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Do not misunderstand the Geneva Motor Show

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We’re here to admire, not to buy

Rolls-Royce Ghost with diamond dust in the paint
Rolls-Royce Ghost with diamond dust in the paint
Vlad Savov / The Verge

I've started each of the past four years in the same way: covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, then Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, followed by the Geneva Motor Show in its eponymous city. I've used the same camera, laptop, even backpack at each of them, and I've had the same connectivity frustrations in each city. But don't let that lull you into thinking these three events are identical. Geneva is a showcase unlike any on the consumer tech calendar.

CES and MWC, for all their variety, ultimately boil down to mass-market companies currying favor with either fellow mass-market business partners or the eventual consumers of their products. Whether it's the latest Huawei smartphone, Samsung smart fridge, or Sony headphones, the news at such events are almost exclusively about things the majority of us can afford or at least aspire to.

Lamborghini Centenario gallery
Lamborghini Centenario unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show 2016.

Geneva, on the other hand, is better understood as an art exhibition than an industry event. Yes, it too has its grand launches and unveilings, but the content of those debuts is vastly different. Last year, Lamborghini pulled a silky silver sheath off the limited edition Centenario, a car so exclusive that all 40 examples of it had already been sold ahead of the event — and buyers had to prove themselves loyal fans of both Lamborghini and the spirit of motor racing. Bugatti's Chiron grabbed major headlines at the same show, with its otherworldly performance numbers and otherworldly price tag of $2.6 million.

The Chiron even had diamonds in its speakers.

Rolls-Royce Ghost with diamond dust in the paint
Rolls-Royce Ghost with diamond dust in the paint.

Diamonds make a return at Geneva 2017, as Rolls-Royce has brought a one-of-its-kind Ghost, owned by a particularly wealthy client, which has had diamond dust mixed into its dark exterior paint. The bedazzling, starry effect it creates is hypnotizing: Rolls-Royce used nine coats of paint and a few more layers of clear sheen on top, and if you look too closely at it, as I did, you begin to lose your sense of depth perception. I find that an apt analogy to this car's owner's lost sense of modesty.

To my mind, that Rolls-Royce, the unattainable Bugatti, and this week's other debutants like the Mercedes-AMG GT Concept and the super exclusive Aston Martin Valkyrie embody the essence of the Geneva Motor Show. This is an exhibit of engineering art. All these aerodynamic metal-and-glass structures presented before us are sculptures, totems dedicated to an irrational pursuit of unique performance, speed, and aesthetics.

The old saying of "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" still applies here, but with a major caveat attached. If you can do something that no one else can or is willing to, then you absolutely should do it, practicality be damned. The relationship of Geneva cars to those driven on regular roads is about as close — or, more accurately, distant — as that of fashion runway attire to the clothes you and I wear on a daily basis.

Sometimes, the next great consumer car will sneak its way onto the Geneva show floor as well, but that happens almost by accident. When I come to Geneva, I might still be using my CES and MWC gear, but I know that the purpose of my visit is altogether different. As Verge transportation editor Tamara Warren advised me this week, the primary goal here is to photograph the most soul-stirring designs and to find the most glorious eye candy.

In the simplest possible terms, this is a show to make you feel rather than think.

Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge