By: Tom Mulraney
The Watch Lounge’s Tom Mulraney examines the watch fair ecosystem and explains how London’s SalonQP, now in its 10th year, has bucked the larger trend among watch fairs to remain a destination for collectors around the world.
It’s been a tumultuous year for watch fairs around the world. Baselworld, easily the biggest and best known, was rocked by the unexpected departure of the Swatch Group from its hallowed halls. The mega group announced earlier this year that none of its 18 brands will be exhibiting in 2019. That includes major names like Omega, Longines, Tissot, Breguet and Blancpain. Other brands, like Raymond Weil and Maurice Lacroix have also pulled out of next year’s show.
It’s a similar story at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH), although not quite as dramatic. The major watch fair, which takes place in Geneva in January, plays host to Richemont’s stable of brands (including Cartier, IWC and Piaget) as well as a number of notable independent companies. Although considered by many to be the better run show of the two in recent years, it too has experienced high-profile exits: neither Audemars Piguet nor Richard Mille will return after 2019.
The message is clear: The major fairs have not evolved with the changing tastes of consumers and the changing needs of brands. They don’t offer the level of personalisation and interaction that consumers expect, nay demand, in this social media-charged world.
SalonQP, however, has taken a slightly different approach. As London’s premier watch event, the fair celebrated its 10th anniversary last week at the city’s iconic Saatchi Gallery. The exhibition’s programme boasted two full days of talks, fine wine tastings, and the rare opportunity to get up close with some of the hottest watches of 2018. Attracting visitors from around the world, this year’s show proved once again that the horological spirit is alive and well in London.
Here’s what distinguishes the SalonQP experience from other watch fairs.
1. “No Appointment Necessary” Approach
Since its inception, the exhibition has been all about connecting watch lovers with the people that make the products they love. You don’t need an appointment to speak with a brand at SalonQP, you simply walk up to their display and strike up a conversation. Ask nicely, and nine times out of ten, whoever you’re speaking to will be more than happy to take that watch you’ve been ogling online for the last six months out of the display case and put it on your wrist right then and there. For many watch lovers, this is as close to nirvana as it gets.
2. A Mix of Major Brands
The mix of brands exhibiting is also quite intriguing. Major names like Bulgari, Vacheron Constantin, and Breitling all take part – and they bring the good stuff, too. Jaeger-LeCoultre, for example, had two of its exceptionally complicated minute repeaters on display, while Bovet’s award-winning Recital 22 Grand Recital was regularly out of its glass case and in the hands of curious aficionados.
3. Rising Stars Still Draw a Crowd
As big a drawcard as the major names are, however, it’s often the smaller independent brands on display that capture the hearts and minds of attendees. From established names like MB&F and Voutilainen, to bold newcomers such as Birchall & Taylor from Toronto and anOrdain from Glasgow.
A fittingly British success story is that of Vertex. A pioneering British watch brand that specialised in military watches, it closed its doors in 1972 after 56 years of trading. In 2016, the brand was revitalised by the original founder’s great-grandson and has quickly found favour once again with collectors. At SalonQP, Vertex unveiled its latest model, a monopusher chronograph called the MP45.
4. Expert Opinion
In addition to the watches, there were also a series of panel discussions led by experts in various fields. Topics ranged from how to collect vintage watches to the fundamentals of good watch design. Hardcore fans were also given the rare opportunity of an audience with Roger Smith OBE, considered Britain’s – and indeed one of the world’s – greatest living watchmaker.
As ever, SalonQP was a world away from the formality and stuffiness of the larger fairs, offering an insight into what the future of watch exhibitions may look like.
About Tom Mulraney
Tom Mulraney is the Founder and Editor of The Watch Lounge, a popular online luxury watch publication dedicated to enthusiasts and collectors alike.