Battle of the watch fairs: Baselworld vs SIHH

by John Wallis


February 28. 2018 - by John Wallis

Some people might associate the early months of the year with cold weather, movie awards and tax returns, but for watch lovers, there's only one thing on our minds: Swiss watch fairs. Traditionally the most anticipated, Baselworld will rock our world in March while SIHH takes place every January. But what are the key differences between these fairs and is one favoured over the other? Read on to find out more.

SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie), which takes place in Geneva, has been a terrific showcase for new watches for many years. Founded in 1991, it has been at the forefront of the great watchmaking renaissance of the post-quartz era. However, it is often seen as the junior brother to Baselworld, which can trace its history back to 1931.

While SIHH attracts lots of big names and generates many remarkable headlines (especially since it is earlier in the year), it is usually associated with the Richemont group brands - Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and more. Further, it has limited access to the public, being primarily aimed at trade insiders and journalists.

Glory Days

But things are changing, and 2018 has proved that there is real momentum behind SIHH. While Basel remains the business powerhouse of the industry, Geneva has redoubled its focus on exclusivity, haute horlogerie and prestige, with director Fabienne Lupo comparing it to the Davos World Economic Forum happening nearby. Major luxury watch brand Hermès defected to SIHH from Baselworld this year, joining another big hitter, Ulysse Nardin, who joined in 2017. There are now 18 big-name exhibitors, many with new leadership, running the gamut from Audemars Piguet to A. Lange & Söhne. And there's another 17 boutique independent brands in the "Carré des Horlogers".

Visitors continue to find SIHH the more enjoyable experience of the two big fairs, thanks to its smaller, calmer format. And it's hard to deny that the quality of what there is to see has never been better. SIHH 2018 was even open to the public on the final day, a modification that began only last year, and which appears extremely popular.

Best of SIHH 2018

Event highlights this year included the 38mm Panerai Luminor Acciaio - the size might not sound radically changed from the brand's traditional 44mm, but when you see it in person, the difference is enormous, signalling a radical shift for the maison - likely a bid to appeal to more women buyers.

Indeed, ladies' watches were out in force at SIHH, with more on offer than ever before. One extraordinary timepiece from Van Cleef & Arpels turned heads with its breathtaking combination of art and mechanical design: a fully operational planetarium, with the heavenly bodies orbiting each other on aventurine discs.

It wasn't the only show of mechanical innovation. We've long enjoyed the highly original orbital displays by indie Belgian brand Ressence, but this year it outdid itself with a groundbreaking mechanical watch fitted with an electronic upgrade that regulates itself. You can change timezones with a tap - very futuristic, and a brilliant way to blend the best of both old and new technologies.

There were many other wonders at the Salon, but one of the most talked-about items was Baume & Mercier's Clifton Baumatic. It's a good-looking, unpretentious everyday watch with a superb, COSC-certified in-house movement and a five-day power reserve, and it aims to retail for under $3,000. A versatile, high-quality timepiece that really represents a step forward for affordable luxury.


How does it compare?

These extraordinary new watches are just the tip of the iceberg for what visitors were treated to at SIHH - an impressive showing by any measure. But it's also fair to point out that Baselworld is almost sure to showcase an even more outstanding catalogue. The great appeal of SIHH is its luxurious, intimate experience, phenomenally well-organised and located in the much more glamorous city of Geneva. But most watch fans will tell you that the event they're really looking forward to is Baselworld 2018.

SIHH boasts an amazing roster of top brands, but it lacks the big draws like Rolex and Patek Philippe. The Basel fair is known for such highlights, as well as for its indescribable energy, excitement and sense of insider buzz. The really memorable unveilings of years past have largely been at Baselworld - and we believe this year will be no exception.

Have it all

At the end of the day, there's simply no need to pit these two wonderful events against each other. Both offer unforgettable experiences for those lucky enough to attend, and an exciting week of news and glorious high-def pics for watch enthusiasts the world over. SIHH was a huge success, setting the bar high for a compelling year of watches ahead, and we can't wait to let you know what we find at Baselworld. 

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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