Travelling to Geneva in Switzerland over the years has translated into a certain familiarity that is extremely comforting. There is hardly anything major that has changed in the city in the past two decades, other than maybe a store replacing another on the marquee Rue du Rhone, or the renaming of a hotel. Overall, the city remains the same—adding to that home-away feeling. My visits to Geneva revolve around watches, either attending the invite-only exclusive and the largest watch-making summit Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (now known as Watches and Wonders) exhibition or visiting some watch manufactures in and around Geneva.
For those who want to know the importance of Geneva as a watchmaking hub, the story dates back to the 16th century, when protestant refugees fled a Catholic France and found a safe haven in Geneva. Already known as the city of talented goldsmiths and jewellers, the city welcomed these refugees. Around the same time, the protestant reformer John Calvin preached against what he saw as the excesses of Catholicism. Jewellery, a symbol of this excess, was prohibited, but timepieces, which had a practical function, were accepted. As a result, many jewellers turned their hands to watchmaking, and the industry quickly grew, with craftsmen making watch parts, engraving cases, and enamelling dials out of attic workshops in many neighbourhoods in Geneva. With Geneva bursting at the seams, some left for the nearby Jura mountains, where they farmed in summer and made watch parts in the dark winters. The area still houses many major watch maisons or manufactures today. The early part of watchmaking history in the Jura can be traced back to the mid-18th century.
This year, I was visiting Geneva after a gap of two long years due to the pandemic break, and I was excited to meet old friends and see the new offerings from the watch brands at the fair, which was literally making a physical debut in a new avatar. At Watches and Wonder Geneva 2022, some of the participating watchmaking brands include Cartier, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Panerai, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and a few regular independent brands. However, what was even more exciting for watch aficionados this year was the participation of other prominent timekeeping brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Hublot, Zenith, Tudor, Oris, and TAG Heuer, who are generally not part of this fair, and usually showcase at the second watch fair called Baselworld.
Of the two watch fairs that take place in Switzerland, Baselworld goes all the way back to 1917, when it began as the Schweizer Mustermesse Basel (the first watches-only pavilion opened in 1931). Watches and Wonders, which was formerly known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, began in 1991, when Cartier and four others – Baume & Mercier, Gérald Genta, Daniel Roth, and Piaget – chose to show privately at the Palexpo Center in Geneva, in an attempt to create a very exclusive, high-luxury atmosphere. This is still the atmosphere at the Watches and Wonders fair, and the event is strictly by invitation only, even today.
While the razzle-dazzle was, as expected, inside the Palexpo Centre—that hosts Watches and Wonders with 38 participating brands, attracting 22,000 plus visitors and 1000 journalists from all over the world—the weather was surprisingly January-like: zero degrees and snowing. So, more coffees accompanied the trial sessions.
With Baselworld now being discontinued, the mecca of the luxury watch industry is now centered, in Geneva. The combined energy of new product launches of the 39 greatest watchmaking manufactures that participated in the exhibition this year was infectious. Also, the luxury watch industry is at an all-time high, with most marquee brands complaining of supply being an issue in the face of an ever-growing demand.
Attending the Watches and Wonders fair every year comes with some trademark tickmarks. Apart from checking out the timepieces (the primary reason why we travel to Geneva), offers the perfect reason to mingle with celebrities and VIP guests which often is a dream come true for many. Attending parties with the likes of Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Bradley Cooper, Adriana Lima and Luis Figo is a happy counterbalance to working hard and keeping a tab on the innovations and trends in about 200 plus new timepieces.
This year, we had in attendance F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, music composer Mark Zimmer, explorer Mike Horn and mountaineer Reinhold Messner, among others. When in Geneva, keeping up with the after-party scene is also part of the itinerary. From The Leopard Bar at Hotel Angleterre or JavaClub at the Fairmont Grand, it is almost an additional networking necessity. And window shopping at Rue du Rhone and real shopping at Metro Shopping at the Cornavin SBB (Train) Station is gospel.
Here are my top picks of the watches and the booths from the Watches and Wonders 2022:
- Best Booth: Panerai (commitment to sustainability)
- Best in Haute Horlogerie: Van Cleef & Arpels (stunning automatons and high jewellery timepieces)
- Widest range of launches: Cartier (Pasha, Santos, Crash to Metiers d’art and high complications)
- High on celeb quotient: IWC (Lewis Hamilton and Hans Zimmer)
- Best-selling products: Rolex (GMT-Master II, Air King, Yacht-Master 42, Datejust 31 and Day-date 40)
- The Statement piece: Ferdinand Berthoud (FB-RSM inspired by Marine Clock No.8)
- One for Nostalgia: Audemars Piguet (for bringing back Historiques 222 from the archives)