Merch Madness: Watchmakers are Getting into the Business of Fashion

Merch Madness: Watchmakers are Getting into the Business of Fashion

From Audemars Piguet’s Cactus Jack crossover to Panerai and Breitling’s luxe boutique accessories, brands are getting into the gear game.

By Rhonda Riche

Despite all the talk about quiet luxury, society is still in its logomania (i.e., excessive branding) era. Take, for instance, the music industry: Touring and promoting releases is expensive, and streaming services don’t provide the same revenue that selling physical albums once did. Luckily, concessions are still the sweetest plum; thus, selling t-shirts and book bags can help a band make bank.

As a result, musical acts have expanded their merch offerings. For instance, last summer, I saw Sparks at the Hollywood Bowl, and they were selling skateboard decks. Meanwhile, Beyoncé’s two-night stop in Toronto was accompanied by a co-branded pop-up with Paris-based couturiers Balmain.

So, with more and more watchmakers collaborating with musicians, it makes sense that watch brands would also diversify their lines of luxe clothing and lifestyle accessories. From fragrances to shop coats, enthusiasts can now express their fandom beyond just the wrist.

Top Gear

For brevity’s sake, we’re only going to talk about swag from primarily watch-focused brands. So, sorry Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Bulgari, Hermès, and Montblanc, we love your jewels and leather goods, but the timepieces came after the luxurious accessories.

It must also be acknowledged that promotional goods have always been part and parcel of promoting timepieces. In fact, Marco Gabella, Watchonista’s Executive Publisher, has an impressive collection of advertising ashtrays, and I treasure the gorgeous scarves given to guests at conventions such as Baselworld and Watches & Wonders.

What feels different these days is that brands from both the upper echelons of haute horology and the fun indie kids are making merch available to the general public.

Team Players

More and more watchmakers are opening up standalone boutiques with a clubhouse atmosphere.

Like buying a t-shirt at a concert, purchasing a hoodie from a boutique is proof that you were there. For example, when Breitling revamped its Madison Avenue boutique in New York in 2021, it also served as the home of Breitling Equipment, the brand’s travel-and-lifestyle accessories collection.

Breitling is very much associated with adventure – especially aviation – and this collection of leather motorcycle jackets, sweatshirts, aviators, baseball hats, watch rolls, and travel bags. All of these items are a faithful extension of that high-flying lifestyle.

When the boutique opened, Breitling CEO Georges Kern commented: “Forget all your notions of what a watch showroom looks like. By redefining the whole premise of the retail experience, we’re achieving our vision of being the undisputed leader of neo-luxury.”

Casa Panerai, the new Madison Avenue flagship Panerai boutique, also sells limited and exclusive Italian-made clothing and accessories line. These luxe sweaters and weekenders help tell – and sell – the brand’s Mediterranean and marine heritage.

In short, these watch brands are selling more than a timepiece but the thrill of buying into the lifestyle. But what if you can’t get your hands on the timepiece in the first place? Merch is a way to bring enthusiasts into boutiques even when there is nothing to buy.

Flying Your Freak Flag

The ultimate watch-related lifestyle collection has got to be the Cactus Jack clothing collaboration between Travis Scott and Audemars Piguet that launched this past December.

This limited edition line, consisting of jackets, hoodies, t-shirts, pajamas, shorts, and caps, played on the limited edition $201,000 “Chocolate AP,” a.k.a the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked. A much more attainable goal than landing the Royal Oak, these pieces sold out faster than the watches, but you can still sometimes find this coveted clothing on reseller sites like Grailed for about $300.

Brands are also capitalizing on online sales. For example, S.U.F Helsinki has been dabbling in the online fashion game for a while, offering everything from toques to t-shirts to socks – all on brand with its Finnish heritage.

Other examples include Konstantin Chaykin, which offered via Instagram limited edition hoodies based on its iconic Joker watch and its signature colors of green and purple this past Christmas season (like the watches, these hoodies also featured a unique “invention” – a soft satin lining).

And then there is Maurice de Mauriac, which has a deluxe Portuguese flannel “Family” worker’s jacket available on its website for those of you who want to look like a watchmaking insider.

For other watchmakers, like the London-based Mr. Jones, merch is a gateway to an overlooked audience, “We had a growing younger audience on TikTok who loved the brand but found it unobtainable because of the price point – many were either students or young professionals at the beginning of their careers,” said Amanda Radek, head Mr. Jones’ of public relations, when we spoke with her.

However, since lowering the price point was not possible without compromising the quality and craftsmanship expected of Mr. Jones watches, the brand turned to merch. As Radek explained: “We wanted to explore an entry-level product that offered the same uniqueness as one of our watches but at a significantly lower price point, which is where the t-shirts first started.”

She continued: “We launched our first design in 2022 to celebrate our 15th anniversary in business. It was designed by our General Manager, Ellie McAllister, and featured a bold and colorful illustration of our unofficial brand mascot: Stanley the Dachshund. We’ve since launched two collections, one featuring our beloved office dogs and a second inspired by some of our watch designs.”

Since the launch, Mr. Jones has discovered that the people getting the garb are now also buying the watches. “We’ve built up a great community of followers over different social media accounts, with TikTok taking off over the last couple of years,” added Radek. “So, a lower-priced item like a t-shirt is a great way to get them involved with our brand.”

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