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Retailers Were Cautiously Optimistic With Stable Budgets at 2024 Watches and Wonders

Releases from Cartier and Rolex, neo-vintage timepieces and wearability were standouts, while H. Moser & Cie shone among independents, buyers said.

Retailers Were Cautiously Optimistic With Stable Budgets at 2024 Watches and Wonders

The lush glass foliage of the Van Cleef & Arpels booth charmed many retailers at the 2024 fair.

GENEVA — Amid economic and geopolitical uncertainties and a looming U.S. election, cautious optimism was the overarching sentiment among retailers who visited the Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva earlier this month.

With many buyers keeping their budgets stable as luxury spending contracts, the onus was on innovation with a real-world practicality, said David Hurley, deputy chief executive officer of the Watches of Switzerland group.

That said, retailers found the edition full of positive energy and even “more relaxed and laid back than in recent years,” according to Roberto Chiappelloni, owner of the Manfredi Jewels stores in Connecticut.

“The watchmaking world has answered the call of this new edition. It’s an unmissable appointment with high and mandatory attendance to share projections and feel the trends,” said Stéphanie Hernandez Barragan, buying and marketing director of the watches and jewelry division at French department store chain Galeries Lafayette.

Standouts included a host of Rolex novelties and revisited Cartier models, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon, Hermès’ newly introduced Hermès Cut line and Chanel’s couture-inspired designs, while H. Moser & Cie shone among independents.

For Carla Chalouhi, president and CEO of Parisian multibrand store Arije, “creation, innovation and desire remain” despite a cautious market. While she found this edition of the fair less busy, she saw “fewer but fascinating novelties” from the 54 exhibiting brands. 

“Overall the newness felt fairly cautious but we know our customer has a strong appreciation for product and craft of which there were many fine examples,” said Daniel Todd, buying director at online men’s fashion and accessories retailer Mr Porter.

“Young generations are approaching more and more high-end watches and perceiving the values of their quality and storytelling. Nowadays they are more demanding, asking for detailed information, with a new approach to luxury: more modern, accessible and recognizable to connoisseurs,” noted Fabrizio Giaccon, marketing and sales director of Rocca, a multibrand retailer owned by the Damiani jewelry group.

Despite the uncertainties hanging over the market, good times were had by all, between stunning booths like Jaeger-LeCoultre’s forge installation and Van Cleef and Arpels’ lush foliage made of glass, and more personally memorable moments.

The bumper edition drew 49,000 visitors, up 14 percent from 2023, according to organizers, but Hurley felt that the fair “still feels like a small and very welcoming community.”

Here, buyers’ views on Watches and Wonders.

Carla Chalouhi, president and CEO, Arije

Overall impression: The fair is getting more and more selective. Therefore, it felt less busy this year with fewer but fascinating novelties. What stood out was the “back to the ’70s” mood with full gold watches, stone dial masterpieces and some audacious complications.

Best moment: Vacheron Constantin CEO Louis Ferla’s exclusive presentation of Les Cabinotiers, its bespoke one-of-a-kind creations and technical feats. The exclusive visit to the Rolex booth, which featured an exhibition of famous wearers of the renowned GMT watch, which came with a screening of an inspiring and touching short film. From what we’ve heard, it could even be extended to France soon — we hope so.

Best booth: Cartier, that cannot be regarded as a mere booth. More like an art gallery or even a museum.

Top watches: Rolex’s Perpetual 1908 in 950 platinum with its ice blue dial and guilloché rice-grain motif and the constant evolution of the Daytona collection displayed through its new model with mother-of-pearl dials and the beautiful one with trapeze diamond bezel. The Reflection de Cartier that links the maison’s watchmaking and jewelry expertise. Vacheron Constantin’s new Overseas combinations. Piaget’s Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon that pushes the limits of ultra-thin mastery. And although they show outside the fair, I couldn’t omit Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC, the slimmest mechanical watch produced at 1.7mm thick, a new world record.

Future vintage: The Rolex 1908 watch, in tribute to the classic art of watchmaking, and the new colorful lacquered dials on Cartier’s Santos Dumont.

Budgets: Ours is constantly increasing as it is linked to our perpetual development. With multiple openings on the way, such as Monaco soon, we pursue our expansion which goes hand in hand with our buying strategy.

