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The Collector’s View: My First SIHH and Other Adventures in Geneva

by Frank Chuo on March 20, 2017
The Collector's View
The Collector's View: My First SIHH and Other Adventures in Geneva

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘excitement’ as ‘a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness’.

 

Excitement was most definitely coursing through my veins when I landed at Geneva Airport, even after literally a day of flying and making flight connections. You see, this wasn’t just my first SIHH, it was also my first time in Geneva – the heart of Swiss watchmaking – and in Switzerland. Even before the Salon had kicked off, things were looking great. On the first morning of my maiden trip to Geneva, there was snow. Glorious snow! And it wasn’t just a token sprinkling of snow – it was pouring. As someone who had never experienced snowfall, I felt like a child. I didn’t care that I was soaked.

Snow-covered railway tracks at Cornavin train station.

 

My two days prior to SIHH already had all to do with watches. While I was boutique-hopping on Saturday, on Sunday, I had instead attended novelty presentations by several independents that were not exhibiting in SIHH, namely Bovet, Louis Moinet and Manufacture Royale. As it is always the case with independent manufacturers, the novelties presented were fascinating and very distinct from their mainstream counterparts. I had a great time meeting several industry players at the event, though a not-so-great-time getting destroyed by David Gouten (co-founder of Manufacture Royale) in a game of foosball!

Before I knew it, the day I had been anticipating for months came: day one of SIHH! First thing in the morning, I got to see, hold and listen to the Greubel Forsey Grande Sonnerie – a perfect start to the day. Immediately after, the chief editor, Mr. Peter Chong and I headed to the Lange booth. As a big Lange enthusiast, I was chuffed to finally be able to see for myself the iconic giant showpiece at the booth – this year it was the Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour Le Merite”. We decided to make the Lange booth our home base. Who wouldn’t? There was delicious pretzels and German beer on tap!

 

A must-see at every SIHH: the giant showpiece at Lange’s booth.

 

The rest of my day was spent shadowing our chief editor in photo shoots. The hustle and bustle of the fair was an eye-opening experience. The venue was bigger than I had imagined and the crowd, even more so. Appointments were tight and work space was at a premium, but everyone was professional and efficient. Shadowing Peter allowed me to go hands-on with watches that I would otherwise not see until they are delivered to retailers at a much later date. While the watches were amazing, the real pleasure was in meeting people whose work you’ve seen on the internet or tried on your wrist. I shook hands with Benjamin Clymer, spoke with Marc André Deschoux, sat down with Kari Voutilainen and rubbed shoulders with Philippe Dufour.

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The chief editor and I, casually rubbing shoulders with watchmaking great, Philippe Dufour.

 

I also joined in on an interview between the chief editor and Mr. Christian Selmoni, Artistic Director at Vacheron Constantin. Mr. Selmoni was an astute gentleman who spoke with dignity and passion, and a pleasure to listen to as he elaborated on the brand’s ideas behind the novelties.

 

Mr. Christian Selmoni received us in his office and explained the thoughts behind this year’s Vacheron Constantin novelties.

 

The second day was what I would describe as emotionally-charged. On my way to the fair, I had heard rumours of the passing of Walter Lange. Rumours then became fact as I learned of the truth at the Lange booth.

 

Walter Lange, photographed at his office in Glashutte, in May 2010.

 

I was overcome with sadness, even if it was over the death of someone I had never met. Our Chief Editor is well acquainted with Mr. Lange, and he wrote his eulogy that morning. As an enthusiast of the brand who was first touched by the story and indomitable spirit of Walter Lange years ago, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d lost someone dear. In the evening, guests attending the Lange Friends Dinner had gathered at the booth for a special presentation of the year’s novelties. The atmosphere was solemn yet optimistic, as everything was said and done in remembrance of the late Walter Lange. Not long after the presentation, we were whisked away in shuttles to The Loti at La Réserve. 

 

The dinner venue was beautifully decorated.

