Watches and Wonders Geneva proved one thing earlier this spring when it attracted 43,000 visitors, almost twice its 2022 attendance: The watch fair is back.
Many in the industry had voiced doubts that such costly events were worth the investment even before the disruption of the pandemic. But opinions seem to have changed, and the rest of the 2023 calendar is dotted with the likes of Singapore Watch Week, Geneva Watch Days and the Salón Internacional Alta Relojería in Mexico City.
In Manhattan, the organizers of WatchTime New York, scheduled for Oct. 20-22 in Gotham Hall, said they expect the event’s longtime focus on watch lovers will attract even more visitors this year, increasing on its 2,000-person total last year.
“Theoretically, if you’re going to Watches and Wonders as a regular person, you can see the vitrines, you can walk into the booths, but you’re not going behind the scenes and sitting down with the watch president or the watchmaker,” said Sara Orlando, the publisher of WatchTime, the print and online publication based in New York that has held the fair since 2015. “At WatchTime New York, the brand president and executives are at the show, behind the booth, presenting to the general public.”
Marc André Deschoux, founder of both Watches TV and Horopedia, the online encyclopedia of watchmaking, said such interaction is distinctive. “Small fairs can provide something important: Those attending can speak directly with the watch creators,” he said. “It creates a human bond between the customer and the watchmaker.”
The fair last year had 32 exhibitors, ranging from large brands like Breguet and Seiko to popular independents such as Greubel Forsey and Kari Voutilainen.
Parmigiani Fleurier joined the roster in 2022. “This event is important since North America is a central market for us,” its chief executive, Guido Terreni, wrote in an email. “Additionally, WatchTime New York has now gained a lot of credibility and has grown into an important event for collectors in the market.”
The fair provides quality information, according to Ms. Orlando. “We try hard to develop topics for the panels that are of interest to every level of the attendees,” she said. “People who have been collecting for 20 years will be entertained and happy, and people who are recent watch enthusiasts will be fed info that’s easy to understand.”
Ms. Orlando, 44, said she knows firsthand how intimidating watches can be. She worked in the home furnishings industry until 2008, when WatchTime hired her as its advertising director; she became publisher in 2015. “The watch industry was obviously a big departure for me,” she said.
She recalled being overwhelmed in 2009 when she attended her first watch fair, Baselworld — an event that had helped brands shape the world’s perception of the watch and jewelry industries for more than 100 years, until the pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020 and it ultimately collapsed.
“It was on such a grand scale,” she said. “The Rolex booth, the Swatch booth — they were enormous and so grand. Thank goodness I had a really good mentor in Joe Thompson, who was the editor in chief” of WatchTime. “He introduced me to everyone in the industry. After the first year, I felt I belonged.” (Mr. Thompson left the publication in 2017; Roger Ruegger now is editor in chief.)
WatchTime began its public-facing events in 2006 with a road show of watch brands that traveled across the United States, organized by Jeffrey Kingston, a well-known watch collector.
But “brands stopped wanting to travel, and it was expensive to move the vitrines and staff across the country,” Ms. Orlando said. “Joe Thompson had the idea of doing a larger show in the city. Minda Larsen, our event director, and I created WatchTime New York.
“We chose New York because of the access of the European market. We wanted the European collectors to come as well as the smaller independent brands to come to New York.”
Michael Hickcox, an American who is a longtime watch collector living in London, said he considers visiting WatchTime New York to be as important as attending European watch shows.
“I’ve been going to WatchTime New York for the past five years or so,” Mr. Hickcox wrote in an email. “It’s a terrific event. They attract great brands and independent watchmakers, so it’s a great place to try on watches that you often can’t find in the stores.”
And, he added: “The networking is first-rate, both for meeting new people and catching up with old friends. One learns so much from other collectors; they are a tremendous font of wisdom.”