Watches and Wonders is back

He’s the CEO of the watch salon that breathed new life into the concept of an horological exhibition. With Watches and Wonders back — bigger and better than ever — GMT GCC gets into the fine details with the man behind the plan, Matthieu Humair.

There’s no two ways about it — the world of horology is, by definition, exclusive. Limited in numbers, high in price and complex in nature, it’s almost as though the mystique of the world of watchmaking is deliberate. But that doesn’t stop watch fans everywhere — yes, even those without the big bucks needed to invest in the top-flight timepieces that are the stuff of dreams — wanting to get closer to the heart of the industry.
When home-turf watchmaking showcases such as the now-defunct Baselworld began to falter it would have been easy for the big Swiss exhibits to disappear altogether, the dinosaurs of watchmaking giving way to the young and agile regional and group-specific fairs such as Dubai Watch Week and LVMH Watch Week — which arguably take a tighter focus and have a more manageable size. But the hunger for a Swiss show never abated, and with the rebirth of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie as Watches and Wonders in 2022, the proof was in the pudding. However, it was clear that things still needed to change — and at last year’s salon, came the biggest change of all. For the first time, the general public made their way through Palexpo’s hallowed halls. One year on, and with Watches and Wonders 2024 poised for opening, GMT GCC caught up with the fair’s CEO Matthieu Humair to talk lessons learned and how the fair helps secure the future of watchmaking.

Matthieu Humair
Matthieu Humair
GMTGCC: We are heading into the second edition of Watches & Wonders Geneva that invites members of the public into its hallowed halls — what did you learn from last year, and what changes can we expect this year?

MH: In 2023, Watches and Wonders Geneva opened its doors for two days to the general public with its 12,000 tickets sold out before the weekend even started. We noticed a major interest from the younger generation, with 25 per cent of tickets sold to people under 25. This upcoming edition will mark a major move ahead as we open to the general public over three days for the first time. Innovation and the young generation will be at the centre of this ambitious programme, whether at the Salon — with a brand new LAB and a series of exclusive conferences in the Auditorium — and at In The City with the new Watchmaking Village which will host workshops, watchmaking experiences and a whole host of educational activities.


Visitors during the first of two public days of the Watches and Wonders GENEVA, in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday, April 1, 2023. The Master Event of the Watches and Wonders ecosystem brings together the leading names of the Watchmaking and luxury industry from March 27 to April 2, 2023 at Geneva Palexpo.
Speaking to some of the brands after last year’s event, they expressed that they’d been underprepared for the volume of the response from the general public, and would be working towards accommodating more visitors and more ‘hands-on’ sessions in their stands — have you been involved with aiding brands in preparing for this year? What sort of measures are they taking?

Absolutely, given the very positive response from the general public, we have decided to adapt our programme and develop the experiential aspect even further. For the first time, visitors will have the opportunity to attend product presentations on-site. Some representatives of the Maisons will welcome groups of 10 to 15 people to present their latest creations and interact with watchmakers. The exhibiting brands have prepared innovative activations to offer unique and immersive experiences, ready to be discovered in their booths.

What plans are in place for the Watchmaking Village? What can we expect to see?

Given the very positive feedback of last year’s first edition we have decided to reinforce the In The City initiative with a newly-designed programme. The main highlight for 2024 is the new Watchmaking Village at the heart of the City of Geneva which will welcome educational and cultural activities in line with watchmaking as well as our guided tours. It’s free and open to all. The objective is to reach out to the young generation, create new passion and share the beauty of our industry with them. The Thursday night will remain the peak moment, with a celebration on the riverside, live music and street performances. The heart of Geneva will be ticking loud to the rhythm of a watch movement!

What else is happening that’s new for 2024?

We will have 54 prestigious Maisons taking part of this upcoming edition, along with seven newcomers. A record number. The programme will be very immersive with lots of new activations at the Salon — with a striking photo exhibition, Timekeepers by Luc Debraine and a series of talks in the Auditorium — and In The City with free access to a complete and vast offering. Our goal is to offer the visitors an unforgettable and personalised experience in the world of watchmaking that can only be lived at Watches and Wonders Geneva.

Visitors during the second of two public days of the Watches and Wonders GENEVA, in Geneva, Switzerland, Sunday, April 2, 2023. The Master Event of the Watches and Wonders ecosystem brings together the leading names of the Watchmaking and luxury industry from March 27 to April 2, 2023 at Geneva Palexpo.
While Watches and Wonders continues to fill the gap left by the cessation of both the SIHH and Baselworld, other global salons seem to continue to grow in both scale and sophistication — Dubai Watch Week and the Doha Jewellery and Watch Exhibition included. What sets Watches and Wonders apart from the rest of the pack?

Watches and Wonders is the largest watchmaking event ever organised in Geneva. It is also the momentum for the industry where all the novelties are launched. A time for the public to discover the latest creations that are unveiled in Geneva during that week. A time for the most important players of the watchmaking industry to speak as one. More globally, the estimated reach of such an event is over 700 million people, which gives you an idea of the magnitude.

For you personally, how does it feel when you finally see the year’s preparations come to fruition during that very special week in April? Is it a week that you can relax and enjoy, or do you breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all over?

The most exciting time is right now, as we can measure the effort and all the hard work that has been put together throughout the year by all the key players, stakeholders, teams and partners. Watches and Wonders is a big teamwork and a time of celebration whether at the Salon or In The City. I enjoy every single moment of this beautiful week while always remaining focused on every single detail of this huge operation.

Visitors during the Watches and Wonders GENEVA, in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, March 27, 2023. The Master Event of the Watches and Wonders ecosystem brings together the leading names of the Watchmaking and luxury industry from March 27 to April 2, 2023 at Geneva Palexpo.
What about Watches and Wonders are you most looking forward to? What is usually a personal highlight for you?

Watches and Wonders has the power to bring people together, to interact, to meet the entire industry and the watchmakers. Watches are about emotions and dreams. Every year, we welcome schools and young students to discover this beautiful industry. It is always very special for me to learn that some of these young visitors would like to become a watchmaker or start their career in the watchmaking industry after their visits to Watches and Wonders Geneva. This happens every year.

Watches & Wonders has always had a strong online presence, which was a necessary innovation for its pandemic-era launch. Does the online aspect continue to be important to the Salon? How has it grown and what aspects are new for this year?

Digital is a complete component of our physical events. Our hybrid concept has been designed to constantly be able to adapt to the changing context, by combining a physical salon with digital solutions that meet market expectations. For 2024, we have developed new features for the general public in order to offer unforgettable experiences.
Interactions and physical gatherings remain essential, but with Watches and Wonders, wherever you are, you can enjoy the Geneva watchmaking momentum. I’d like for all watch lovers, including kids, to take the time from 13 to 15 of April to experience Watches and Wonders Geneva and learn about the beautiful know-how and crafts the watchmaking industry has. Get ready!.