The quirks of SIHH that keep it real

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Throwing out the Christmas tree, cleaning the oven, getting the car serviced, having your annual check up at the dentist; some of life’s little routines are inescapably unpleasant.

Luckily, there are a handful of extremely welcome customs to balance the bad with some good, and so it was with something of a smile on my face that I set off last week for one those positive rituals – SIHH.

Set up in 1991 with just five initial exhibitors and based in Geneva, SIHH (The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, to be precise) was created to promote fine watches and to offer a privileged setting for an upmarket and elite clientele. In this sense, the event has been an unmitigated success.

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Now in its 14th year and showcasing the new launches of Richemont’s 11 watch maisons, alongside a further four independent brands, most of which Richemont has a stake in, the exhibition has long been firmly established in the global horological calendar. Exclusive, invite-only guests from the world’s watch retailers and press (enter WatchPro) all descended on Geneva last week for this year’s event, to see firsthand what some of the premier watch houses out there have in store for 2014.

To paint as vivid a picture of the exhibition as possible to anyone who hasn’t been, the first thing to say is that, once you’re inside, the whole thing reeks of class and sophistication. This is a place where no-one rushes, voices are hushed, and a member of waiting staff is never more than a metre away from you at any given time. This all comes at a truly mammoth cost for the organisers, but it’s an expense that they can justify if they create the perfect atmosphere for their clients to discover some of the most luxurious and anticipated releases in the world of watches from the exhibitors.

And, judging by the sheer number of people doing serious business with brands at the Palexpo exhibition centre, it would appear that the investment more than pays itself back. Although set in a deliberately serene environment, ultimately the reason everyone is there is the same reason as any trade exhibition – to buy and sell watches. The fact that these particular creations are some of the most well-crafted and expensive timepieces available makes the whole spectacle that bit more impressive.

Despite the image of tranquillity that I’ve tried to conjure, SIHH is certainly not without its oddities and its quirks, a couple of which are worthy of note. For instance, in the midst of the calm decorum on one of the stands, a retailer tells his assistant (who was on the phone) in no uncertain terms that he’ll "pay 70 and not a penny more." The retailer and the brand shall remain anonymous, but it was strangely heart warming to see that such market stool trader attitudes and conversations still go on, even at the very highest echelons of the watch industry.

Another paradox about the exhibition is that, for an event that liberally invites all guests to fill up on alcoholic and soft drinks whenever and wherever possible, the toilet facilities are few and very far between. That is to say that, even once one has found a sign that points them in the right direction (and this can take a fair while), the subsequent walk (or trek) to the nearest water closet leaves you questioning whether it might have been quicker to wait until you were back in Blightey.

Perhaps this is stretching the point, but it is unquestionably ill-advised to be caught short whilst roaming the plush carpets of SIHH.

To be clear, I don’t for a second think that these foibles are to the detriment of the show; quite the opposite. In a desert of formality and decadence, such idiosyncrasies connect everyone back with the real world that they’ve left behind at the airport, and inject some crucial character into the fair.

With this year’s SIHH over, the planning will no doubt already have begun for next year’s show, and WatchPro cannot wait to see what exhibitors have in store for us in 2015. Some of the new watches on display this year were genuinely brilliant concoctions, and almost as much kudos has to go to the stands themselves, which were more ornate and opulent at times than even the grandest offerings from BaselWorld.

Quite simply, once you bust through the impossibly well-dressed clientele and the permanent fug of self-satisfaction in the air, it is undeniable that SIHH is legitimately a huge success story, and absolutely key for the select brands and retailers that attend. This particular show must, and will, go on.

 

 

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