Collecting the Collectors: A WatchTime New York 2018 Recap
WatchTime New York is arguably the most prominent public watch event in the US, but it's also the only mass meet up dedicated solely to collectors and enthusiasts. The fourth edition of the show took place on the last weekend of October and based on attendance and guest enthusiasm, it was a huge success, bringing together industry insiders, influencers, and most importantly aficionados.
Held in the architecturally impressive Gotham Hall in Manhattan, the two-day event kicked off with a sold-out VIP cocktail party. We've always had a grand time at the pre-show festivities, but the party seemed elevated this year. The place was packed with attendees, including Number-1 ranked amateur boxer, Brian Ceballo dressed to the nines. Perhaps with 35 internationally renowned watch brands in attendance, people knew they had to bring their social A game. At the same time, enthusiasts never felt intimidated by the star power in the room because everybody shared the same passion for watches.
WatchTime itself is not only a treat for collectors and fans, but the format itself (mix of enthusiast meet-up, trunk show exhibition, and educational forum) is a unique experience for the brands— especially when making direct contact with US consumers.
And we mean up close and personal. Collectors and the media spent quality time with the actual watchmakers themselves. If you ever wanted to talk to Giles English about aviation, there he was, behind the counter of the Bremont booth. One potential guest that we spoke to, who described himself as a would-be buyer said the experience was unreal and probably the prompt that would push him into full-on collector status.
Likewise, we got to hobnob with some of our favorite watchmakers: Pim Koeslig of Ateliers de Monaco, Stephen Forsey of Greubel Forsey, Rexhep Rexhepi of Akrivia, Fiona Krüger, Kari Voutilainen, and Romain Gauthier.
Watch designer Davide Cerrato (read Watchonista’s interview HERE) of Montblanc and collector turned CEO Pascal Raffy of Bovet were also on hand to walk through their newest collections with consumers.
Even for a journalist who's been covering the watch beat for years, WatchTime New York was something like being at the best dinner party, and kudos to the organizers for putting together a fascinating and diverse guest list.
Of course, the biggest stars at the show were the timepieces. There were a few WatchTime exclusives including three versions of the new Grand Seiko U.S. Exclusive Limited Edition, Raymond Weil’s Freelancer Collection Calibre RW1212 Skeleton with a titanium-colored steel case, and the limited-edition Bremont Supersonic, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of (and includes parts of) the most glamorous aircraft ever, The Concorde.
American watch brand RGM debuted its William Penn Model, and AkriviA watchmaker Rexep Rexhepi made his first-ever visit to the United States. It was also the last chance to check out other timepieces such as the gorgeous The Glashütte Original Sixties with the green and black with a dégradé dial which was a great hit at Baselworld in March but is going out of production in December. Judging by the reactions of the guests trying this watch on at the Glashütte Original booth, these watches will soon be gone.
For lovers of vintage watches, there were rare examples of historical and other important models. Montblanc brought a selection of new old stock Minerva models that were discovered in the companies archives. We talked to Davide Cerrato about these archival specimens, and he told us that they were definitely a reason why Montblanc honors Minerva's history instead erasing that company's identity. "They inspired the 1958 collection,” he says, “Especially the 1858 Geosphere and the green dials of the Monopusher Chronograph.”
Blancpain brought along an example of the 1953 Fifty Fathoms that inspired the current versions of the classic dive watch. And Breguet dazzled with the most expensive timepiece on view at WatchTime, and the dazzling, diamond-covered Be Crazy.
A good host knows how to keep the conversation going. On Day two of WatchTime, there were four fascinating panel discussions. The first of the day — “Meet The Independent Watchmaking Stars,” included Rexhepi, Krüger, Forsey, Voutilainen, Gauthier, and Murphy. This panel was moderated by collector and consultant Jeff Kingston, who later led attendees on a tour of the show and also provided an insightful "Inside Basel-Geneva" presentation (which was an also an opportunity to predict the direction of the watch industry in 2019).
Speaking of prognostication, our favorite panel was the keynote "The Future of Watch Collecting" discussion. Moderated by WatchTime Editor-in-Chief Roger Ruegger, experts such as Montblanc’s Cerrato, Bremont’s English, WatchAnish’s Jeremy Roizin, Wempe USA’s Ruediger Albers, TrueFacet’s Tirath Kamdar and private collector and industry analyst Reginald Brack. As panels go, it was quite open and transparent discussion about the challenges that everyone — from brands and retailers to fans and media — is facing in communicating their messages. The answer, for now, seems to be through enriching the sales and service experience both through traditional brick and mortar retail and online. "The best experience is to go into a store and hold the watch in your hands," says Albers. “But we have to admit that not everybody can come to New York for events like these or go shopping on 5th Avenue.” He admits that his boutiques were not as fast to embrace online shopping, but jokes “we are sometimes late to the party, but we stay later.”
The final panel of the day, “An American Movement,” sponsored by Gear Patrol hosted by WatchTime Editor Logan Baker with Gear Patrol Editor, Oren Hartov, explored the past, present, and future of US-based micro-brands, including Brew Watches, Monta Watches, and Oak & Oscar.
WatchTime was also an opportunity for over 1,400 members of the watch community to come together and hang out with old friends in person.
It was also a chance to meet new friends. If you ever want to understand the future of watchmaking, you need to talk to aficionados of all stripes. Just as the WatchTime exhibitors are diverse, with everyone from established manufactures like Omega, Zenith, Jaeger LeCoultre, and Vacheron Constantin to mass brands like Casio and upstarts like MB&F in attendance, so too were the crowds. We talked to business women and guys dressed in their most dandy attire. There was a gentleman rumored to be Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French and more than a few kids accompanied by their parents.
We stopped a fellow named Maurice to admire his 1960s-era, time only Omega Genève dress watch. He told us that his collection was small, but based on the art of storytelling. That’s why he gravitates to vintage, he says “because of the history of the watchmakers, the craftsmanship that goes into the finishing and the story of the watch and how it got here today.”
His friend Antony, who was sporting a modern Cartier Tank Francais, was also into watches for the art but more of a tool of self-expression. "What I wear changes every day. It says something about who I am right now."
Which is another reason this year’s event was so fun – it was a judgment-free zone. Kudos to Watch Time Magazine’s team including publisher Sara Orlando, event manager Minda Larsen, editor-in-chief Roger Ruegger, and editors Mark Bernardo and Logan R. Baker for working the room and making everyone feel welcome. Whether you were sporting a tourbillon or a time only, the one question on everybody’s list was “what are you wearing?”
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)