The outlook for 2024: The market [this year] is obviously a cautious market in this uncertain world. But creation, innovation and desire remain.

What are your customers shopping for? They look for quality by all means, often to celebrate an occasion, if possible, associated with an unforgettable moment. Let’s dream…

Olivier Nourani, chief operating officer, London Jewelers

Overall impression: Very busy with 54 brands releasing their novelties to press, retailers and some VVIPs [as well as] the salon being open to the public in the final three days; it seems like we were finally getting back to the pre-COVID-19 era.

Best moment: Yves Piaget making a surprise visit to warmly hug his longtime friends, Mark and Candy [Udell, respectively CEO and president of London Jewelers,] with all three remembering so many good memories [created together], such as the Polo competitions in the Hamptons in the 1970s.

Best booth: Jaeger-LeCoultre, inspired by the forges of the 18th century where the blacksmiths of the Vallée de Joux honed their skills, or IWC Schaffhausen, [based on] the concept of eternity between the water and celestial elements.

Top watches: Limited-edition Tudor x Inter Miami Black Bay Chronograph with a pink dial — it got a lot of buzz; Cartier Tortue Monopusher; the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Héliotourbillon Perpétuel were the most exceptional watches introduced. Best movements also included the Piaget Ultimate Concept Tourbillon. Cartier as well as Piaget and its revival of vintage were the best for ladies.

New talent: H. Moser & Cie

Retailers Were Cautiously Optimistic With Stable Budgets at 2024 Watches and Wonders

H. Moser & Cie presented the Streamliner Tourbillon Skeleton at the fair.

What are your customers shopping for? They are shopping for neo-vintage and smaller timepieces.

The outlook for 2024: Based on participants and luxury watch experts’ comments, we should exercise cautious optimism on the global luxury market as Chinese demand weakened even though Chinese travel abroad picked up slightly. Swiss watch exports could be down in 2024. The U.S. will probably be flat or have moderate growth as consumer confidence will be impacted by many uncertainties: the upcoming presidential election, the volatility of the economy and inflation, as well as the turmoil both in the Middle East and Eastern Europe with no end in sight. Nonetheless, we remain confident that the demand for both Rolex and Patek Philippe will stay strong.

David Hurley, deputy CEO, Watches of Switzerland

Overall impression: The show was definitely bigger this year, but when you have all the press and retailers coming together, it still feels like a small and very welcoming community. High spirits was the overall mood, with brands putting their best foot forward in extraordinary environmental booths and display cases.

Best moment: I was impressed by the many technical innovations that are “real-world” practical for today’s collectors [such as] impressive chronographs, calendar functions and helpful world time complications. [They] will resonate well with our collectors. There were many strong, innovative tool watches, which will appeal to a broad audience. We also saw exciting diamond and gem-set watches that we expect to appeal to both men and women. In many cases, reimagined vintage and archival pieces looked better than ever, with updates in new materials and modern mechanical know-how.

Best booth: Grand Seiko really stood out for its unique design, with projections of trees and birds in motion really giving it a very peaceful, serene feeling. [It] was like having a bit of nature inside the show and that made it special. Tudor and Panerai probably shared the biggest booth “wow” factor, with each using life-size sailboats to highlight their team sponsorships for the upcoming Americas Cup sailing races. Chanel’s sewing kit inspired the most fun booth, with the giant sewing needle centerpiece. It was interesting to see how fashion workroom details inspired many of their fabulous new watches.

Top watches: We felt one of the best innovations this year was not actually a watch, but the often-overlooked chain link bracelet. Patek Philippe found a new way to assemble the gold chain-style bracelet [of the Ellipse,] enabling it to be resized easily, unlike the original vintage pieces from the 1970s. It was unexpected and highly clever and is going to allow a beloved Patek icon to return to its rightful place in the collection.

Cartier was equally impressive — both by its overall magnificence and by the number of new introductions. They presented a well-rounded collection that had everything from updated icons to entirely new innovations, with something really for everyone — simple Tanks, new Baignoires, updated Santos models, Cartier Privé Tortues, and those extraordinary diamond and gem-set wild animal-inspired high jewelry pieces.

