GENEVA, SWITZERLAND For five days from January 20 to 24, the Palexpo convention center in Geneva, Switzerland, was transformed into the “City of Fine Watches” as 16 of fine watchmaking’s most prestigious brands (with the majority owned by luxury goods corporation Richemont) unveiled their latest innovations and products, setting the tone for the year to come. This year’s 24th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie—a private, invitation-only event reserved for retailers, distributors, and the media—saw 14,000 visitors from around the world, including 1,300 journalists, a 12 percent increase from the previous iteration.
Overseeing the vast 387,500 square feet of the event was Jérôme Cazenave, operations director at the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, which produces the show. His team of about 500 workers spent nearly four weeks constructing each booth and the central hallways (with 10 days for tear down), while a team of more than 600 security guards, waiters, and hostesses worked the exhibit on a daily basis and some 4,000 meals a day were served. This year saw the addition of a new entrance as well as a second exit to alleviate congestion.
While technically a trade show, the differences between Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie and Baselworld, its closest competitor, are night and day. Not only does Richemont provide gratis housing in Geneva for invited journalists and fully catered gourmet meals and coffee bars at the Palexpo, members of the press are also treated to lavish dinners with brands on a nightly basis. At Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie itself, Richemont spends untold millions to create individual “sanctuaries” for each company to properly display its designs and reinforce its brand image.
“We’re not here to build a show of booths; we are just organizing an exhibition of watches,” said Cazenave. “It’s always about the watches, watches, watches.”
No event is without its shortfalls: This year the show continued to be plagued by intermittent Wi-Fi service, not to mention overcrowding at multiple group presentations that, based on accounts from veteran journalist attendees, was unheard of in past years. However, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, thanks to its all-encompassing amenities and luxuries, continues to set the gold—or, in watch terms—white gold—standard.
Here's a look at the show's eye-catching, luxury booths from brands including Cartier, Piaget, Audemars Piguet, and Baume & Mercier.