Will consumer watch fairs overtake trade fairs in the future? Watch Time New York, an event dedicated to watch enthusiasts and collectors, was a sellout again this year, with 1,600 guests (compared to 1,400 last year) and 37 exhibiting brands (35 last year). There is also Watches & Wonders Miami, a consumer-focused multi-venue event, and now Watches & Wonders Geneva, formerly known as SIHH, both of which will focus more on collectors and enthusiasts. Baselworld, which has lost almost half its exhibitors in the past five years, is now under new management that vows to bring in a similarly mixed trade/consumer audience in the coming years.
Can this new type of venue be the perfect stage for new product introductions? Yes and no. Although many of the watches that headlined Watch Time New York, held October 25-26 at Gotham Hall, were introduced to the trade and press earlier this year at Basel, SIHH or at Swatch’s private event, many of them are making their debut in North American stores this fall, and were thus new to the NA market. Some were making their world debut: Zenith was informally showing guests its new El Primero with a redesigned ceramic bezel, which was under embargo until after the show. That means WTNY guests were the first to lay eyes on it.
“It’s the right mix”
Another major draw for guests, each of whom paid $200 to attend the weekend show, was the easy access to industry executives, celebrity independent watchmakers and other collectors. Unlike other trade shows, with massive, invitation-only closed booths, every stand and staff member at WTNY was open and accessible. And brand executives were equally thrilled to meet the guests. Interacting with collectors and enthusiasts has become an important part of their marketing strategy, and the top brass welcomed the chance to interact directly with watch collectors and consumers at WTNY. Eric Hofmann, SVP of business development for Seiko, for example, commented: “This show is attended by people who understand the brand. There are social media groups posting about Seiko every day. We want to meet them, talk to them, find out what they think and what they want. They have already changed the way we distribute and market the brand.”
Smaller brands are equally keen to interact with such a focused audience. “For a small, independent brand, this is the right format,” says Charris Yadigaroglou of MB&F. “It’s affordable, it’s only one and a half days so it doesn’t monopolize staff’s time for a week, it’s accessible – it isn’t full of monster booths that you can’t get into without an appointment. We’re just standing here at an open booth, including senior executives. And it’s the right audience. The people who come here know a lot about watches, It’s the right mix of enthusiasts and collectors.”
The brands don’t sell directly to consumers. In most cases, they refer interested buyers to their local retailer, but the show can go a long way to supplementing a retail sales pitch. “Jewelers sometimes have had a hard time bringing in a younger audience, so we have to market in different ways,” says Mike Princiotto, senior marketing manager of Casio, which showed its upscale G-Shock MT-G series at the show, which can sell for up to $5,000.
A gathering of timepiece cognoscenti
Brand awareness is also an important factor for some of the small independent brands. “Many people don’t know about us because we’re a limited production brand,” says Lisa Delane of Arnold & Son. “This is a chance for them to touch the watches and try them on. Many of them have never seen the watches in person.” The show thus has the flavor of a meet-and-greet, rather than a hard-sell encounter. “We meet quite a few qualified customers here in a nice, casual setting,” says Françoise Bezault, brand manager for Jaquet Droz. “It’s a regional show, but people travel for it – it’s a nice time to be in New York.” Others planned store events around the same time, inviting guests to their boutiques for special showings. “We brought our head watchmaker from Switzerland to give demonstrations at the boutique,” says Rudy Chavez, North American president for A. Lange & Söhne.
The show was a gathering of timepiece cognoscenti, from small independents to big brands, with watches from $500 to $1-million, and there were even a few celebrity watch lovers (and makers) on hand. Actor Aldis Hodge, from the TV show City On A Hill, is a watch lover and self-taught watchmaker who is getting ready to introduce his own brand. Sporting a Daniel Roth 8 Day Power Reserve on one wrist and a Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde on the other, he nevertheless insisted that he does not want to be identified as an enthusiast. “I’m a watchmaker,” he said, showing pictures of some of his prototypes – including a jumping hour and a retrograde. “We’re also working on a chronometer,” says Hodge, who is working with an engineer to finalize designs, raising funds, and “finding my brand’s DNA.” Other celebrities at the show included Jeremy L. Carver (Empire) and Lawrence Gillard Jr. (The Wire, The Deuce). Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, chatted with attendees in the Seiko lounge, and Emmanuel Breguet, descendant of the founding family of the Breguet brand, was also on-site. Their presence added some glamour to the show, which has something for everyone: journalists, collectors, enthusiasts and brand executives, all in a casual setting. It’s the wave of the future for watch shows.