On a balmy October evening in New Delhi, world-renowned auctioneer Aurel Bacs of the Phillips Auction House made a statement that was greeted with pin-drop silence for a while. It was the day before the opening of the prestigious GPHG exhibit in the Indian capital and Bacs was addressing a select audience, who had gathered for an intimate dinner at the lawns of Swiss Ambassador Dr Ralf Heckner’s residence. Understandably, the crowd comprised luxury watch industry heads who had flown down — much like him — for the weekend event. And, it was to this gathering that he made the following statement, “No one today needs a mechanical watch.”
Bacs went on to explain why people still sought them out. “Earlier we needed watches to tell time, but today we don’t need them for that reason. Now we seek mechanical watches because they are works of art. It is our passion for watches that makes us buy them,” he added, as the crowd nodded in agreement.
Indeed, this passion for horology was evident throughout the two-day Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) exhibit that was held at The Leela, New Delhi, from October 8 to October 9, 2022.
GPHG was created in 2001. A decade later, in 2011, the Foundation was recognised as a public interest organisation, aiming to turn the spotlight on exceptional timepieces, thus celebrating the art of watchmaking worldwide. Since its inception, GPHG has been organising an awards ceremony every November, where selective delegates, representing the international watchmaking profession, come together and the finest timepieces created that year are rewarded. So, it’s a key event in the watchmaking calendar.
Putting India on the Map
Each year in the run-up to the annual awards ceremony, GPHG organises a travelling exhibition in some of the world's major cities where the nominated watches are put on display. For 2022, New Delhi was the first pit stop; what made the exhibit even more interesting was the fact that it was returning to India after a gap of eight years. Moreover, on both occasions, Ethos Watches, India’s largest luxury and premium watch retailer, collaborated with GPHG to bring the exquisite timepieces to India.
The programme commenced on the evening of October 7 with a reception held at the residence of the Swiss Ambassador. The next day saw the inauguration of the exhibit with a grand ribbon-cutting ceremony. Opening speeches were delivered by Raymond Loretan, President of the GPHG Foundation, and Yashovardhan Saboo, Founder and Chairman of Ethos Limited.
Noting that India is a fast-growing market, Saboo said it is maturing steadily to better understand fine mechanical watch creations. He went on to add how Ethos Watches has been at the forefront of this transformation. “We are delighted that we could bring the nominated watches to New Delhi. It is a unique platform for Indian watch aficionados to come face to face with the best of haute horology, and also for the participating watch brands to engage directly with India and Indian watch lovers,” he said. Read our interview with Yashovardhan Saboo for more.
On his part, Loretan thanked Ethos Watches for welcoming GPHG to India again. “We hope that our presence here will spark the interest of enthusiasts as well as encourage vocations among up-and-coming generations,” he added. Read our interview with Raymond Loretan for more.
Showcasing Stunning, Complicated and Exceptional Timepieces
The India exhibit comprised a whopping 81 (out of 85) watches that were nominated across 14 different categories, including Men’s, Ladies’, Tourbillon, Calendar & Astronomy and so on (see box).
List of Categories for GPHG 2022
Calendar and Astronomy
It is worth mentioning here that the exhibit also saw watches from brands, such as Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels, which do not have a retail presence in India. Among the eye-catching pieces in the jewellery category were the Jacob & Co. Astronomia Metaverso NFT Venus watch, the Bvlgari Serpenti Misteriosi High Jewellery watch and the Chopard Animal World Peacock watch, while the Glefman IN-16 Nixie watch from the famous ‘Petite Aiguille’ category also mesmerised watch lovers with its space-age aesthetics.
Nominated watches that were not part of the GPHG exhibit in New Delhi
Theo Auffret Tourbillon Grand Sport
Audemars Piguet Code 11.9
Konstantin Chaykin Harley Quinn
DRT Tempus Fugit
The two-day event also included several panel discussions. With brand representatives, watch retailers and passionate watch collectors sharing their insights about the watchmaking industry and the market at large, there were some interesting takeaways.
1. Pre-owned Watches: No Longer a Taboo
During the panel discussion about the Growth and Future of the Indian Market, Yashovardhan Saboo pointed out that the younger generation has been more forthcoming about purchasing pre-owned watches. He said, “Pre-owned watches reinforce the idea of a watch as a collectible with enduring value… the taboo for a pre-owned watch is gone.”
2. Digital Discovery, Retail Shopping
Speakers also discussed post-pandemic consumer behaviour. Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Retail, talked about how crowds flocking to luxury stores at DLF Emporio have grown post-covid. “Everyone is discovering digitally and shopping physically, this is especially true when it comes to luxury,” she said.
Patrik Hoffmann, Executive Vice President at Watchbox, a global seller of pre-owned luxury watches, concurred, “Today, people are seeking worldwide information and education, and during the pandemic, people had time to educate themselves about mechanical timepieces.”
3. Sustainability Mantra
The discussion on Responsible Luxury and Sustainability had panellists sharing some creative and insightful solutions. Talking about how the brand has been undertaking sustainability initiatives since 2014, Mohit Hemdev, Country Manager, Panerai, spoke in detail about the 5Ps they keep in mind: performance in real estate; processes like recycling; products that are eco-sensitive; people (employees and customers); and partnerships with activists. “It is a 360 degree approach and we call it a circular economy, since we all need to execute it together,” he said.
On her part, Leila Kamali, Region Director, Oris Watches, spoke of a few initiatives undertaken to reduce the brand’s carbon footprint: right from working with organisations such as Plastic Bank and EverWave filtration to using wind energy for production. “In 2019, we started calculating and analysing our carbon footprint with an external company called Climate Partner. The idea is to reduce emissions that we cannot avoid,” she stressed.
4. Personalisation: An Intimate Affair
Personalisation and its future in high-end watchmaking made for an interesting session too. Manuel Emch from Louis Erard shared how watches had evolved from being a distribution industry to a brand industry and were now a product industry. “With more and more people buying products, there is a greater need for them to be personalised,” he said.
While Pranav Saboo, CEO of Ethos Limited, pointed out the challenges that come with personalisation, Emanuel Bitton, Regional Market Director for Armin Strom, emphasised the importance of thinking outside the box in order to appeal to one’s customers. "The price is what you pay and the value is what you get," said Bitton, adding that customers can today customise the colours of the materials, movement colours, case and bezel metals, straps and more.
Road to Glory
After the New Delhi leg of the tour, the nominated watches will be heading to Casablanca in Morocco. The exhibit, GPHG’s first on the African continent, will be held from October 20 to October 23. This will be followed by the awards ceremony in Geneva on November 10.