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Swellboy on… a watch-show spectacle

Thanks to medieval aesthetics and an avian predator, one exhibitor certainly made a stand in Geneva

Swellboy on… a watch-show spectacle

Image: Brijesh Patel

February 09 2013
Nick Foulkes

Despite many impressive offerings, the 2013 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva was a revelation not so much for a timepiece – or a bracelet – but for a stand. The exhibitor booths at its Basel counterpart are a riot of self-expression, whereas at the SIHH a uniform serenity usually prevails, and one strolls expansive boulevards punctuated by large, neutrally clad sofas, elaborate flower arrangements, bars and restaurants.  

However, this year Roger Dubuis went nuts, and I don’t mean nuts by Swiss standards (which means parking your car at a slight angle to the pavement or wearing a louder than average pocket square in a built-up area), but properly bonkers. Roger Dubuis is a young brand, but its stand evoked a semi-mythical ancient past that was part Highlander, part Macbeth, part, well, let’s just say that they brought in a live eagle. If they had not had a Polaroid camera there to capture my uneasy moment next to this avian predator, I would have thought someone had slipped a powerful hallucinogen into my Coke Zero.

The whole stand had been tricked out to resemble a castle, and staff were wandering around in costumes that were somewhat inspired by the sort of thing one sees on the more lurid sort of shortbread tin, while also exhibiting a generic medievaIism, albeit sans wimples or codpieces. I quite expected Banquo’s ghost to appear brandishing a bloody dagger or to see Errol Flynn as Robin Hood swinging from the giant, polished golden eagle sculpture in the centre.

I have to say that I loved it and kept coming back every day to congratulate them and see what new attractions the stand boasted. For instance, the eagle that had dominated the first day’s proceedings was replaced by Daphne Guinness, across whom I stumbled while she was discussing the designs for a watch she’s making with Roger Dubuis. I have no idea what it will look like, but I think it safe to assume that the word “ordinary” will not appear on the brief, unless prefixed with the word “extra”.

Of course, this rather sui generis approach to selling watches brings its own problems. As we all know, some form of sports sponsorship is a significant part of the marketing of modern watches. I recently wrote about the rising importance of the football watch and around the SIHH I bumped into a Wimbledon tennis champ, an Olympic sprinter, a Premier League football club manager and what seemed like the entire pit-lane setup of the Mercedes Formula One team.

Accordingly, I have now decided that Roger Dubuis needs to take up sponsorship of jousting, and I suggest that it is high time for a revival of the famous Eglinton Tournament of 1839. This glorious Ivanhoe-themed event, laid on by the young Lord Eglinton, did much to reignite interest in the gothic and was intended to be some sort of romantic riposte to the utilitarian spirit of the industrial revolution. I wonder how the exhibition halls of next year’s SIHH will cope with the whinnying of horses and the crash of lance against armour? At least it will be a good way to check the shock resistance of the watches.