When Watches and Wonders first launched its online watch fair a year ago, it drove an estimated reach of 85 million during the 2020 event, as audiences flocked to its platform in the absence of a physical watch event due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Around a year later, with global restrictions still in place for many around the world, the second edition went ahead as an online and physical event, that started in Geneva and finished in Shanghai, reaching an estimated audience of 500 million to date and 360,000 posts featuring the hashtag #watchesandwonders2021 across social media, blogs and other online platforms.
For Watches and Wonders, it was an opportunity to gather industry insiders, retailers, the press and the general public together and share ideas and their passion for luxury watches, to interact, discuss, collaborate and discover, particularly since it has been two years since the last physical watch trade shows were held in Geneva or Basel.
“The main objective this year for Watches and Wonders Geneva and Shanghai was to gather the leading names in the industry around one single event, and anchor our Fashion Week meets Davos meets Watches and Wonders in order to keep a single momentum for watchmaking worldwide, while adapting to the health situation around the globe,” said Matthieu Humair, Chief Executive Officer of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie.
This year’s edition allowed for Watches and Wonders to experiment with its format more, as seen with the dedicated “Morning Show” it hosted - which held interviews with brands, oversaw panels on the “hot topics” like innovation, the customer experience and sustainability, and held live discussions on social media platforms like Clubhouse were also new additions to this year’s event, as part of its efforts to create a more social atmosphere to the online event.
“After two years without a physical event in Geneva, the enthusiasm for 2022 has never been higher,” Humair told Luxury Society in an interview, adding this year’s event was built around three pillars of interaction, personalisation and experience. “The digital component offers a different experience with new horizons and lots of new possibilities.”
A more formal programme was introduced for registered guests, retailers and members of the press, who were able to subscribe to brand keynotes, scheduled events and activities, a key learning point from the previous year’s edition. This year’s event saw 38 brands participate in the fair – double that of last year’s – including names like Patek Philippe, Cartier, Rolex and Chanel, with close to 400 new releases unveiled, as well as 300 presentations to retailers and around 600 one-on-one appointments organised.
Humair said one of the highlights for him was the incredible drive that surrounded the event, which showcased double the number of brands compared to the previous year, making sure that watchmaking excellence could be shared with enthusiasts worldwide, whatever the situation.
“We worked hand-in-hand with every participating brand to build this challenging and exciting project,” he said. “All the Maisons were keen to keep this watchmaking momentum and worked very hard to make sure it happened, adapting with creativity and innovation to the move from physical to digital in such a short time.”
The reach that the event achieved on social media was also an important milestone in expanding Watches and Wonders impact. “It exceeded anything we could expect and had seen so far in terms of reach,” said Humair. “The content created was shared and reposted, with an estimated reach of over 500 million. The platform became a real hub for watchmaking.”
The changes come at a time when the concept of a modern watch fair has long needed an overhaul. Last year, the decision to cancel two of the largest Swiss watch fairs due to COVID-19 last year, added to the growing concerns of a market already struggling with a slowdown in sales.
Combined with criticisms that watch fairs were in drastic need of modernisation, both the organisers took note and vowed to make the changes needed to reflect a more inclusive approach to their events. For Watches and Wonders, the renamed Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, that change meant a number of different things, including transforming its online presence and its decision to relaunch their event as an online fair (when the physical event was cancelled last April), a first for the industry.
For Humair, the event confirmed the need for physical events in the watchmaking industry, complemented with strong digital offering. “We need to mix the best of both worlds,” said Humair. “The watchmaking industry needs physical events more than ever. But a new kind of Salon, adapted to the changing times, with a strong digital aspect to support it,” said Humair, who was officially appointed to the CEO role in January.
Looking forward, Humair believes the future of watch fairs will be a balance between physical and digital. “Depending on the technologies that are used, we can reach an unparalleled level of detail, not to mention augmented reality or other virtual experiences that open up the wide field to innovation an imagination,” he said.
“We already have many ideas,” he added. “Especially on how to share what is happening within the walls of a physical Salon with a larger number of watch enthusiasts around the globe, adapting the message, using new means of communication, and balancing the digital component with the physical event.”