Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills Is Becoming the Destination for Fine Watches

New flagship boutiques from Audemars Piguet and IWC are making 90201 a Watchmaking Mecca…

In early December, the Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet welcomed clients, press, and celebrity friends of the brand to a “winter wonderland” at its new boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills—adding to the growing list of fine watchmakers focusing their attention on the au courant horologic destination.

Dubbed “Le Brassus Hills,” after the Swiss village where the company is headquartered, the party featured a series of pop-up chalets serving raclette cheese and mulled wine, heaps of fake snow sprinkled around the courtyard in front of the boutique, and a parade of A-List celebrities, including actor Don Cheadle, tennis star Serena Williams, and singer-songwriter John Mayer.

The strategic importance of the 1,342-square-foot boutique, which is operated by Westime (Audemars Piguet’s retail partner in Los Angeles), was such that Audemars Piguet’s chief executive François-Henry Bennahmias flew in from Switzerland to attend the party. “This boutique is very important because Los Angeles has been a lucky charm for Audemars Piguet for 15, 16 years,” he said. “It’s always a pleasure to come back and see what we’ve built.”

Bennahmias is not the only Swiss-watch executive enamored with the City of Angels. A week before the Audemars Piguet gala, Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, hosted a star-studded cocktail party at the brand’s new Beverly Hills boutique—located on the same block of Rodeo Drive as the Gucci flagship.

“We’re very proud to be part of this close circle of high-luxury brands present on Rodeo Drive,” Kern said later on that evening at an exclusive dinner at Spago. “And we’re obviously very happy to be here in Los Angeles. We have a longstanding relationship with Hollywood, with movies, with actors. Hollywood is a dream factory, and in a way with our products, we also try to create a dream.”

A love of Tinseltown, however, is not the only reason the Swiss-watch industry has renewed its commitment to Rodeo Drive. In light of the declining Chinese economy, volatile oil prices, and overvalued Swiss franc, watchmakers—from Breguet to Patek Philippe—are doubling down on their efforts in the American market, which, for the time being, appears to be the globe’s lone bright spot.

And Beverly Hills, with its affluent locals and hordes of tourists, is the ideal staging ground. That may explain why at least a dozen Swiss brands—including Cartier, Rolex, and Patek Philippe—have made a home within a three-block stretch of Rodeo Drive and have promoted their boutiques with parties, watchmaker demonstrations, and collector dinners.

“Rodeo Drive continues to be one of the most important retail destinations worldwide, and the current near lack of retail real estate inventory here underscores that point,” says Mark Tronstein, president of the Rodeo Drive Committee, which represents retailers in the district. “Being on Rodeo Drive tells the world, both figuratively and literally, that your brand has arrived.”

In the coming year, collectors can expect most of the year’s novelties—from the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Gyrotourbillon introduced at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva to the scores of new timepieces that will make their debut at the Baselworld fair in Switzerland next month—to make a pit stop on Rodeo Drive. Arriving, indeed! (rodeodrive-bh.com)

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