That’s A Wrap: Our Thoughts On Watches & Wonders 2019
We came. We partied. We saw a lot of watches. Here’s what we learned about the changing landscape of luxury in Miami Beach.
Selling luxury has always been a tight rope act between brands and their customers. On the one hand, by definition it must be exclusive —you must have means (both in connections and cash) to buy these precious objects. At the same your creations also have to be aspirational — a watch fan with a Daniel Wellington budget might one day purchase a Patek. You just have to fan the flames of watch addiction until that day comes.
Which brings us to the second edition of Watches & Wonders Miami. Organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), the event is about the democratization of luxury. For three full days, the public got to peek behind the curtain through curating conferences, watchmaking workshops, and expert panel discussions. Guests could also mingle with journalists, collectors, retailers, representatives from auction houses, and other industry players. They could also stop in and see the latest post-SIHH and pre-Basel novelties at permanent and pop up boutiques.
Here’s our take on the event, the watches, and the wonders.
Although this was only the second edition of Watches & Wonders Miami, it was already a success in the eyes of the FHH. The number of participating Maisons has grown from 21 to 30 from last year’s event. The three-day event also saw a 40 percent increase in attendance (nearly 28,000 people passed through).
We talked to Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the FHH, about the goals of Watches & Wonders. “It’s not easy for people to open the door of a boutique,” she says. Likewise, getting all of one’s horological information on the internet can be daunting. “We want people to see the behind the scenes,” Lupo adds. And because of its laid back vibes, “Miami is the perfect place to do so.”
And while the future of watch fairs is in flux (SIHH is changing its dates, Baselworld is burning, and new events are being announced every week), Watches & Wonders also scored another major coup in that brands from all four luxury groups (LMVH, Richemont, Kering, and Swatch) were represented.
One of the most eye-opening observations from attending Watches & Wonders is watching people walk into a boutique and actually buy a luxury watch. The way luxury watches are being sold these days is also evolving rapidly. From retailers to online sales, the methods of marketing and distribution have changed so much. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like holding a super complicated, finely finished watch in your hands to seal the deal.
We visited Jaeger-LeCoultre's boutique, where we talked to Anne-Laure Ritter, the US Brand President, while Stephane Belmont, the Maison Heritage and Rare Pieces Director presented the new Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel (read HERE) to an important collector who had flown in from Argentina for the event. Even in the presence of a seven-figure timepiece, the room felt very familial.
“That’s why we call ourselves a house, not a brand,” says Ritter.
We also learned a lot about the difference between customers and collectors at Watches & Wonders. One husband and wife team seemed to follow us from boutique to boutique. They had done some research in advance for sure, exploring all the options until they pulled the trigger on a Diva's Dream at Bulgari. The purchase was clearly driven by emotion, and the whole process took about twenty minutes.
Watches & Wonders was a boon to many of the Miami Design District boutiques. But what of the houses exhibiting in pop up shops housed in a tent just off the Jungle Plaza? These exhibitors had mixed but realistic reactions. Their presence was more about marketing than sales.
The good thing was that more established manufactures who don’t have a boutique in the Design District (Audemars Piguet, Zenith, Ulysse Nardin) drew a lot of traffic into the tent. This led to more exposure for independent companies.
But some of these smaller brands also brought their own fan base. While sitting down with H. Moser & Cie CEO Edouard Meylan, we were approached by well-wishers who just wanted to say hi. Making collectors feel personally connected to a manufacture is a huge marketing win!
Of course, the biggest attraction was the watches. Many exhibitors such as Dior, Girard-Perregaux, Hublot, HYT and Ulysse Nardin used Watches & Wonders to debut major new American and global product launches to this audience of luxury consumers, industry influencers and media.
The fact that watchmakers are bringing these new pieces to Miami signifies the growing importance of American audiences. And the conversation with these buyers is different than that being held with European and Asian consumers.
Moser, for example, introduced two new timepieces: the Pioneer Tourbillon and Pioneer Centre Seconds in a beautiful midnight blue fumé dial, both designed for everyday wear. HYT dropped a diamond pave piece. Dior debuted a new customization option.
The most interesting introductions were Girard-Perregaux’s sapphire-cased Quasar from and Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Mega Yacht (which was unveiled on the Baglietto Silver Fox, a superyacht making its own US debut at the Miami Yacht Show, where Ulysse Nardin was the official timekeeper).
Both Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin are helmed by CEO Patrick Pruniaux, who took the helm at GP only six months ago. Based on the buzz for the UN Freak X at SIHH and the warm reception for the Quasar in Miami, these pieces appeal to the desire of Americans for non-traditional timepieces. On top of that, both brands simply know how to have fun. Ulysse Nardin's massive Saturday event fête at the Miami Boat Show was one of the most talked about events of Watches & Wonders.
Watches & Wonders itself takes place in the Miami Design District, which is a shopping destination. The nightlife scene still tends to concentrate in South Beach, however. Still, the area has seen much growth in the last five years with the addition of more and more restaurants and galleries opening up alongside retailers such as Balenciaga, Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent.
Watches & Wonders also coincides with the Miami Concours — an exhibition featuring the most sought after supercars — and the Miami Yacht Show, so luxury aficionados had plenty of eye candy to keep them occupied.
Some visitors felt that last year’s party scene was a little more exciting — or at least carnivalesque. Many boutiques held happy hours with celebs such as Entourage actor Jeremy Piven spotted at the Hublot Galerie. There were plenty of invitation-only lunches and dinners for collectors and press that were lively in their own way. J-Lo and A-Rod were spotted chatting over lunch in the Design District. Spontaneous dancing erupted at another dinner. We met Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson at an FHH cocktail party, and as the ultimate nightcap, Ulysse Nardin held a party on a super yacht!
Was Watches & Wonders fun? It was indeed an intense three days, but given the ever-changing playing field of the industry, there was no way it could be all things to all people. But if the idea is, as Lupo stated, to open the door, then the second edition certainly succeeded.