There was also some surprising opulence at Rolex, with gem-set Daytonas, new dials for the Day-Date, an all-gold Deepsea, and a platinum 1908 with a beautiful ice blue guilloché dial. The most impressive watch should go to Vacheron Constantin for their Berkley Grand Complication. It’s got the world’s first Chinese perpetual calendar, as well as a total of 63 complications and 2,877 components. We were told it took 11 years of R&D to bring it to life.

Best independent: H. Moser & Cie continues to go from strength to strength with the launch of the Skeleton Streamliner Tourbillon — such a great piece.

Outlook for 2024: [The group] remains positive in terms of the growth of interest in timepieces in the U.S.

Tatiana Birkelund, vice president and general business manager, beauty, jewelry, gifts and home, Neiman Marcus

Overall impression: There was a high level of buzz and excitement at Watches and Wonders, our teams always enjoy the magic of the fair. We saw a wide variety of standout, elevated options which will resonate well with [our] customer.

Best booth: Van Cleef and Arpels’ dramatic use of stained glass and movement took our breath away.

Top watches: Hermès’ three-dimensional rotating tourbillon; Chanel’s jewelry-inspired watches that nodded to their couture heritage; Chopard’s diamond ice cube watch, and Piaget’s Polo 79.

Future vintage: We were particularly taken with Chopard’s 18-karat yellow gold Alpine Eagle and are confident our customers will be too.

New talent: It is always exciting to see new offerings from the independent brands and we enjoyed visiting with a couple new brands that drew our eye. 

What are your customers shopping for? Our luxury customers are looking for elevated, special and beautiful watches from Neiman Marcus. We were pleased to see more offering in yellow gold, diamonds, watches as jewelry, although we can always use more. We were excited to see newness in taupe colorations, soft gentle blues and Barbie pink. We also loved, especially since the show kicked off with the eclipse, the celestial and lunar inspirations. We believe our clients will be delighted with these evolutions.

Stéphanie Hernandez Barragan, buying and marketing director of the watches and jewelry division, Galeries Lafayette

Overall impression: The watchmaking world has answered the call of this new edition. It’s an unmissable appointment with high and mandatory attendance to share projections and feel the trends.

Best booth: Van Cleef & Arpels took us on a deep dive in its very poetic universe, filled with decorative elements that resonate with the technological prowess of the creations showcased.

Top watches: The new Hermès Cut collection and the Reflection de Cartier for design; Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon for the breakthrough performance; Chanel’s couture-inspired capsule collection for its creativity, and the latest Rolex GMT-Master II in steel for the subtle contrast between the black and gray on its bezel.

Future vintage: Several brands presented one of their iconic designs in solid gold and as limited editions: Rolex, Tudor, Piaget [and] Cartier.

The outlook for 2024: [It] heralds a more reasonable, more prudent year. That was echoed in collections that are more sensible but with beautiful work on dials. One trend to note is the return of mother-of-pearl dials, as well as chocolate and gradient ones.

Jonathan Zadok, partner, Zadok Jewelers

Overall impression: The show was great — lots of positive energy. People seemed excited.

Best moment: Having my first Rolex meeting.

Best booth: That’s really hard. The booths were all pretty incredible but I can narrow down to five: Rolex, which was a full experience of history; Tag Heuer’s one entirely dressed in screens on the outside; Vacheron Constantin, with the most complicated watch in the world that took three watchmakers 11 years to make; Ulysse Nardin with its giant movement inside; Jaeger-LeCoultre with its forge simulation and restaurant. 

Top watches: Rolex GMT-Master II in stainless steel; Tudor Black Bay GMT 58; Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time in rose gold with a green dial; Ulysse Nardin Freak S Nomad; Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Chronograph Moon.

Future vintage: The Tag Heuer Skipper

Budgets: I always come to Geneva ready to buy and hope there’s watches I can’t wait to spend my money on. This year didn’t disappoint.

The outlook for 2024: Cautiously optimistic.

What are customers shopping for? They’re looking for unique items that fit their lifestyle.

Daniel Todd, buying director, Mr Porter

Overall impression: It was my first time at Watches and Wonders and I was very impressed with the fair — everything is slick, easy to navigate and there is a good energy. The feedback from brands was that the fair was busy, I know they had shortened it by a day this year, so everything was more focused. The size and scale of the fair is remarkable as a first impression.

