Timed to Perfection

Rare Swiss timepieces show the complex mechanisms, skilled craftsmanship and creative genius of elite brands, writesPin Lee

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 5:09pm

Every January, timepiece collectors and lovers of luxury goods hold their breath to see the new wonders that have been created by the world's most renowned watchmakers. That is when all is revealed at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, Switzerland, which is open only to retailers and media.

Now, at Watches&Wonders, First Asia Horlogerie Exhibition, invited guests can see these top-tier timepieces under one roof at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, from today until Saturday.

A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin and Van Cleef & Arpels - all important brands of luxury goods group Richemont - are participating, including independent brand Richard Mille.

Fabienne Lupo (pictured below), chairwoman and managing director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), the organiser of Watches&Wonders, says this is the first event of its kind in Asia to feature 13 of the great maisons of Europe.

"Watches&Wonders is more focused on the culture, know-how and expertise of the participating maisons," she says. "We know that Chinese and Asian people have a great appreciation for fine watchmaking, and I am sure they will love to attend this kind of event."

Piaget CEO Philippe Leopold-Metzger agrees that Asians, and particularly Chinese people, "now represent a big part of the luxury business, and this event is a formidable opportunity for us to bring part of our manufacture to Asia". The choice of Hong Kong [as a venue] "is ideal for attracting clients from all across Asia", he says.

Hong Kong's central location offers a convenient meeting place in Asia for watch collectors and the brands' guests and customers. The foundation is expecting more than 400 journalists from the mainland alone.

Watches&Wonders is a tribute to the highly developed watch culture in Asia, and "brings the splendour of the SIHH as a privileged venue for retailers and watch journalists to the region", says Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of Lange Uhren, which is showing the renowned brand

A. Lange & Söhne.

Such a concentration of fine brands is designed to show Asia the extraordinary heritage of Swiss watchmaking.

"We want to show exceptional timepieces," Lupo says. "This is not a commercial event to sell watches. Rather, it is to explain, to educate, to show the craftsmanship behind these pieces and the patrimony of the brands."

The trade's business has already been done at SIHH in January and those products are reaching the retail market around this time, she says. So, for the 13 elite brands, Watches&Wonders is all about showing rare timepieces for the public to gain an appreciation of the complex mechanisms, the skilled craftsmanship and the creative genius behind them.

Collectively they embody a manufacturing culture and ethos which is as fascinating as the individual pieces. Each brand shows, in its individual creations, how great innovation is built on a shared heritage.

Audemars Piguet is a brand name that resonates with Asian consumers, and the company is keen to participate in the inaugural Watches&Wonders exhibition, says its CEO, François-Henry Bennahmias. "The event will help us forge closer relationships with the Asian market and will bring to life the exciting story of Audemars Piguet's watchmaking origins and artistry, which spans more than 130 years in the heart of the Vallée de Joux, Le Brassus in Switzerland," he says. "We also hope the event will mark the beginning of a new tradition."

The event will introduce visitors to fascinating aspects of watchmaking techniques and history. Skilled professionals are scheduled to demonstrate and explain aspects of watchmaking, while a stunning exhibit, "The Mastery of Time", traces the history of watchmaking.

The foundation's Cultural Council says fine watchmaking "embraces a centuries-old, living history, a rich and specific culture, a professional ethic, the enduring expertise of the artisan, and a burning passion".

Watches&Wonders aims to kindle in the Asian market an appreciation and a desire for fine watches. "This event is an invitation to celebrate a renewed and embellished tie linking Europe to Asia: the very particular passion of time," says Bernard Fornas, co-CEO of Richemont.