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Chasing Time: Geneva with Chief of Operations Tyler Vanes

When we made the decision to take the C + T team to Switzerland for Watches and Wonders this year, it wasn’t something taken lightly. We’re a company that’s worked really hard to learn how to do a lot with a small team and keeping this ship sailing smoothly while both myself and Cameron [Barr, C + T’s founder and CEO] are traveling abroad takes a lot of extra planning and a lot of extra communication. We always have to question if a trip like that is really worth both of us being away from HQ.

Selfishly, I really wanted to finally experience Geneva firsthand – to walk the streets of a city I’ve never visited and to take in the culture of a place that’s not only incredibly important to myself as an enthusiast, but is the very cradle of the watch industry. From the perspective of C + T’s business, attending the world’s premier watch show presented a massive opportunity for us to experience the latest and greatest releases from the lion’s share of important watch manufacturers firsthand. Any watch collector worth their salt will tell you there’s simply no substitute for holding a piece in-hand or seeing it in-the-metal. It’s the only way to form a truly valid opinion and these things often have a completely different presence in-person than in photos. As C + T’s media presence has grown, being in-the-mix at shows like Watches and Wonders has become increasingly important to validate what we’re building as a media outlet and a journal of opinion. We’re still watch enthusiasts first and foremost and still deeply interested in what the great establishment marques are releasing – for better or worse – so attending the pinnacle of watch business trade shows on our own dime presented a unique opportunity to share our own actual opinions of the new releases. 

In a space that grows ever murkier with paid engagements every day – where the same outlets reviewing pieces are working directly with the brands they’re reviewing – I think there’s incredible value in sharing an honest opinion without the influence or financial backing of a big brand. Lastly, Watches and Wonders was a great chance to sync with our community at once, to meet with peers from outside the vintage space, and to link with European clients and friends that in many cases, we’ve never had a chance to meet in-person. The trip just made sense.  Flights out of LA were booked, an AirBnB in a quaint mountain town called La Muraz in France was secured, a car was rented, and before I knew it, Cameron and I were meeting for our connection to Geneva at Heathrow.

Geneva truly didn’t disappoint. The city is incredibly beautiful and has a really interesting blend of architecture. The center of the city is busy and contemporary and you’re never too far from the banks of the Rhone, which runs through the middle. It’s a very walkable place. However, when we weren’t at the Palexpo (the massive convention center where Watches and Wonders is held), we spent most of our time in the Old Town part of Geneva. Walking through that part of the city felt as though we were walking through history itself; from the cobblestone walks to the restaurants and shops, everything there felt authentic, ancient, and even the updated buildings and storefronts blended in brilliantly with the incredibly old buildings. We had a lot of fun running around this area, shooting photos, and drinking as much coffee as possible to fend off our jetlag.

I was happily surprised to find that Geneva is essentially surrounded by sprawling, beautiful farmland. Not only did it make our drives from the convention center and Geneva proper to our AirBnB really, really pleasant, but those agrarian surroundings are actually very important to the history of horology. The surrounding farmland may have also had something to do with the fact that the food in Geneva is simply incredible. Everything we ate there tasted incredibly fresh and was prepared wonderfully. We of course had fondue on night one, which was as amazing as one would expect. A gluttonous mix of bread, cheeses, and wine; I never felt more American in a foreign country than I did eating that meal, which was had in the warmly decorated basement dining room of the Restaurant les Armures. 

Switzerland is basically split into three sections: the French side, the German side, and the Italian side. Geneva is, of course, on the French side and you can see that influence in everything – the language, architecture, fashion, and food. Though many of the buildings that weren’t built in the French tradition were Brutalist-looking cement, the French-inspired architecture was incredibly beautiful and really made you feel like you were stepping into a different time. My number one recommendation for anyone visiting Geneva is to plan on spending as much time as possible in Old Town – especially if you want to feel like you’re walking in history and want great Swiss, French, and Italian food. There’s also a few cool vintage watch shops in that part of Geneva, particularly the Ponti Collection. 

We went to the Ponti Collection to meet a mutual client and to deliver some pieces we had brought from LA and the father and son team that own it, Laurent and Stan Ponti, were extremely inviting. Their showroom was beautifully curated and filled with a lot of killer vintage pieces. It’s certainly worth making an appointment with them if you’re in town and have a taste for vintage. The Davidoff Brothers are also located in the Old Town and they also had a beautiful and well-curated shop that specifically focuses on vintage.


As for the primary reason for the trip, Watches and Wonders, I left the Palexpo convinced that attending the event at least once is a must for any diehard watch fan. The way each manufacturer really distilled their personality and expressed it through their displays and booths really helped me to identify with these brands on a level I hadn’t considered before. It gave me a new perspective on how each brand sees themselves, which helped me to see them in a different light. Like a true insider. The scale of the booths was truly mesmerizing, each of the really well-done booths was an invitation into different ecosystems of watchmaking, and the best ones – like IWC, Cartier, and Tudor – were truly immersive. It’s instantly clear when you walk into the convention center that a ton of money is spent and displayed by these brands by participating in this event, and I came to really understand the scope of that when talking with one of the event coordinators. These brands begin building their displays 2-3 months in advance and they end up feeling like permanent retail locations. We kept commenting to each other how insane it was that these massive, tailor-made spaces would be torn down shortly after the show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Even though I am a specialist in vintage horology, I’m still a watch enthusiast in general. Going to Watches and Wonders this year really helped me understand the modern iterations of the brands that I’m so passionate about better, but in doing so, further solidified my interest in vintage. I think both realms of horology can exist in a harmonious way, and while many of the new releases we saw were exciting and many extremely well-executed, I left the show convinced that the vintage watch space is where my passion will ultimately remain. I saw plenty of modern watches that I’d be happy to own and that I can see the appeal of, but I kept thinking to myself “This is great, but it’s missing something the original captured perfectly.” That thought was especially loud walking through the wildly immersive JLC booth. That said, I was actually delighted to see how many of the big brands are starting to celebrate their heritage, and it seems like a lot of them are finally starting to listen to their consumer base. 

For so long, I have felt modern watches have been designed by a committee, but it seems as though that way of doing watch design is starting to shift more towards an enthusiast-focus. And I think the market is responding to that; you can see it in the fervor over the new Tudor Black Bay and the Cartier Tank Normale, and I think we’re going to start seeing the hype train spread out a bit. For so long, it has been exclusively about Rolex, Patek, and AP, but after seeing the excitement people had for other brands and the interesting pieces they’re bringing to market, I think the hype surrounding modern watches is going to begin to diversify a little and we’re going to start seeing a broader interest in horology as a whole. That’s a good thing for all enthusiasts. And just like Geneva’s contemporary modern sections stand harmoniously next to its Old Town, the watch space has room for all of it.

Head of Operations at C + T, Tyler Vanes is an avid watch collector, a fan of the obscure and esoteric side of horology, and loves a well-made Negroni.

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