Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Clash of the Titans

It is pretty well known and obvious that Swiss watchmakers work hard to maintain their position in the very top segment of global watch production. While the volume of watches produced in Switzerland is only around 1% of global stock, they enjoy 90% of global watch value.

What is less well known is that at the same time, Swiss brands heavily compete against each other. If you attend a watch fair like the Basel Fair, you might be under the impression that there is some grand plan behind all these Swiss brands – a conspiracy that keeps them working together. But nothing could be further from the truth. These brands actually hate each other’s guts.

You may believe that the battle of Titans is between brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe. Again, the situation is a little more complex. The battle is actually between the House of Swatch and the House of Richemont. The best way to describe this fight is not between two warriors but two armies who spend a great deal of time strategizing and executing their game.

The best example of this fight is the Basel Fair. Held annually in March, it is the largest horological show on the planet, so naturally anyone into watchmaking wants to be present, displaying their latest watch.

Deep down, however, the waters are fairly murky because the Basel Fair is practically owned by the Swatch group, which means that the most prominent display areas at BaselWorld are reserved for brands from the Swatch stable. So when you walk in and see brands such as Omega and Longines with large presentation spaces, you would believe that they are the biggest brands.

Of course, the Richemont group was not happy with such an arrangement, so a few years ago began their own fair in Geneva, Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), in the first month of the year featuring only their own watches. While the SIHH Fair does not have the volume of Swiss exhibitors that the Basel Fair enjoys (only 16 brands are on display), it certainly makes up multiple times for it in the glamour department. It is very hard to describe to someone the prestige of the event, from flowing champagne, free food and entertainment by international stars, to after-party VIP night clubs which spill over into the evening.

However, there is one major difference between the two. While Basel is open to the public, SIHH is primarily designed to entertain Richemont stockists and dealers, as well as a select few journalists who attend the fair by invitation only. A well-oiled machine.

Of course if you happen to be in Switzerland from March 19-26, do not miss an opportunity to attend Basel Fair, as it really is a life-altering experience.

Happy collecting,


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