Best moment: I really enjoyed the touch-and-feel sessions, being able to get hands-on with such incredible product was definitely a highlight. It was great to be able to hear firsthand from such talented makers the many hours of dedication and hard work that goes into making these incredible watches.

Best booth: Where else but Jaeger-LeCoultre? They had a “live” fire pit that harked back to the blacksmiths and the origins of the brand. It bought a real sense of drama and theatre into what was otherwise quite a serene setting.

Top watches: In terms of a wow moment, it’s hard to look beyond the Piaget Altiplano Concept Tourbillon. At 2mm and the world’s thinnest Tourbillon, it really is an incredible feat of artisanal manufacturing. Additional highlights were timepieces from Cartier including the Santos Dumont Rewind, which is a fun new style, and the Tortue collection, a personal favorite and one of the house’s oldest shapes. The vintage aesthetic is one that feels very relevant right now.

Future vintage: The Duomètre Heliotourbillon Perpetual from Jaeger-LeCoultre was undoubtedly one of the best watches I saw and one that is sure to be in demand.

New talent: It was my first time seeing a Hautlence watch in real life which was cool.

The outlook for 2024: Positive, overall the newness felt fairly cautious but we know our customer has a strong appreciation for product and craft [and] there were many fine examples.

Roberto Chiappelloni, owner, Manfredi Jewels

Overall impression: More relaxed and laid back than in recent years. We enjoyed seeing more colorful introductions this year with even the more traditional brands like Vacheron Constantin experimenting with different colors on both dials and straps.

Best moment: Visiting the Andersen Genève manufacture. There is such a rich history there, including Franck Müller’s first bench that he put together himself so that he could apprentice with Sven Andersen.

Best booth: Hermès

Retailers Were Cautiously Optimistic With Stable Budgets at 2024 Watches and Wonders

The Hermès booth was an installation by American visual artist Erin O’Keefe.

Top watches: Zenith Defy Revival A3648; Parmigiani Fleurier Toric collection; Voutilainen 20th Anniversary Tourbillon; Gerald Charles Masterlink; Grand Seiko SLGW003, and Tudor Black Bay 58 GMT.

Future vintage: Gerald Charles Masterlink

New talent: We have taken on Gerald Charles as a new independent brand among exhibitors. Outside the fair, we continue to be impressed with the direction of Schwartz-Etienne and Hegid, which we already stock, and for a less expensive option, are looking at Atelier Wen.

Budgets: We came with our usual budget.

The outlook for 2024: Somewhat cautious, due to this being an election year.

What are your customers shopping for? These days, clients seem interested in perceived after-sale value. At Manfredi, we encourage clients to choose a timepiece that complements their lifestyle and budget. We have never been able to predict what watch will be the next holy grail of the after-sale market, but if the client takes the time to fully appreciate how special a timepiece is, he or she will have a lifetime of enjoyment.

Fabrizio Giaccon, marketing and sales director, Rocca

Overall impression: The 2024 edition was positive. The attendance was good and the overall mood was conservative, but moderately confident on the collections presented and on the market trend of this year. Most brands presented a consistent and focused novelties’ package.

Best moment: The nice “happy hour” cocktail party at Tag Heuer.

Best booth: The IWC booth and Ulysse Nardin‘s with the big Freak watch. Panerai also found an innovative [display] solution with the [Luna Rossa] Prada [Pirelli] boat.

Top watches: Interesting pieces from many brands, in particular Patek Philippe’s rose gold retrograde perpetual calendar, Hublot’s full carbon Tourbillon and the Reflection de Cartier for its creative design.

Future vintage: Rolex Perpetual 1908 in platinum.

New talent: H. Moser & Cie was interesting with very selective and innovative watches.

Budgets: Our purchasing budget is in line with last year.

The outlook for 2024: [It] will be a year of consolidation, due to the uncertain political and economic situation. Consumer demand is expected to focus on selected brands and retailers will need to be even smarter to adapt to market trends and be more professional in purchasing.

What are your customers shopping for? High watchmaking consumers are constantly evolving. Young generations are approaching more and more high-end watches and perceiving the values of their quality and storytelling. Nowadays they are more demanding, asking for detailed information, with a new approach to luxury: more modern, accessible and recognizable to connoisseurs.