Watch Experts’ Tips: What to See and Where to Eat in Geneva

It seems like a long time since Watches and Wonders Geneva, complying with Swiss efforts to contain the coronavirus, canceled its live 2020 fair. And then the 2021 fair.

But this week watch fans and media and brand representatives have been arriving in the city for the opening Wednesday of the 2022 edition — and they probably are wondering what they will find after two years of pandemic living.

“After two challenging years, it is very exciting to be back in Geneva and to be able to meet our friends, customers and partners for real,” said Edouard Meylan, chief executive of H. Moser & Cie.

The fair has been holding digital versions — and will offer one again this year. Yet, Mr. Meylan said, “social networks allow us to stay close but will never replace real contact.” 

Here, experts in the watch world share insider tips on what to see and do this week in Geneva. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Former European head of watches at Christie’s, Geneva

To See: Needless to say, the Patek Philippe Museum, for me, is by far the best museum on horology in the world.

And if you stroll through the Old Town, going up the Grand Rue toward the cathedral, you will pass the workshop of Jean-Pierre Hagmann/Akrivia. Mr. Hagmann, regarded as one of the best 20th century case makers, if not the best, has teamed up with the young master watchmaker Rexhep Rexhepi. Mr. Hagmann can be observed in action at his bench through the window; however, he only works in the morning.

Some 100 meters (330 feet) further up the street you will find Rexhep’s Akrivia workshop; you may have the chance of seeing the master himself through the window. But in any case you will have a nice view of his atelier.

To dine: Chez Philippe, owned by one of Switzerland’s star chefs. American style with fantastic meat dishes, among others, well located in the city center and easy to reach. The chocolate mousse is a must for me.

Founder, Parmigiani Fleurier

To do: I believe Geneva is a sober city, very Calvinist, and there lies its beauty.  I enjoy walking around Old Town and visiting the antique shops. This is especially close to my heart because of my background in restoration and the love I have for the preservation of our past. I like walking in the Corraterie, a district in the protected area of the Old Town and the southern sector of the old fortifications. Then I generally walk across the bridge to the other side of the river to visit Antiquorum and see their latest pieces at auction.  

To see: I’m a frequent visitor of the Baur Foundation’s Musée des Arts d’Extrême-Orient. It features nearly 9,000 art objects from China and Japan.  My favorite pieces are the ceramics, porcelain and vases, as well as the jade and the carved stones. I think it is a great “find” that can be somewhat overlooked by visitors.

To stay: When I’m in Geneva, I enjoy staying at the Mandarin Oriental near the Rhône. I first stayed in one of their hotels in Hong Kong several years ago and I truly respect their exceptional service and excellent locations. Their restaurants are also always great, especially after a long day of work like those we are expecting during Watches and Wonders.

To dine: I really like Café du Centre at the Place du Molard. They have wonderful seafood, and I particularly enjoy their oysters and vongoles (clams). There’s also Restaurant Les Armures in the Old Town center, a wonderful traditional taste of Switzerland for its fondue at dinner or for a quick coffee during the day.

Watch historian

To shop: Love wine and watches? Le Caveau de Bacchus is the perfect place. Owned by Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, Chopard’s co-chief executive, it is the right place to buy the perfect bottle of wine. No watches on site, but the same shared values, like knowledge, expertise and excellence.

To eat: If you want some sweetness, Chou is the place to be. Forget all other pastries, here is the kingdom of choux! The traditional Chou à la Crème (also known as a French cream puff) is revisited through unforgettable flavors like pear-caramel, cappuccino, caramelized peanuts, coconut and many more. Eat in or take out. You can also have a drink, and a soup or salad for lunch.

To drink: Do you love aviation? You’re in love with IWC and cocktails? Let’s have a stop at Les Aviateurs, the bar owned by IWC and the department store Globus. Excellent drinks, finger food and atmosphere. Please take a seat and fasten your seatbelt.

Founder, MB&F and curator at M.A.D. Galleries

To shop: If you want to have a special strap created for your special watch, you should check out L’Atelier du Bracelet, which will create and handcraft it for you.  Whatever the timepiece, a great new strap will reinvent it, so allow yourself to become a creator yourself. And George Shop is a new concept store on the beautiful Rue Verdaine, which leads to the Old Town. Created and curated by Emmanuelle Reichenbach, who has a knack for the amazing and different, from household decoration to amazing pieces of jewelry. George is next to our Geneva M.A.D. Gallery, and we are true fans.

