This year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was the biggest ever after the Geneva showcase watch fair threw open its doors to 17 main exhibitors, in addition to 13 independents for the Carré des Horlogers section and paying members of the public on the final day.

Despite the depressed retail market over the past two years, the mood was reasonably upbeat with some brands claiming sales of timepieces worth more than HK$1 million on the first day. The large number of brands made for greater vibrancy on the floor despite a more streamlined cache of media and retailers for the first few days.

The market is probably starting to see the effects of the downturn in terms of novelties, with more brands introducing entry-level novelties and many more aiming for the previously neglected women’s segment.

Jaeger-LeCoultre continued its feminine interpretation of the Rendez-Vous and Cartier unveiled the Panthère de Cartier collection. Audemars Piguet showed off its Royal Oak Frosted Gold, while other manufactures softened their more masculine cuts with colourful and easily interchangeable leather straps.

Even the “Engineered for Men” IWC Schaffhausen revealed two Da Vinci models for the ladies: the Da Vinci Automatic 36 and the Da Vinci Automatic Moon Phase 36,
while A. Lange & Söhne introduced its 36.8mm Little Lange 1 Moon Phase.

“We are also re-establishing an old tradition of creating selected models from the Da Vinci line specially for women and adding diamonds or fashionable straps and bracelets as features,” says IWC’s outgoing CEO Georges Kern, who will take over as head of watchmaking, marketing and digital of the Richemont Group.

Despite more sober entry-level novelties, there was no lack of innovation this year.

The star of the show was Vacheron Constantin’s
Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600, featuring 23 complications and took five years to develop from scratch by one dedicated master watchmaker.

“Everybody is more realistic but yet still very ambitious,” says salon veteran Noel Wong, deputy CEO of Elegant Watches. “The economic downturn has had an impact on product development, price points and even target markets.

“The bloom of new materials, ladies collections and entry
level watches shows the aggressiveness of brands to seize market share.”

Until last year, exhibitors at the invitation-only show mainly comprised brands within the Richemont Group, with the inclusion of others such as Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani Fleurier and Richard Mille. Girard-Perregaux returned
to the Hall after four years at Baselworld, and the Geneva show this year also welcomed newcomer Ulysse Nardin and five new independent watchmakers.

While some executives have quietly raised fears about allowing unfettered access to
the Group’s clientele, the response from brands has generally been welcoming.

“I was one of the earliest advocates to include younger brands,” says Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias. “We are a watch fair and we need to include young and exciting new watchmakers to provide synergy.”

Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai, also sees it as largely positive. “Rather than seeing them organise outside the SIHH venue, it is better to include them. They participate, they share the costs. It’s the same
for the dealers.”

For the independent watchmakers, the better organised SIHH offers them greater access to a more focused group of worldwide media as well as retailers, and, in turn, better exposure.

“SIHH is extremely professional and well organised. For us it drove a lot of visibility through high-quality media we wouldn’t meet in Baselworld,” says Edouard Meylan, CEO of
H. Moser & Cie which made its second SIHH appearance this year. “On the sales side, it is a great opportunity to meet new retailers. Last year, we did better at Baselworld because we converted many new retailers who we had met at SIHH.”

For retailers such as Elegant’s Wong, having both leading independents and historical maisons under one roof can only be a win-win situation. “We are more than happy to see the inclusion of more independent watch brands here,” Wong says.

“Customers are getting sophisticated. They are looking for something more unusual rather than just famous. This means customers will have more brands for consideration. This is definitely exciting for both customers and retailers.”