Last year, 2020, the planned dates for Baselworld and Watches & Wonders were pretty late in the year. Usually, the SIHH, predecessor of Watches & Wonders, took place in January and Baselworld was often around March. These proved to be good moments in the year for the watch business, as retailers purchased new watches, new inventory, shortly after the Christmas sales and that kept a healthy dynamic in the luxury ecosystem. However now the two major watch fairs were planned for April/May, that important sales moment in January was missing and Bvlgari Group CEO, Jean-Christophe Babin, wanted to do something about that. Within a short timespan, he created the LVMH Watch Week in Dubai, which took place early 2020, and filled the void of a missing watch fair early that year. And when the pandemic put a halt to last year’s Baselworld, it was again Mr. Babin who initiated a new fair, the Geneva Watch Days, which took place just after the summer. The reason for the LVMH Watch Week was because of the late timing of Baselworld and W&W, while the Geneva Watch Days were organized because Baselworld (and a physical W&W) were canceled due to COVID-19.
The second edition of the Geneva Watch Days ended last Friday and we, as a team, look back at an amazing week. Finally some human contact again! Finally, we can touch the newly introduced watches again and try them on the wrist, instead of staring at the screen for a next Zoom meeting/presentation/launch. Between August 30th and September 3rd, 350 retailers and no fewer than 300 journalists attending this “loosely organized” event. A good reason to ask Jean-Christophe Babin to elaborate further on the LVMH Watch Week and the Geneva Watch Days.
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – How long did you and your teams need to initiate and organize both events, as in both cases there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare this?
Jean-Christophe Babin, Bvlgari Group CEO – After an estimate of the situation related to the watch events, I took quickly the decision to move ahead in both cases. If it is true that the time left was rather short, but we defined very quickly the teams responsibilities to implement the events. For LVMH Watch Week, we had already the location, our stunning Bvlgari resort in Dubai. It was then simply a matter of speed to organize it. For the GWD 2020, it started also fast. The decision was taken in a weekend, after a few phone calls, right after we learnt both Baselworld and W&W 2020 were cancelled. The idea was to create a ‘Phygital’ event in Switzerland in 2020 despite COVID and regroup significant brands feeling the same need for a presential initiative. We got also the official support of Geneva State and City within days. Then, action! For this year we benefited from last year’s experience so a few routine processes were already implemented and allowed us to save time. Apart from that, Bulgari and Ulysse Nardin teams have coordinated the whole event for all the attending brands.
How do these events differ from watch fairs like Baselworld and SIHH / Watches & Wonders?
Decentralization, self-management, agility, flexibility, collective approach, and empathy are the key words. We avoid excesses of technocracy which weigh heavily on those you mention, without even mentioning the costs which are by far lower in both cases, LVMH Watch Week and GWD.
How was GWD ’21 compared to GWD ’20? Were there lessons learned? And is there more growth potential?
The 2021 edition was met by far more attendance than the previous one in 2020. One main reason is that vaccination campaigns have started in the meantime and allowed to travel in confidence, at least for EMEA countries and the USA. Regarding the lessons, they are as follows: the format is highly appreciated by all and symbolizes most probably a new watch events format for the future. Clients and media are happy because the mood and the spirit of the GWD is somehow easygoing. Another point is that we do not want the GWD to become a 100 brands event: its actual size is quite fine, even if we do not exclude to open to more than 25 brands in 2022. Third: the growth might be based on agility. If the GWD will take place in Geneva on a yearly basis, we could imagine migrating the concept anywhere in the world on a tactical basis. The GWD has become a genuine trademark and brand, so everything is possible.
How were the responses of you, your own team, and also retailers and media on the open and almost unregulated character of the GWD?
As precised above, they were excellent. These groups are all very supportive and we believe that this character is precisely the right one for today.
Are there already plans for more of such events?
We already announced the 2022 edition which will take place in Geneva in early September. We speak beside that of the possible extension of the concept in another location depending on the internal discussions with the Association, depending also of course of the evolution of the pandemics, etc. As of today, September 2022 in Geneva is 100% sure, of course unless any major external constraint occurs.
The 25 brands who participated with this year’s GWD have unanimously decided to continue, and possibly expand, the operation, in keeping with the founding spirit that drives it: speed, flexibility, agility and conviviality. Also good to know is that the GWD are officially supported by the State and the City of Geneva!
Simply for the record, the participating brands were Bvlgari, Breitling, De Bethune, Gerald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, H. Moser & Cie, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin, and Urwerk, who have formed a non-profit association to organize this.
Besides these nine brands, 16 more attended the GWD: Arnold & Son, Bianchet, Charles Girardier, Czapek, Doxa, Ferdinand Berthoud, Frederique Constant Group, Greubel Forsey, Konstantin Chaykin, Louis Erard, Maurice Lacroix, Oris, Parmigiani Fleurier, Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, Raketa and Reuge.