There was definitely a vibe of changing times when the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) opened at Geneva’s PalExpo venue in January. A slew of new faces, who have taken over at the helm of Richemont’s traditional watch maisons such as Vacheron Constantin, Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre, marked a changing of the guard, initiating a different energy in booth designs and new novelties.

The past year has been an unsettling time at Richemont, during which former IWC CEO Georges Kern took over as head of the group’s Specialist Watchmakers division and then suddenly left to take over as CEO at Breitling after only four months. 

Jérôme Lambert, CEO of Montblanc, took over as COO of the Richemont Group. His position at Montblanc was filled by Nicolas Baretzki at the end of 2016. 

At Vacheron Constantin, Louis Ferla took over from long-time stalwart Juan-Carlos Torres, while at Piaget, Chabi Nouri stepped into the shoes vacated by Philippe Léopold-Metzger. Daniel Riedo’s departure at Jaeger-LeCoultre has left the CEO position vacant and deputy CEO Geoffroy Lefebvre holding the fort. Ulysse Nardin also has a new CEO in office, with Patrick Pruniaux taking over from Patrik Hoffman. Later this year, Roger Dubuis CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué will take over from iconic Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati.

Montblanc launches 1858 collection at SIHH in Geneva

A spacious and contemporary design offered an organised welcome to exhibitors and guests. Inside, new VIP areas, digital stations and a live auditorium for discussions and presentations were clear indications of the evolution of the fair that is now in its 28th year.

Changes had been set in motion two years ago when the SIHH introduced the Carré des Horlogers section and invited nine independent watch manufacturers into what had predominantly been a Richemont event. Last year, the Carré des Horlogers hosted 14 brands, with 17 maisons participating this year. French luxury group Hermès made its first appearance at the fair this year with a booth in the central aisle. This year’s expanded Carré des Horlogers went down well with visitors and media, and the Hermès booth was quite the draw with its innovative showcase space. “It’s a strong expression of Hermès. You can really see the signature, how close it is to the architectural concept in Hong Kong, actually, with the white wood, the wood panels and the wood structures.This is,the modern expression of Hermès today,” says Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the brand’s artistic director.

We have a lot of female clients who are very interested in the craftsmanship, movements and development

After suffering a dismal few years from the overreliance on a base of more traditional clientele, the brands at this year’s SIHH showed they were ready to listen to potential new client bases – the young watch aficionado and the women’s segment – which resulted in a good selection of entry-level timepieces even from maisons such as Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre.

“Last year, we saw a lot of new novelties. This year, many brands are not merely chasing after the quantity of new novelties. We are seeing new models that are updated or refined models from last year. Overall, this year, we are seeing a lot more value-for-money products, especially in the ‘below HK$100,000’ category,” says fair regular Anthony Tsang, marketing manager of Oriental Watch (Hong Kong).

The top 11 luxury watches we spotted at SIHH 2018 

However, overwhelmingly, this seemed to be the year for women with some spectacular creations. 

Audemars Piguet and Van Cleef & Arpels won plaudits for this category, the former with the dazzling Royal Oak Ladies’ Concept Flying Tourbillon and the latter with an equally awe-inspiring Lady Arpels Planetarium. 

“Many people were saying that [we] don’t develop mechanical complications for ladies. I think that’s wrong. We have a lot of female clients {who] are very interested in the craftsmanship, movements and development,” says Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. 

With Nouri taking over at the helm of Piaget, the maison also returned to more feminine roots with the colourful Possession collection. 

Even the normally masculine Panerai introduced three Luminor Due novelties in 38mm for the first time. 

“The focus on trying to push the development of jewellery started two years ago because we felt we should continue what we are credible for. [The Possession] watch is a jewellery watch that will match with the Possession jewellery line,” Nouri says.

Functionality was also the order of the day, with many brands, including Cartier and Panerai, introducing quick-change coloured straps, making the timepieces more appealing to younger and, perhaps, more feminine audiences.

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