Watchmakers are competing to find ways to push their centuries-old craftsmanship into the future, and the pressure to perform has resulted in the birth of a slew of new watchmaking experiences that bring clients closer to the brands than ever before. What’s on tap? The concepts tick of all the boxes from a hip experiential retail boutique complete with a bar, an art gallery, and a library from Watches of Switzerland to a digital tailored retail platform from Hublot and up-close manufacture tours from WatchBox, IWC, and Zenith. Buying a watch has never been so fun. But some brands like Audemars Piguet—who has been rolling out apartment-style lounges around the globe—say it’s more about connecting directly with their core consumers than it is about sales…although those are nice too.
Here are the top watch experiences, debuted in 2018, to check out asap:
Watches of Switzerland’s Soho Concept Boutique
Watches of Switzerland, the largest watch retailer in the U.K., has hopped the pond to dial in on the U.S. market. With a store inside the Wynn in Las Vegas already in operation as of last year, it’s second boutique opened today on 60 Greene Street in Soho, meaning watch enthusiasts no longer have to trek up to Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in search for the latest timepieces. In keeping with the Downtown New York vibe, the 8,000-square-foot boutique is not only home to the world’s top timepieces from brands like Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Cartier (all three of which operate shop-in-shops in the boutique), but also a lounge space that will include a specialized bar, an art gallery, and a special section devoted to vintage timepieces.
The creators of New York City’s artisanal cocktail bar Death & Co. were tapped to create a specialized cocktail menu for the bar located on the lower street level, that is said to draw inspiration from the world of horology. The company also consulted on everything from the glassware to the lighting and seating. A Death & Co. bartender will be on-hand every week, Thursday through Saturday, serving up spirits to clients and walk-ins alike.
While sipping on cocktails from the bar, guests can also kick back in the lounge space and peruse the library of horology-dedicated books or take in the gallery of limited-edition prints curated by the New York-based art foundation Aperture. The art selection will change every four months and Aperture will bring select artists in-store for special talks in support of the exhibitions. Watches of Switzerland has also partnered with Analog/Shift to offer a curated selection of vintage timepieces and is planning to partner with watch collecting communities like Red Bar and Watchionista on special in-store events.
Hublot’s Digital Boutique
In an innovative twist on retail trends, Hublot is blending its brick-and-mortar retail experience and turning it digital. Developed in partnership with independent strategy, creative, and technology agency B-Reel, the watchmaker has developed a new platform that allows customers to communicate in real time with Hublot sales managers, effectively bringing them virtually into your home or office, for a full 360-degree experience without ever having to physically step foot into the boutique. It’s like a FaceTime or Skype call with enhanced imagery, video, content, and one-on-one customer service with a sales manager.
“What we have is the possibility to demonstrate the products physically in detail live, combined with 3D assets and film and other media and share it directly,” Jesper Kling, managing director of B-Reel told Robb Report earlier this year. “We can create an experience around the watches that you are looking for in a very tailored consultation.”
Client can simply schedule an appointment with the Fifth Avenue boutique via Skype or FaceTime, and a sales person will prepare all of the material in advance. That includes videos that break down the movement piece by piece, technical specs, and more. Clients end up getting a fully immersive overview, and they don’t have to spend any extra time researching the product themselves. The high-resolution camera allows the sales person to show the client all angles of the watch in real time.
Hublot CEO Riccardo Guadalupe says they have plans to take the technology to their Swiss manufacture, for an even more in-depth experience, and the same digital boutique technology is currently being planned for Asia.
Located in a 2,300-square-foot historic space situated along the scenic Lake Neuchâtel, and just a one minute walk from the 5-star Beau-Rivage hotel, e-tailer Watchbox’s new Swiss headquarters will not only be home to the retailer’s corporate offices, but will also feature a trading floor for clients to buy and sell watches, a lounge, and a content studio. It’s also going to give unprecedented behind-the-scenes watchmaking access to collectors.WatchBox co-founder and CEO, Danny Govberg, says the company is now offering watch tours where top collectors can come to the new Neuchâtel headquarters and be set up with dinners, manufacture visits, and personal visits with watch artisans.
In addition to being a hub for watchmaking excursions and one-on-one meet and greets, the new building also hosts a content studio for interviews with CEOs, watchmakers, as well as artisans such as enamelers that typically don’t get recognition or the chance to meet with the collectors.
The Neuchâtel Lounge is open to the public on weekdays from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Private appointments can be made outside of these hours. In addition, monthly events and collector gatherings will be held in the space the first Thursday of each month, starting this Thursday October 4th. Stay tuned for a unique collection of pre-owned Patek Philippe timepieces that have been curated for the launch, which will go on sale in the space on October 10th.
Audemars Piguet House
Last year, Audemars Piguet opened its first Audemars Piguet house, an experiential space for clients both new and aspirational to experience the brand’s lifestyle. In March, Audemars Piguet announced the opening of the Audemars Piguet House in Asia, a 2,700-square-foot space located on the upper floor of a building in Hong Kong’s Central district. It was followed this year by a 2,000-square-foot AP House housed within the watchmaker’s New York headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Designed to feel like the luxury apartments, the houses are open to the public and come with a kitchen, dining area, and living room where you can settle in an try on that Royal Oak you’ve had your eye on.
Although the timepieces are on display, the emphasis isn’t on sales. The point is that it’s not a boutique, but a place where potential and existing clients can experience the Audemars Piguet lifestyle as the brand envisions it, while connecting directly in-person with their core audience.
IWC’s New Schaffhausen Manufacture Tours and Geneva-Based Cocktail Lounge
In late August, IWC opened its new 145,000-square-foot manufacture on the outskirts of Schaffhausen, Switzerland where the brand was founded in 1868. The state-of-the-art facility—which was partly designed by IWC CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr, a former architect—houses the brand’s movement part making, case making, and movement assembly departments. The sleek space outfitted in steel, glass, concrete, and wood is a far cry from the historic building in the city center where the brand has produced watches since 1874, and continues to maintain its headquarters.
IWC Schaffhausen is also experimenting with its approach to retail. In November of last year, the Swiss-German watchmaker opened Les Aviateurs, a clubby aviation-themed cocktail bar, run in partnership with high-end department store Globus, located next door to its boutique on the Rue du Rhône in Geneva.
Zenith Manufacture Tours
This year Zenith made the announcement that it is now opening its manufacture doors every Friday for guests to get a glimpse into “Le Monde Étoilé de Zenith” (The Starry World of Zenith), a new tour initiative that will allow guests to see Zenith’s watchmaking up-close. Visitors will now be able to immerse themselves in Zenith through an exhibition that includes a hologram show—plunging guests into the dark and immersing them in a multi-dimensional representation of the inner workings of its prestige watchmaking—followed by a stage-setting highlighting the watchmaker’s 153-year-old heritage.
Along the way, guests can learn about Zenith’s mechanical marvels by tracing their entire journey, from technical development to component production to final movement assembly.
Visitations to Zenith’s factory in Le Locle in Neuchâtel, Switzerland will be available, by reservation only, every Friday at 9 am for approximately $40.50 per person at current exchange. Tours are 3 hours each and restricted to guests 14 and older. Reservations can be made at explorewatch.swiss.