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.