Why Swatch Group’s ‘Time To Move’ Summit Was More Of A ‘Time To Reset’

Why Swatch Group’s ‘Time To Move’ Summit Was More Of A ‘Time To Reset’

Swatch Group’s recent “Time to Move” press event followed an ambitious itinerary that offered guests a guided tour of the most exclusive and emblematic locales in Swiss watchmaking. Here’s our thoughts from Watchonista’s man on the scene.

By Vincent Daveau

This ambitious expedition was to be not only an unveiling of Swatch Group’s top brand’s newest products: it was a rare peek behind the curtain at the power and precision of the powerful group’s capacity for press relations.

Bracing for change

The watchmaking world is now bracing for the kind of systemic shifts on par with the events of 2002, when the elder Mr. Hayek forced an existential reckoning upon an industry overdue for a radical transformation. By announcing that it would, in short order, cease production of ébauches (movements) for non-affiliate brands, Swatch sent its major competitors scrambling to produce the high-quality calibres necessary to build their best models.

Today, the market is grappling with a different set of pressures than it faced twenty years ago. The age of grey market dealers, online sellers, digital media, and the ever-important world of social media. The industry response, and the ensuing change, will also be representative of the current moment.

Hitting reset

Its break with Baselworld was but one of many strategic decisions that helped Swatch Group set itself apart. Unconstrained by the traditional luxury watch trade show format, the firm could offer customers and global media alike an alternative experience that was uniquely Swatch.

Though not completely without precedent -- think back to the Richemont Group’s founding of SIHH -- Swatch did more than create a platform dedicated to the collections of its six most prestigious brands (Harry Winston, Breguet, Omega, Blancpain, Jaquet Droz, and Glashütte Original). The group invited nearly 200 global journalists to walk the factory floors where those same brands are manufactured. This twist cleverly highlighted the issue of access. While the European establishment may find the concept laughable, the numbers don’t lie: of the 200 journalists selected by Swatch, only 25% of that group -- 50 individuals -- had ever visited these sites.

The Swatch Group brought this same spirit of rapprochement to the Port d’Ouchy at the halfway mark of the conference on Wednesday evening, where trade journalists and traditionally aloof brand executives engaged in friendly dialogue. Docked upon the tranquil waters of Lake Geneva, the cohort mingled in an atmosphere of increased synchronicity.

Quality time

The meticulous planning certainly yielded excellent results, and there’s no doubt this event was designed as the first of many. There’s even room for growth from here: Swatch has plenty of expertise in scaling up, which in this case would allow the tour to incorporate some of its in-house entities not included in this test run. It’s a tantalizing thought, considering the increased access that would be granted to trade specialists as this “Tour de Suisse” challenges the hegemony of the traditional conference venues within the watchmaking world. We’ve already seen a similar shift take place in sales operations, which have ventured outside their traditional locales in a concerted step toward Asia.

Even in an area as traditionally stubborn as watchmaking, these shifts cannot be ignored as they represent a larger trend that will have a major impact on how the industry defines its relationship with the media going forward. It is becoming increasingly clear that major players (both brands and media) will have to design a strategy that is both adaptive and efficient -- a nimbler structure could encourage brands to take their exhibitions to the foreign press rather than ask the press to come to them.

Proximity has always given European journalists the chance to explore new products against a familiar backdrop, and the success of Swatch’s innovative “traveling conference” suggests that the same contextual viewings could one day be extended to far flung regions of the world.

Perhaps next year it might be ‘Time To Move’ to various locations around the globe! Exposing your latest novelties to even more media and actual collectors can only be a good thing!

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