Arcadium NYC: Is Richemont’s Foray Into AR/VR Experiences The Future Of The Industry?
Richemont’s Arcadium uses virtual reality and augmented reality experiences to give their eight Maisons the ultimate soft sell.
Ceci n’est pas une boutique
The watch boutique is a formula with little variation. Bright lights, sales associates in suits, and watches in locked, glass cases. The unspoken policy is that looking is for free but touchin’s gonna cost ya. Cue Richemont, the parent company behind Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Piaget, Montblanc, Van Cleef & Arpels, and IWC Schaffhausen.
From July 11-25 at Hudson Yards in New York City, the eight watchmaking brands within Richemont combine forces to deliver Arcadium, a buffet of virtual and augmented reality activations that invite the public to experience historical watchmaking through the most modern of lenses.
The idea sprouted from an employee concept competition and took approximately six months to build out. Richemont collaborated with the tech firm Cemtrex to develop individualized programs for each of the eight brands.
Arcadium is so focused on the hands-on that there aren’t even any products on display. As Alain Bernard, CEO & President of Richemont North America, explains,
This is not a boutique. There is nothing to sell here. This is all about transforming the Maisons into an experience
Taking you inside the manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, Cartier offers users a virtual insider’s peek at the making of its ever-popular Santos. Users can fly above the Swiss facility, spy on watchmakers, and chat with a brand representative.
By donning an IWC branded VR headset and climbing aboard a Triumph motorcycle, viewers of this experience can survey the desert landscape as they ride off into the sunset. Dedicated to IWC’s “The Road Less Traveled” campaign, it’s the closest you can get to feeling like Bradley Cooper.
Taking off the VR headsets for a moment, the Montblanc booth provides a hands-on look at the new Summit 2 smartwatch. With interchangeable dials, fitness functions, and a chronograph with classic pushers, it might just be the smartwatch for non-smartwatch people.
Van Cleef & Arpels
Inspired by the luxury jeweler’s Alhambra collection, this installation features a delightfully whimsical augmented reality mirror where users can play interactive games and collect a printed photo keepsake at the end.
The best interactive experience for potential buyers, visitors of the JLC booth can digitally try-on new and classic models including the Polaris, Memovox, and Reverso. The action button even triggers signature features like the Reverso’s moveable case. Best of all, the "On Your Wrist" app is available in the app store for in-home try-on.
Torpedoes and naval mines and sharks, oh my! Owners of dive watches tend to spend more time at a desk than in the deep blue sea, but Panerai’s interactive virtual reality ride brings an action-packed undersea adventure just inches from your eyeballs with no need to towel off afterward.
The installation most geared towards watch nerds, Vacheron Constantin unveils the Chronogram Impact project, which takes visitors on a journey through the manufacture’s original archives with documents dating as far back as 1755.
Augmented Reality Room
The strongest experience, in my opinion, lies at the center of the event space. Covered in Richemont branded hieroglyphs by artist Justin Teodoro, the room activates a range of interactive augmented reality simulations that have you navigating through the Swiss Alps, idyllic polo pastures, jazzy penthouses, the ocean floor, WWII flying formations, and interstellar space. This multi-part experience requires no headset, no waiting in line, and offers the most interactivity and change of scenery, all within a few minutes.
This foray into the world of virtual and augmented reality is not the typical play for watch brands. There’s no exclusivity, really no physical watches, and aside from Bradley Cooper, no celebrity partnerships.
Sure, not all experiences were mind-blowing, and there were a couple of technical difficulties on the first day, but the intentions are laudable and it has attracted genuine enthusiasm from those outside of the typically homogenous watch community.
Arcadium promises to be more about the users' experience than it is about pushing a product, and in that way, it delivers a thoughtful soft sell. The free event offers the brands a chance to tell their individual stories to people who might otherwise be scared away by a price tag. And while I doubt efforts like this are the future of the industry, they do open a side door into watch-loving for those who otherwise might’ve kept on walking.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)