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Watches and Wonders 2023: the Public Reaction

One of the more praiseworthy aspects of the watch community is those moments of self-effacement marked by a comment like "nobody else really cares," or "does anyone else pay attention to this stuff?" These moments of humility when discussing five or six figure watches are important, I think. They keep us grounded (side note: I've previously discussed why I do think people should care ).

The Palexpo venue, where Watches and Wonders is held. Source: Google Earth.
If there is any moment when the world might spare some of its valuable attention for the watch industry, it's now, when the tradeshow juggernaut Watches and Wonders is underway in Geneva. Of course, readers of this blog have seen that I prefer to employ data whenever possible. So, I turned to Google Trends in order to asses the impact of Watches and Wonders. The TL;DR on this is that the world is, in fact, watching (no pun intended, for real).

How do I know?
Google top searches in the United States for the first day of Watches and Wonders.
I began by reviewing the rankings of top Google searches in the United States for the first day of Watches and Wonders (I would have reviewed the worldwide rankings but Google does not offer this). Lo and behold, Rolex ranked number thirteen in the list, just behind Keannu Reeves / John Wick 4 and the LA Clippers. The crown even beat news that Selena Gomez and Zayn Malik "hooked up" before they dated. Rolex is not usually this close to the top 10 in Google search results. The company's search volume is basically imperceptible when you compare it to the top searches for 2022 (such as Queen Elizabeth or the World Cup). So, we can conclude that Watches and Wonders does draw interest, at least to one of the most famous watch brands around.

There is more evidence of Watches and Wonders interest that can be found in Google search trends.
Google search trends for Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
I queried the brand names "Rolex," "Patek Philippe," and "Vacheron Constantin" in order to learn how Google search volume has changed over the past seven days. You can see the significant spike in searches for the term "Rolex" on the first day of Watches and Wonders. Interest roughly quadrupled on the opening day of the trade fair, although on the second day it had largely returned to baseline. This data also reveals how much of an outlier Rolex is when it comes to public interest. Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin have comparatively miniscule search volume. However, as we'll see, they, too, experienced a major jump in interest at the opening of the fair.

The new Rolex Perpetual 1908. Source: Rolex.
Google also supplies a rank of "rising" terms associated with a particular Google search. For Rolex, the 1908 (Rolex's replacement for the Cellini) tops this list. It is clear that people are very interested in this new design which features small seconds, an observatory hour hand, and a display caseback. Ranking just behind the 1908 is the so-called "puzzle" Day-Date, featuring cloisonne puzzle pieces on the dial, emotions on the day wheel, and emojis on the date wheel. The new Yachtmaster in titanium is next in the list of rising searches related to Rolex.

The new Rolex Day Date "Puzzle". Source: Rolex.
One side note: subsequent to the opening of Watches and Wonders, the public is searching for "Rolex autism watch" on Google. This is likely due to the use of primary color puzzle pieces as a logo for the UK's National Autism Society in 1963. The logo was also used by the Autism Society of America. I hope Rolex is aware of these associations and prepared to address queries about these puzzle pieces adorning the dial. The association between autism and puzzle iconography is controversial to many.

Google search trends for Patek Philippe. Note the second spike marks the start of Watches and Wonders.
Returning to the other brands, Patek Philippe also saw an uptick in search popularity. However, the scale wasn't similar to Rolex. Patek's search volume approximately doubled on the first day of Watches and Wonders. Like Rolex, it quickly returned to baseline. For Patek, the related "rising" search terms didn't reveal interest in any particular new release. Macron ranked high in the related searches due to the hullabaloo over his removal of a Bell & Ross watch during an interview. Many believed it was an extremely expensive watch and, apparently, they thought it might be Patek.

Google search trends for Vacheron Constantin Philippe. Note the large spike marks the start of Watches and Wonders.
Interestingly, Vacheron Constantin saw a jump in search volume which was similar to Rolex. Searches for VC jumped by a multiple of roughly four on the first day of Watches and Wonders. Also interesting is that the draw of attention to Vacheron seemed to persist a bit more than the other two brands, although much of it certainly dissipated on the second day of the show. There was one reference on the list of rising search terms tied to Vacheron: the Saltarello. That watch features a retrograde jump hour display. Interestingly, Vacheron did reveal a number of watches with a retrograde feature at Watches and Wonders. It is possible rumors about these releases were circulating and many mistakenly believed the brand might release a new Saltarello.

In sum, Watches and Wonders seemed to deliver on the promise of drawing attention to the watch industry and its new product releases at the start of this year. There are still important conversations about whether this attention is worth the resources devoted to the fair. At least when it comes to Google searches, the attention seems fleeting. Nevertheless, there are all kinds of additional, important, benefits from a trade show like Watches and Wonders. Many of them can't be captured quantitatively.
My book on the history of Rolex marketing is now available on Amazon! It debuted as the #1 New Release in its category. You can find it here.

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