 

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The food was enjoyable and the company, warm. I caught up with friends I knew from social media and also had amusing conversations with a few people who worked for the brand.

 

A photograph with two inspiring people by my sides. On the left: Roberto Resta, Lange watch collector and all-round great guy whom I’d been in contact with in social media. On the right: Anthony de Haas, Director of Product Development for Lange, always bubbly and friendly, and a man I greatly respect.

 

It was an unforgettable night, a night where the lines between manufacturer, press and collector were blurred, a night where everyone let loose, had fun and celebrated the life of Walter Lange.

Wednesday was relatively uneventful for me at the fair. But on Thursday, I took a break from SIHH to meet up with my good friend from Melbourne, Ben Laukis. We had previously planned to visit the Patek Philippe Salon together in Geneva and so that was what we did. To be frank, we didn’t expect this boutique visit to be any different to others, maybe except that the boutique would be manned by very knowledgeable staff. But to our pleasant surprise, we were given service like never before! It all started innocently enough, being sat down to view pieces on display but then there was mention of minute repeaters on one of the upper levels of the building. Before we knew it, we were escorted upstairs and sat in front of an on-site watchmaker. The Patek Philippe Salon had almost every current Patek timepiece you can think of available. Feeling bullish, I tried my luck with the Sky Moon Tourbillon (Ref. 6002G-010) and what do you know, the watch appeared in my hands minutes later (mind you, with no unsightly plastic wrapping). I was ecstatic because I love the reference and it was the first time I’d seen or held one in person. Ben and I then decided to up the ante and asked for the Grandmaster Chime. Once again, they delivered! For two watch nerds, this was an experience close to nirvana. It was also great to have the watchmaker at our disposal for any questions we had. At the end of our visit, we were given invitations to tour the Patek Philippe Museum which was located 10 minutes away from the Salon by foot.

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The city of Geneva is a pleasure to walk in. Everywhere you look, you are greeted with historical buildings and natural beauty.

 

The museum collection was impressive to say the least, ranging from marine chronometers to grand complication pocket watches, from automatons to high jewellery. My favourite piece there was a 1930 Patek Philippe Reverso!

Friday, as you may know, was public day at SIHH, so I went back to the fair for Ben’s own first ever SIHH experience. We were received warmly at Audemars Piguet – Thibaut, the manager of the Geneva boutique had spotted us and invited us for a private viewing. We had visited the boutique the day before where we had a very pleasant chat with him and the boutique’s watchmaker. While it was exciting to be able to try on the 2017 novelties, what placed the cherry on the cake was being able to play with the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie. Its chimes were possibly the clearest and loudest I’ve heard from any minute repeater. Immensely satisfied, we soon parted ways with Thibaut, only to bump into a few friends from Instagram who had driven all the way from Poland! Together we went to the Lange booth for yet another novelty presentation (my second time with Lange, but it never gets old). There, I was very thankful to be able to meet the brand’s digital team (responsible for social media, amongst other things). I took the chance to say hi and to give them a pat on the back for leading A. Lange & Söhne into the era of social media. As Ben and I went our separate ways at the end of the day, I knew my adventure was coming to an end. SIHH 2017 had finally concluded.

I spent the remainder of my time in Geneva soothing my ‘watch fatigue’ by not doing anything related to horology. Yes, as it turns out, you can have too much watch-related fun. On my last day in Geneva, I savoured every bite of my breakfast and every sip of my coffee.

 

The café au lait I had almost daily for breakfast at Hotel Cornavin was divine – strong and aromatic. The view was a big plus too.

My trip had been productive and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was a pity that I opted not to participate in any factory visits, but there’s always next time. To any watch lovers hesitating on whether or not to journey all the way to Switzerland for SIHH, don’t. I assure you that your first time, like mine, will be an unforgettable experience. This is a pilgrimage that you have to make at least once in your life as a watch enthusiast.

I will be back again next time, Geneva, but hopefully when it’s not as cold!


Also published on Medium.

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