To dine: I tend to love small places where the owners are the chef, or where every day, you will find a menu depending on what fresh produce the chef has found. You should try Le Bologne, which is probably the best “bistronomic” restaurant in Geneva today. Subtle, elegant and airy décor and a great menu, innovative with quality ingredients and served with a smile. Even though it’s on a street, the terrace is calm, as there are very few cars. IndaBar is a modern fusion Indian restaurant on Rue Henri-Blanvalet, the cool food and drinks hub in the Eaux-Vives district. Great innovative menu, cool atmosphere and a truly friendly service.

To eat: At George Shop, you will also find the best chocolate I have ever eaten in my life — and I have been a chocolate addict since I can remember. Orfeve is the brainchild of the Geneva-based couple François-Xavier Mousin and Caroline Buechler, who have devoted their lives to create the best “bean to bar” chocolate in the world. Scouring the planet for the rarest and most incredible cocoa beans, they will spend weeks roasting, breaking and winnowing, milling and refining, tempering and finally molding very limited editions that have blown away everyone who tasted them.

Head of sales, Geneva, at Phillips

To do: Geneva is imbued with watchmaking history and culture. To enjoy the city, one must fully embrace its spirit and devotion to horology. For a perfect Saturday, spend the early morning browsing the Plainpalais Market for antiques and various bric-a-brac (sometimes, vintage watch parts and tools can even be found).

To shop: Walk over to the Old Town, getting lost in the cobblestones and small, twisting roads. For books on art, jewels, horology, history and hard-to-source tomes, visit Galerie Librairie Bernard Letu. Stroll through town and stop by the M.A.D Gallery for Horological Machines and marvel at the playful, creative and ingenious designs of MB&F.

Finish off the day by stepping into Cave du Palais de Justice, said to be the oldest wine cellar in Geneva, where the incredibly knowledgeable David Sautereau will advise you. 

Chief concierge, Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues, and 2019 Best Concierge in Switzerland

To do: As a Genevois, we like to stroll around Lac Léman on Sunday, enjoying a boat tour or wakeboarding at sunrise when everybody is still sleeping. Or you can make your own Swiss watch at Initium in the Old Town; classes are offered at all levels, durations and prices. And get a professional shoe shine at Brogues shoes, on the Quai des Bergues, which is great for business men and women headed to meetings.

Anyone who is a huge fan of science must visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in the suburb of Meyrin. It is where the founder of the World Wide Web was working when he created it. Visits are by appointment; you must register on the website and the wait may be as long as six months (although Ms. Bayat said she can arrange a visit within 24 hours for her guests.)

To shop: Discover Victorinox, the famous Swiss knife and enjoy a private engraving of your preferred Swiss knife in its boutique in Geneva, based on your wish. Charivari is a unique ladies shoe and accessories shop offering designers that are niche market, with brands such as Emma Hope and Michel Vivien. Drake Store offers Valentino, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and other labels, for men and women. Ernest Mayor, on Rue de la Corraterie, specializes in fishing and hunting gear.  

For flowers, our florist, of course, is the one and only Serge Marzetta at Fleuriste des Augustins.

To drink: Le Bar des Bergues at the Four Seasons is the place to be seen. Enjoy the best hot chocolate in town at Auer with a delicious chocolate macaron or famous Amandes Princesse, which are almonds covered with chocolate. 

To dine: Restaurant Roberto for lunch where bankers, lawyers and chief executives have their business lunch. At Auberge d’Onex, fall under the charm of its charismatic owner Valentino and if you are not hungry, forget about it. And go to Le Café du Bourg de Four in the Old Town for some rösti (mashed grilled potatoes) with a glass of Petite Arvine, a regional cépage, or wine made with a single grape variety.

To eat: La Halle de Rive is a covered market, open daily except on Sunday, offering excellent cheese from the region. Fromagerie Bruand is the one to go to. De Bleu is in the nice neighborhood of Vésenaz and offers only local cheese.