Inside Watches and Wonders: Public vs. Private Days & What to Expect

Inside Watches and Wonders: Public vs. Private Days & What to Expect

I recently had the opportunity to attend Watches and Wonders Geneva. This is the biggest watch trade show of the year: the final evolution of SIHH born out of a financial dispute with the now-defunct Baselworld. I never attended either of those events, but from what I understand, Watches and Wonders is an excellent successor. This was the first watch fair I’ve ever experienced. Impressive, staggering, and ridiculous are words that hardly begin to describe it. Everything was remarkable: the decadent meals served in fishbowls, the countless staff members dressed in beige trenchcoats and newsboy caps, and of course, the incredible timepieces. Watches and Wonders was a sight to see. I’d like to talk about my first impressions before comparing the public and private (press + retailers) days. 

First Impressions of Watches and Wonders

Palexpo Geneva from outside

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I was immediately struck by the sheer size of Palexpo. Walking up to this convention center was frankly intimidating. Luckily, there were plenty of signs and staff members (dressed like high-fashion Peaky Blinders extras) who were happy to assist. Shuffling through the security line, I couldn’t help but laugh at the hilariously-ominous robot voice that bellowed “ACCESS GRANTED” upon every scan-in. 

Once inside, I had about 20 minutes to walk around and admire the booths before my first meeting. To call some of these things “booths” feels dishonest. Patek Philippe had a multi-story glass building erected within the convention center. You think that’s impressive until you walk a bit closer and see a sapphire-set Grandmaster Chime sitting in the window. Speaking of sitting, if you take a seat anywhere in the convention center, it’s only a matter of seconds before someone offers you food, coffee, and/or champagne. This brings me to the primary differences between public and private days.

Private Press Days at Watches and Wonders

Hallway at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023

This year, Watches and Wonders Geneva went on for seven days. The first five days were only accessible to accredited retailers and members of the press. Luckily, I was able to get a pass and experience one of these press days. I only attended the final press day, so I can only speak to that experience. First and foremost, it was quiet. Particularly when compared to the public days, the press day (unsurprisingly) had fewer people, less hustle and bustle, and far more amenities. 

Champagne and coffee bar at independent hall Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023

Before the trip, I was warned about the inundation of espresso. I would say I was not warned enough. All food and drink is free during private days: 3-course meals, any beverage under the sun, be it coffee, soda, champagne – you name it. There are full-service tables lining the entire event, some of which (those in the independent hall) surround large bars where you can also sit and order. The staff is incredibly friendly and professional. To be clear, this service still exists on public days, but at a high cost and potential wait time: even just to sit down. Also – most larger brands have their own private coffee/champagne/snack bar for those taking meetings or even just passing through.

Ulysse Nardin Freak booth exhibit

While most of my press day was occupied by meetings, I feel like I got the full Watches and Wonders experience. I made a point to visit every brand I could. Each one had beautifully decorated spaces displaying their latest creations. I particularly enjoyed the Van Cleef & Arpels “booth”: a dark maze of rooms draped in green and blue glass ornaments. Jaeger-LeCoultre had an amazing space equipped with a waterfall-projector-hologram-thing that I can hardly describe. JLC also had live demonstrations of watchmakers, enamel artists, and leather artisans working right there in front of you. Ulysse Nardin’s booth was mostly occupied by a humongous version of their Freak watch (pictured above). I could spend all day marveling at various brands’ spaces and decorations. 

Public Days

Public day at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023

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During our meetings, we asked brand representatives how they felt about the upcoming public days. There was a common sense of unease, uncertainty, and general unknowing. The sheer amount of people that would attend these public days (>10,000 each day) left some brands – particularly independents whose booths could only hold about 5-10 people – confused as to what they should do. It seemed like the public day protocol was at the brands’ individual discretion. Some roped off most of their space, some offered goodie bags with trinkets/press materials, and some didn’t change a thing. Overall, my experience at the public days was very enjoyable. You have most of the same access you do on the press days, just with larger crowds, longer waits, and high cost of food and drink. If you’re on the fence about attending public days of future Watches and Wonders, I highly recommend you just do it. If you love watches, this experience is incomparable. 

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