Or­ches­trat­ing Ex­cel­lence

Fa­bi­enne Lupo has been Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of the Fondation de la Haute Hor­logerie (FHH), the body that or­gan­ises Le Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie, since 2005. Lupo was also ap­pointed its Chair­woman in 2010. We met to dis­cuss her ca­reer and the

Plaza Watch International - - Sihh Special - WORDS JOSH SIMS

“I’d never seen a trade show with such luxury ar­range­ments, right down to the ser­vices and the food.”

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, I was very in­ter­ested in beau­ti­ful prod­ucts,” says Fa­bi­enne Lupo. “Not nec­es­sar­ily luxury ones, but I’ve al­ways been sen­si­tive to craft. Af­ter that first visit I would like to have had the money to have a watch col­lec­tion. I cer­tainly be­came a watch fan.” That was 15 years ago, when Lupo – with a back­ground in mar­ket­ing for L’Oreal, and in run­ning in­ter­na­tional fairs in Mar­seilles, in­clud­ing the boat show – first set eyes on the Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional De La Haute Hor­logerie Geneve.

“All I could do,” the SIHH Man­ag­ing Direc­tor adds, “was wear the most beau­ti­ful watch I had. For­tu­nately, one of the com­pa­nies lent me both some jew­els and a jew­ellery watch to wear. I was one lucky woman – although of course I had to give them back.”

Much has changed since then, in­deed, since SIHH was founded in 1992 – the brain­child of Alain-Do­minique Per­rin, for­mer pres­i­dent of Cartier. Ap­proach­ing its 25th birth­day next year, SIHH has be­come the bench­mark event of high glam­our watch­mak­ing – the haute cou­ture to Basel­world’s pret-a-porter. The idea, as Lupo puts it, had al­ways been to cre­ate “a new kind of show for watch re­tail­ers – very ex­clu­sive, in­vi­ta­tion only, with a high qual­ity of dé­cor, a beau­ti­ful show­case for in­cred­i­ble watches”, a re­mit it has con­cert­edly main­tained.

In 2005 it fell un­der the aus­pices of the then new Fondation De La Haute Hor­logerie, founded by Franco Cologni, the Richemont Group, to­gether with Aude­mars Piguet and Gi­rardPer­re­gaux, to­gether with some 27 part­ner brands. The Fondation would act, as Lupo has put it, as a kind of “Min­istry of Fine Watch­mak­ing,” its task be­ing to use mag­a­zines, ex­hi­bi­tions, work­shops and shows to “raise aware­ness of the craft and cul­ture of watch­mak­ing, to ex­plain, for ex­am­ple, why the pieces of­ten cost a lot”. And its pre­mier, not-for-profit event, paid for by each of the ex­hibitors, would be SIHH.

“The first time I vis­ited I was very im­pressed,” re­calls Lupo. “It was ‘wow!’ Here was this trade show that felt and looked noth­ing like a trade show. I’d never seen a trade show with such luxury ar­range­ments, right down to the ser­vices and the food. There was just no com­par­ing it with the fairs in Mar­seilles.” Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, when the me­chan­i­cal watch in­dus­try was still claw­ing its way back from the brink of a quartz- pow­ered dis­as­ter – it was not then what it is to­day – SIHH started small. Its first year cov­ered just 4,500 square me­tres. It now cov­ers closer to 30,000 square me­tres and sees 13,000 vis­i­tors en­ter its huge halls over five days – all en­joy­ing the op­u­lence of the ex­hibitors’ booths, many echo­ing the stand­alone shops that have also be­come part of the watch in­dus­try over re­cent years.

“Cer­tainly the na­ture of the show has changed,” says Lupo. “It is still a trade fair for re­tail­ers, but of course there are fewer of those now. Now it is as much about tar­get­ing the me­dia – be­cause spe­cial­ist pub­li­ca­tions and in­ter­est in watches in main­stream pub­li­ca­tions is at a much greater level now than it was then. And it is also more and more a show for col­lec­tors – brands and re­tail­ers alike in­vite those key col­lec­tors to whom they want to give a spe­cial pre­view of the new col­lec­tions, even of the pro­to­types. But there is a sub­tle bal­ance to strike – the brands all need good re­la­tion­ships with re­tail­ers even if they have a more and more di­rect re­la­tion­ship with col­lec­tors.”

In­deed, over its next 25 years, might SIHH be­come in­creas­ingly a show for big-time shop­pers rather than in­dus­try buy­ers? This au­tumn saw it launch its first spin-off, Watch & Won­ders, in Hong Kong, fea­tur­ing many of the same ex­hibit­ing maisons as SIHH but this time fo­cused on the end con­sumer. “And,” says Lupo, “it was in­ter­est­ing for the watch com­pa­nies to show off their ex­per­tise and craft as much as their new col­lec­tions, but also to open their doors to the peo­ple they don’t of­ten get to meet – the ac­tual watch fans, and the VIP guests of pri­vate banks and auc­tion houses.” And a lot of them too: it at­tracted 13,000 vis­i­tors over just four days, in one sense top­ping SIHH it­self.

That, of course, re­flects the strength of the Asian mar­ket still – and, as things stand, there are no plans to roll this next gen­er­a­tion, re­gional SIHH out to other mar­kets. In­deed, given the gen­eral buoy­ancy of the watch mar­ket, the trick for Lupo will be how to ex­pand SIHH – al­beit with­out any need to turn a profit – while re­tain­ing its es­sen­tial in­ti­macy. “We have to stay small to main­tain the qual­ity lev­els,” she says. “Nat­u­rally, over time some brands have joined the show and oth­ers have left, but I think over­all its core feel­ing has been re­tained. In­creas­ingly the real dif­fer­ence lies within the brands’ booths – each brand has its own his­tory and ap­proach and what’s new at the show each year re­ally hap­pens in the booths.”

Of course, any­one who has vis­ited SIHH knows that to call them booths is to some­what un­der­play their grandios­ity. It is com­mon­place to find aquar­i­ums, For­mula One rac­ing cars, recre­ated homes in the Hamp­tons and some spec­tac­u­lar dis­plays of vin­tage watches. No ex­pense is spared to daz­zle vis­i­tors with the sights to be­hold, all there to un­der­line a brand’s his­toric cre­den­tials.

Whilst big­ger can some­times be bet­ter, many hope that SIHH will re­tain its ex­clu­sive and in­ti­mate am­biance long into the fu­ture.

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