Others will recount their impressions of SIHH and VC’s novelties for 2011, so I will simply share my perspective as a first-time visitor to Geneva. Nightly I would email home, recounting the day’s events. This posting is adapted from those conversations…
The flight went well but no sleep so I had a nap before dinner. The hotel is tidy and right downtown near the train station in a colorful neighborhood.
Geneva seems like a city of ‘coming and going’, with many people dragging their carry-on luggage through restaurants, parks, stores; wherever they go to occupy the time between check-out and pre-boarding.
Architecture is square-shouldered and very French. The watch industry clearly dominates, with neon signs advertising from every significant rooftop, flags and banners along major roadways. It’s clear the SIHH is a big deal!
Hooked up with Alex, Tim and Oliver for dinner at a restaurant in the historic old town, 20min walk from my hotel. We had great food and conversation. Oliver caused a minor scandal when he detected something wrong with the wine. To make amends, they brought us a vintage from the cellar that was much nicer.
Alex was really animated when discussing the watch industry – liberally dropping f-bombs for emphasis! This is the same fellow I happened to spy in a watch magazine recently, accurately described as one of the best dressed gentlemen in town.
Afterwards, we walked around while Oliver smoked a large Havana. I just enjoyed the aroma. My vintage leather flight jacket was suitable for the chilly night weather. Many people are wearing scarves with great flair. Other fashion trends are shoes with elongated toes and narrow-legged pants. How is a guy from the woods of Canada supposed to keep up?
It's 6am and I’m wide awake. Yesterday was a whirlwind. I met Oliver for at Starbucks and got lost in watch-talk until Tim called to ask where we were!
Together we went to the Geneva Time Exhibition and saw some wild and crazy watches from the independent makers like Silberstein, Speake-Marin and Jean-Mairet & Gillman. We were driven back to our hotel in Audi VIP cars. People were taking our picture when we stopped in traffic!
Another limo picked us up for dinner at Vacheron Constantin's historic Maison on Quai de I’ile, which had been closed for renovations but opened for the event. Their collection of vintage and historic watches was on display all around us. In short, it was heaven.
We took up conversations like old friends. The transition from our virtual lounge to the Maison’s lounge was seamless. Alex and the head of product development, Christian Selmoni, gave a slide presentation which included discussion about their rivals and honest analysis of the brand, as well as a peek into future models. It was refreshing and necessary for this audience.
Dinner was superb and fully complimented with wines for every course. Show-and-tell followed in small groups and we admired each other's watches.
We retired for cognac and cigars and I was able to pass out a small token from Canada – toques! We made a group picture suitable for framing ;-)
As a parting gift, we were given a bag of VC swag and Alex also allowed us to pocket the loupes used to examine the new watch models, but he really didn't have a choice.
It was after midnight when I returned to the hotel. Several nearby bars provided drunken entertainment and occasional loud arguments with the hookers until I remembered my earplugs.
We were off to Plan-les-Ouates for a factory tour at 9am, followed by the SIHH show; another busy day. The weather is great so I went for a jog along the lakeside path in the morning. It was very picturesque and spotlessly clean.
A limo came to drive us 20min to the factory, where we enjoyed a tour of the manufacture then attempted to disassemble and reassemble a watch movement. It has been confirmed; my talents are not as a watch maker!
Our fleet next proceeded to the PAL Expo Center for SIHH. Had to go through a metal detector and get issued photo ID just to enter.
In addition to the watches it was a fashion show of sorts, with models in couture dress and frozen grimaces posing for the paparazzi. Women in high stilettos wobbled along with vacant-looking men in silk suits, all the while noshing on free food and drinks. It seemed like an allegory of fashion over function which carried over in the watches too often in my humble opinion.
Vacheron Constantin had their new model unveiling. Participating with Alex were several principals from the New York boutique. When one asked what I thought of the new models, I just had to say, ‘I’ll get back to you in fifty years’. Seriously, I was very impressed with the allure of the Lips model and the sophistication of the World Timer. Both will prove highly successful I’m sure.
Other exciting displays included the Beyer Musuem’s show of rare and significant timepieces, including Ed Hillary's Everest watch, and Cartier’s superb collection of their museum pieces. I was also drawn to Van Cleef & Arpels, whose artistic whimsy reminded me of vintage Verger Freres. What an interesting collaboration that would make today.
Back to hotel by taxi, then a brief walk to dinner with Alex and the moderator of another watch forum, plus two other collectors, all hosted by the very charming director of marketing for North America. Pretty swank and the first time I was ever served a three-course dessert.
Went for a run after breakfast and remembered that I must take some pics of something besides watches to show when I get home.
In the afternoon Laurent Mugnier from customer service picked me up for a return to Plan-les-Ouates where I had a tour behind the scenes of the vintage repair facilities prior to retrieving two watches that I had sent out earlier. I was thrilled to see and touch some of the rarest pieces, including the thigh watch made for the Wright Bros. Also laying on the bench was the alarm pocket watch with the inscribed poem that I’ve adopted as my favorite saying at The Hour Lounge. The watchmaker kindly opened the case so I could admire its intricate movement. It was all so serendipitous!
The conversations with Laurent were highly enlightening as to the attitude that VC takes with vintage watches and collectors. I continue to be impressed with the passion and dedication of everyone I meet at VC, even if I don’t always agree.
I have a half hour before the restaurants open for dinner. There is a cozy Swiss one near with wooden carvings and cuckoo clocks, which I will try out.
Today started with a walk along the lakeside with camera at the ready. Got lots of scenery pics but realized most didn't have people. Tomorrow I will concentrate on that. It is always a bit foggy and damp in the morning due to lake effect; much like Vancouver. By about 11am it's warmed up and the sun is down again by 5pm.
Afternoon I walked to the other side and found the Patek Philippe watch museum. In short, the place is not to be missed. They were only open from 2-5pm but I didn't leave until 5:30. Seems they don't mind as no one was chasing the last few people out. The enamel miniature paintings and jewelry watches were incredible.
This morning it was sunny but chilly, as usual, so I went for a run along the opposite side of Lake Geneva. Great views of the hotels and sailing boats lining the opposite shore. There was a nice path with more joggers and walkers than usual across the way. So, more pictures too.
By noon it was cloudy and snow flurries began to fall; a reminder of home. I went shopping at a mega Swiss dept store and think I got some nice souvenirs to take home.
The weather has changed for the worse so it's a good time to leave. The cold wind made me really appreciate that sweet VC scarf; thanks Alex!
I went back to the Maison to join a group tour of the patrimony collection and found that everyone else had cancelled due to the cold. So I had a personal visit with the collection’s master watchmaker who was quite a character and full of interesting facts. I could have spent more time there quite happily.
Tried to walk around the old town but the wind off the lake was so strong it would push you back unless you leaned into it. Grabbed my customary latte instead and went back to the hotel to pack. I had seized armfuls of free watch magazines at SIHH but now found they took up too much space. I cut out the interesting articles with scissors instead.
Everything went back into the bags more or less and I wore all the clothes that I brought. Will be taking a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. See you soon.