It is Windup Watch Fair season once again! For my third consecutive year, I’ve had the pleasure of attending the San Francisco event, this year from May 3rd to the 5th. Housed now in a new, larger location, even more vendors and enthusiasts came out this year to see and shop watches and share in the passion. Overall, I’d call it a resounding success, and it bodes well for the upcoming Chicago and New York fairs.

Look, I get the allure of Watches and Wonders —  the best of the industry all revealing their newest novelties at the Palexpo in Geneva. It’s a wonder that more people don’t go into hypoglycemic shock with all that wrist candy everywhere. But the Windup Watch Fair is definitely more my speed. Watches ranging from $200 to $20,000 from a host of scrappy independents and established names alike populated the landscape. The watches this year ranged from fun to funky to functional, and there was something for everyone. Call me biased because of what I can afford, but events like that focusing on that wide range of price points bring out the best kind of enthusiasm. And the enthusiasm was palpable this year, with heavy foot traffic all three days and high sales.

Ft. Mason — An excellent venue

Last year’s Windup filled the previous venue to bursting. I remember the blur that was Saturday a year ago as being packed with people shoulder to shoulder for some time in some areas. This year featured a move to a new venue, the newly opened Gateway Pavilion on the water at Ft. Mason National Park. The views and spaciousness could not have been better in the reimagined military warehouse. Right on the water in San Francisco’s northern Marina District and close to Pacific Height’s posh shopping and dining, I found myself taking the historic Embarcadero trolley up to the event most days and looking for excuses to explore the nearby food and shopping in the evenings.

Windup Watch Fair SF 2024 Upstairs crowd

The interior of the venue featured high ceilings, open space, and lots of natural light. The Gateway Pavilion is two stories, and Windup filled the entire open area. But tables were spread out, keeping the flow of foot traffic moving even on Saturday’s typical rush.

Windup Watch Fair SF 2024 Anordain Table

Windup Watch Fair 2024 — More vendors

With the larger space came an increase in the number of vendors as well. Most of the brands from previous years were present. Familiar faces like Oris, Fortis, Zodiac, G-Shock, Citizen, and Christopher Ward attended. AnOrdain and some others increased their presence this year, allowing brands to show more about themselves than in previous years. And then there were a whole slew of new vendors, many of which I was quite enthused to see present.

One such brand was Ball Watch Company, whose products I’ve been intrigued about seeing in the metal for years. It was great to handle the Marvelight models and see the rainbow tritium illumination up close. Another brand was Straum, the small independent beloved by the team at Fratello. Øystein and Lasse, Straum’s founders, were incredibly nice guys. In fact, just about everyone working at Windup Watch Fair was incredibly nice.

Windup Watch Fair SF 2024 Straum guys

There were other interesting additions to the lineup as well. Orient Star was present, with a table full of watches and representatives eager to expose the brand to more Westerners. Festina had a table with its watches as well. I initially thought of Festina’s presence as being more out of left field until I was kindly reminded that one arm of the Festina Group is Soprod. Soprod movements power a significant percentage of the brands at Windup and have come to be known as unique reliable alternatives to ETA and Sellita’s workhorses.

Windup Watch Fair SF 2024 Bravur Guys

Personal favorites at Windup Watch Fair

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some favorites at the fair. Oris is, of course, always top of my list. The Oris people and watches always make for a memorable and positive experience. I got a sneak peek at the Aquis redesign ahead of Watches and Wonders, but it was nice having time to compare the previous Aquis and the new design side by side.

I have remained excited about Bravur since I came across the brand’s table at Windup last year. It was great seeing Magnus and Johan again and seeing the brand-new cycling-themed watches they released.

After eyeing his firefighter-themed watches and straps online for a couple of years and seeing him at previous Windups, I finally made it a point to meet Jonny Garrett of William Wood Watches. I also finally purchased an upcycled firehose strap.

Some pleasant surprises

There were a few brands and watches that took me completely by surprise as well. Paulin, the sister brand to anOrdain, had a selection of its watches on display. The designs were funky and modern in the best way possible, but I didn’t think they were for me. It wasn’t until putting the pink Modul C Quartz on my wrist that I started thinking otherwise. And then! Upon turning the watch over, I was met by an unexpected exhibition case back revealing the ETA 955.112 quartz movement. It’s no Grand Seiko 9F, but I very much appreciated seeing the quartz movement unashamedly on display.

Windup Watch Fair SF 2024 March Lab Table

March LA.B made its Windup Watch Fair debut this year, and the brand’s team pulled out all the stops for table presentation. Draped in rich green and vintage decor, if Windup awarded the “Best Dressed Table” by popular vote, my vote would’ve been for March LA.B.

And finally, something I can’t yet reveal but am incredibly excited about is the upcoming release from Furlan Marri. Andrea Furlan showed me a new watch that made my mouth drop and water simultaneously. It was the sort of watch that felt genuinely new and classic at the same time. All I can say is: it’s nice — nice enough that I might buy it.

Windup is for everyone

It’s important to note that my incredible experience at Windup wasn’t unique. My press credentials perhaps got my foot in the door a little more quickly as far as starting conversations. Overall, though, everyone there wanted to share their passion for watches. I think just as many people attend Windup to talk shop as to shop, and the line between the groups is blurry. But in the end, Windup is a space for enthusiasts and a welcome environment to explore and learn in, regardless of your background or income.

Often, the people working the tables are the founders and creative minds behind the watches. They’re excited to talk about their work and share what makes it special. Most of these brands exist entirely online (aside from events like these), selling directly to the consumer. Events like the Windup Watch Fairs connect passionate watchmakers with passionate watch enthusiasts for a handful of days every year. This helps increase awareness for these brands. More importantly for you, however, is that it gets these watches physically into the hands and onto the wrists of the public.

Windup Watch Fair

Because, ultimately, Windup Watch Fair is about, well, watches. I can’t think of any other events in North America that gather so many enthusiast-beloved brands and their watches under one roof for three days for the public to learn about, try on, and purchase. One could build quite a respectable collection shopping exclusively one weekend at Windup with plenty of variation and flavor to be satiated for a long while. Price points range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars and everything in between. Needless to say, if you like watches in just about any context, you’ll end up finding something you like at Windup.

And, at the risk of sounding sentimental, Windup provides an excellent environment for the community to come together in person. I’ve met a lot of great people attending the Windup Watch Fair every year. For a community that exists primarily in the digital world, getting out and making real connections with people is as much a breath of fresh air as trying on the watches.

Everything combined is what makes Windup Watch Fair so good. At the end of the last day each year, I find myself already looking forward to the next year’s event. Between the watches and the people, Windup is a highlight of my year, akin to how many people view Watches and Wonders. But, as if all this isn’t already enough, there are also dogs.

Looking ahead…

Although the San Francisco Windup Watch Fair is over, Chicago’s Windup is just around the corner. I highly encourage anyone curious to come out and see what it’s all about. The event is always free, and it’s unreal how much there is to see and experience. More information is available on the Windup Watch Fair page. I hope to see you next year at San Francisco’s Windup Watch Fair 2025.