SIHH 2016: Why this year will be different
2015 is now fading into memory and the promises of 2016 are rushing towards us with SIHH, the first major watch exhibition of the year, only days away. The Salon International De La Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) is an industry-only event that has been held every year since 1991 as an alternative space to Baselworld to focuses solely on fine watchmaking. Whilst there have been a few minor changes to the exhibitor list over the last twenty five years, the number has remained somewhat consistent since 2002 when A.Lange & Sohne, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Van Cleef & Arpels joined. This marked the time when potentially fading brands were beginning to get acquired by major watch groups with Breguet becoming a member of the Swatch family and Alfred Dunhill moving to Bulgari. This also marked the time when SIHH became very much a "Richemond & Select Friends" event whereas before it was more an independent affair.
Earlier last year SIHH announced that there would be nine additional exhibitors joining the trade show in 2016 : Christophe Claret, De Bethune, H. Moser & Cie, Hautelence, HYT, Kari Voutillainen, Laurent Ferrier, MB&F and Urwerk. These brands have never shown at SIHH before and were chosen because "they represent watchmaking new guard" according to the SIHH website. These artisan-creators are to be housed in a separate section of the show called "Carre des Horlogers" or Watchmakers Square in English. I suspect that there are two main reasons why a separate space was created, a) it means that these smaller companies do not need to bankrupt themselves in rivalling the opulent stalls of the existing exhibitors and b) they do not draw focus away from what SIHH might considers the main event.
What I do find encouraging is the level of watchmaking diversity that these nine independents will bring to the event. Hautlence, HYT and Urwerk look like they have crash landed in from another planet and even the traditional designs from Laurent Ferrier and H.Moser & Cie differ greatly from what has been seen before. I would expect that these nine brands are really going to go all out for their SIHH debut as this inclusion to the world's most exclusive watch show could really open some eyes (and hopefully some wallets) of the right people. 90% of the attendees in previous years were retailers with the remaining 10% being members of the press. I will be perfectly honest and say that out of the new nine brands I had only heard of five and was only familiar with three of those. Not that my unfamiliarity with these brands is because of a supposed lack of technical competence on their part. Every brand in attendance are worthy of the title of fine watchmakers whether it's the traditional engraving on an A.Lange und Sohne 3/4 plate or the pipe work on a HYT.
Last year I wrote about SIHH 2015 and I ended with saying that for " 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 move 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". I'm glad to think that those at SIHH agree with my point.
One of the reasons I find Baselworld to be a superior event to SIHH is the openness and accessibility to brands and to the interested public. To the layman, SIHH and Baselworld look almost identical. Both are industry trade shows happening half the world away with hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful watches being displayed ; however beneath the surface the two shows are worlds apart with the main difference being exclusivity. Any Jean, Francois or Amelie can walk off the streets of Basel into the conference center, pay the entry fee (Around $100) and walk in. They will be free to walk about the center and peer through the same windows that members of the press will peer through to see what new delights and novelties the exhibiting brands have come to showcase. Photographs can be taken without fear however it in order to get some metal-on-wrist action you must be a member of the press/retailer and make an appointment with each specific brand.
When I was lucky enough to go in 2014 I had two appointments arranged through the brands reps I had dealt with whilst in retail so I can't speak as to how the difficulty of gaining a viewing. SIHH on the other hand is an invitation only event with everyone attending being cleared by the brands and all registered with the FHH (Foundation de la haute horlogerie). No invites can be swapped, no sudden appearances to be made and all photographers must register with the organisers before pictures are taken.
Another major difference between the two trade shows is their scope and focus. Until the addition of these nine exhibitors, SIHH has primarily been a Richemont event with a few independent brands participating. Baselworld is open to hundreds of brands with a Swatch focus at the end of the long main boulevard which leads visitor's eyes to the red Omega logo in "Swatch Village" with fellow brands in satellite around the central location. At Baselworld there is also a huge difference in retail price of the exhibitors as you can walk across the center from Breguet to Tissot, from Blancpain to Eterna. There is an air of openness to Baselworld with a focus on accessibility with the exhibition being open to the public. I do understand why SIHH is private as it is an opportunity for brands and retailers to communicate directly and having the public eavesdropping on talks isn't conducive to business. A single day or weekend of SIHH that was open to the public would be nice though as those are the people who are going to buy your watches eventually. As I made a correction prediction last year I'm going to make another and say that in 2017 SIHH will have a seperate day for the public but the entry fee will be significantly more and numbers will be limited.
More brands than ever, more pressure to exceed expectations and make first impressions means without a doubt SIHH 2016 will be the most impressive exhibit that will have occurred.. The future possibilities of SIHH including more brands depends on the success on the nine watchmakers chosen this year to excite those in attendance. Fine watchmaking doesn't have to happen under a corporate umbrella and this years marks the chance for SIHH to step out into the downpour.
There will be some amazing novelties coming out from the Carre but ultimately it is the small tweaks and change to their standard line-up, the millimetre here or bracelet option there that will tug at the purse strings of the retailers. As I said on my one year anniversary of Timepiece Chronicle, I will be covering the event from afar but will be focusing on telling more in-depth stories about a few watches that interest me.