenomenal experience that truly takes your breath away the first time you go. I had worked at the Imbibe trade show in London (which stripped of branding was essentially a few tables, stacks of bottles and lots of drinking) and thought I knew what to expect. Oh how wrong I was. The booths at Baselworld are something to behold as they are less booth and more flat packed palaces to horology, complete with fully staffed bars and cafes housed inside, as well as dozens of rooms across multiple floors for hosting meetings and seeing releases. There was even a monumental fish tank above the entrance to Breitling. I walked around in a daze for most of it, absolutely blown away by the sheer scale of the event and, as the event is open to the public, how many people were in attendance . There were scores of enthusiasts looking around, gazing into the booths to see what new pieces each brand had to offer. 


Due to the rarity of a cancelled Swiss train (one of two during our journey and probably the only delayed trains throughout the entire country that year) we only had time to view the main hall which features all the main brands from across the industry. Whilst Baselworld is open to the public, you cannot just waltz into a booth and start handling the watches. Entrance is by appointment only and it's mostly reserved for retailers, journalists, "friend's of the brand" and people like me! All the booths have display cases on the outside containing the new releases for those not able to get a viewing. In fact, Patek Philippe went for a complete glass cube design so rather like a Victorian urchin peering through a restaurant's window, you could peek at both the goods but also at those inside deemed important enough to warrant physical contact. 

The reason why I'm talking about last years trade show event is that the Salon International de le Haute Horlogerie 2015 opened it's doors on Monday to over ten thousand retailers and press agents to show what the sixteen select maisons will be releasing over the coming year.  SIHH is an invite only event where only people known to the maisons are allowed to attend; photography is allowed but strictly controlled so the majority of photos will either be from press releases or from authorised journalists. Of course searching #SIHH2015 on Instagram and seeing the countless wristies (currently over five thousand) does beg the question how controlled the photography really is. 

25 years of Haute Horology. Photo courtesy of SIHH.org

25 years of Haute Horology. Photo courtesy of SIHH.org


Starting the 1991, SIHH was just five brands (Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Piaget, Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth) who left Baseworld and decided to host a private gathering of their own to showcase their work. Over the next twenty five years, the number of brands increased and so did the scope of the event which now encompasses over thirty thousand metres of exhibition space over seven days . Now the SIHH is organised by the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie on behalf of the SIHH exhibitors committee to exhibit the best of fine watchmaking. The SIHH explain their philosophy as advocating an approach to precious watches and fine watchmaking that is distinguished by excellence. Amongst other guidelines in their manifesto the foundation believe that to be classed as a fine timepiece, it must :

From concept to distribution, through development and production, a Fine Watch is at the centre of a process in which quality is uppermost at every stage. To warrant the title of “Fine Watch", irrespective of whether it is a one-off creation, a limited edition or part of a collection, a product must meet a series of requirements:
Its movement must demonstrate an outstanding degree of technical expertise. It must be designed, developed and manufactured to the highest standards of quality, authenticity, reliability and traceability.
 It must demonstrate expert use of noble, rare and precious, or innovative materials.
Each component must be perfectly finished and the utmost attention paid to the smallest detail.
It must possess great aesthetic value and its exterior (case, dial, strap) must demonstrate creativity, originality, authenticity and individuality
The level of sophistication and design in these booths is out of this world. Photo courtesy of SIHH.org

The level of sophistication and design in these booths is out of this world. Photo courtesy of SIHH.org

Having been to Baselworld, I understand why these maisons, with the majority being part of the Richemont group, would want a different  environment to showcase their upcoming pieces. Having a smaller, more intimate venue creates the atmosphere of sophistication and exclusivity that is exactly what these brands need to cultivate, as a consumer's perception of buying into a luxury brand and lifestyle is almost as important as the product itself. As a fantastic marketing push for Richemont at the beginning of the year, then, the SIHH succeeds dramatically. However to achieve the goal set by the SIHH to appreciate all aspects of fine watchmaking, there really needs to be more selection. It is only by validation of fellow watchmakers and brands can this celebration of artistic engineering moves forward, so having the SIHH welcome smaller brands that meet the definition of fine watchmaking, like F.P Journe, MB&F or R.W Smith, would make this event truly special. How feasible it would be for the independents to participate and match the level of opulence required is uncertain but I would love for them to try, as what's important isn't how lavish the booth is but the amount of craftsmanship, passion and skill that culminate in an exquisite timepiece.

Whilst it is one of the most important events in the watch calendar, I won't be writing much past this article about the announcements coming out in Geneva. Without having a watch on your wrist there is no true way to know how it feels and to know what emotion is conjured up when you wear it. Anything I would be writing from over four thousand miles away would be dishonest and frankly I don't want to regurgitate press releases simply to have article up on the site. However I implore you all to look at the journalists who are in attendance, look on the brand's websites to see what you think of those releases and start putting those pennies away!