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When Will In-Person Watch Fairs Be Back?

Every year Lane Schiffman — who lives in Greensboro, N.C., and who co-owns a handful of high-end watch and jewelry stores, including Shreve & Co. — usually spends a couple weeks in Switzerland at the trade shows that have been anchors of the watch industry for decades.

But for Watches and Wonders Geneva, the virtual trade fair that hosts 38 brands and starts on April 7, he will be sitting in a friend’s house, watching each company unveil its newest timepieces on a computer screen.

Mr. Schiffman said he will miss having new watches in his hands and socializing with colleagues in person. He is realistic, however, about the current limitations on physical gatherings. “It’s not something we can do, so Plan B is the next best thing, and Plan B is to do things virtually,” he said.

Certainly the online presentations this year have filled a pandemic-inspired need, but what happens to watch fairs when restrictions on large gatherings and travel are lifted?

Frédéric Arnault, chief executive of TAG Heuer. “It helps us all create this mystique around not just this or that brand, but all watch brands.”

But virtual fairs have their supporters, too. “There is something about just being able to, I hate to say it, sit in your underwear and not leave your home and watch the show,” said Adam Craniotes, an editor at large at the watch magazine Revolution and co-founder of the RedBar Group, a collectors’ organization.

Watch fairs, like so many businesses, were forced to recalibrate by the pandemic. And in this case, experts say, that restructuring was overdue.

“Probably this year of Covid was useful for them to try to disrupt something that was difficult to disrupt without such an event,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, partner and head of luxury goods for the management consultants Bain & Company. “Everyone was questioning the value of these fairs.”

an addition promised, but not fulfilled, in 2019. (Some Baselworld mainstays, like Patek Philippe and Rolex, are scheduled at Watches and Wonders.)

Many brands also have pivoted to and invested in video equipment to be used at the fairs and beyond. Chopard, for example, installed a film studio in its Geneva headquarters that it intends to introduce during the fair this week.

Some videos are brilliant, some are just boring.

In addition to its presentation of new watches, Montblanc’s watch division will include a live conversation with Reinhold Messner, the mountaineer and a brand ambassador, talking about an expedition that helped inspire elements of a limited edition timepiece.

aBlogtoWatch. “It’s because these brands have put absolutely no effort into anything beyond, ‘Hey, we heard Zoom meetings are a thing.’”

As another option, next month Mr. Adams will be introducing his own online fair, called New Watch Week. He aims to create more engaging videos than those in typical brand launches. The fair will include content at intervals throughout the year, instead of just during its first week.

His target audience, he said, is consumers, who will be able to watch for free, no invitations needed.

That type of programming is likely to continue after the pandemic has gone. Physical fairs, he said, may well resume then, too.

“The luxury industry requires real relationships, social opportunities, travel and celebration, and consumers that want to express themselves and have the money to do so,” Mr. Adams said.

“If you don’t have those things happening, you don’t really have a functioning watch industry.”

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