Unique Boutiques: New Flagships from Grand Seiko, Chanel, and Citizen Offer a Different Kind of Experience
By building retail spaces for the watch enthusiast community, brands are hoping to take Manhattan and unite the watch world.
Fifth and Madison Avenues in Midtown Manhattan is a murderer’s row of to-die-for luxury brands. The neighborhood is home to Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tiffany & Co., and many others, and nestled among the fashion and jewelry houses are the flagship stores of the biggest names in horology.
Being able to boast such a tony address carries a lot of cultural cachet for brands. One can almost picture one of Truman Capote’s Swans popping into Harry Winston after lunch at the St. Regis. Heck, there are even a few Gilded Age homes like the Payne Whitney Mansion left on Fifth Avenue.
Recently, Grand Seiko, Chanel, and Citizen have opened flagship stores in the neighborhood. But rather than cater exclusively to the upper classes, they aim to broaden the horological community by enticing first-time buyers as well as seasoned collectors (while still providing a luxurious shopping experience).
Citizen of the World
In December 2023, Citizen Watch America’s family of brands – which includes Frederique Constant, Alpina, Accutron, Bulova, and Citizen – opened its Flagship Store on Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center.
This multi-level boutique is the group’s first-ever U.S.-based multi-brand store, but it is ground-breaking in many other aspects.
The 7,000 sq. ft. three-story space is an immersive shopping experience that incorporates an incredible art installation designed by the Paris-based Japanese architect Tsuyoshi Tane (Atelier Tsuyoshi Tane Architects, a.k.a. ATTA).
Called “LIGHT is TIME” and powered by Citizen’s proprietary Eco-Drive technology, this light show guides people through the space by wrapping itself around a central staircase and inviting visitors to explore architect Ken Park’s jazzy layout.
The first two floors showcase the full range of offerings from Citizen, Bulova, Accutron, Frederique Constant, and Alpina across the brands’ sport, style, and luxury collections. For collectors, there is also a selection of flagship exclusives.
It’s an interesting exercise in that while each brand has its own personality, in this context, the contrast serves to inform the visitor about each model’s strengths. In fact, when we visited last week, we witnessed some Bulova collectors discover Alpina for the first time.
Finally, since no trip to New York is complete without taking in some culture, when the flagship’s third floor opens later this year, it will offer a museum, archive, and dedicated space for on-site programming, events, and community activations.
You can visit the Citizen Flagship Store at 605 Fifth Avenue in New York.
Cuckoo for Coco Chanel
The opening of the Chanel’s Watches & Fine Jewelry Fifth Avenue Flagship is historic for many reasons. First, this two-story space will be the first standalone store in the United States dedicated only to watches and fine jewelry.
The store opened during New York Fashion Week with a posh party. Guests included Kerry Washington, Michelle Williams, and Katie Holmes (a mini Dawson’s Creek reunion!). And while the crowd was elegant, the guest list didn’t have a lot of known watch collectors.
But that’s the point of severing watches and fine jewelry from Chanel’s clothing-focused boutique just down the road. It wants to bring in a different kind of customer. The brand has been busy building its horological bona fides over the years, and it needs a separate showroom to spotlight its accomplishments.
This spectacular space seems designed to educate the fashion crowd about the splendors of haute horology rather than convert watch snobs. There are many nods to Coco Chanel’s style, such as tweed upholstery and carpets, of course.
However, there is also a lot of her successor Karl Lagerfeld’s tastes present, most notably a staircase constructed of gilded metal and crystal (Lagerfeld was a rockhound). One of our colleagues even exclaimed that space was “the most French place in New York!” Though, for customers visiting from out of town, the boutique still has heaps of Manhattan energy.
The store was designed by a New York-based architect, with an emphasis on highlighting the brilliance of the jewelry and timepieces. And unlike many standalone watch boutiques with empty vitrines due to supply chain issues, it promises to carry the complete universe of CHANEL Watches & Fine Jewelry, including High Jewelry, Haute Horlogerie, as well as the maison’s iconic collections, such as the J12, Camélia, Première, Coco Crush, Boy•Friend, N°5, and more.
This fact alone would make it a destination for watch lovers. But the opulent ambiance – like heavy crystal chandeliers and a curving staircase with rock crystal balustrades – make it a must-see for anyone curious about architectural and design history.
You can visit the Chanel Watches and Fine Jewelry Boutique at 730 Fifth Avenue in New York.
If the Chanel Watches & Jewelry boutique is the most Francophile establishment in Manhattan, then the new multi-level Grand Seiko Flagship Boutique on the corner of Madison Avenue and 55th Street has the most appealingly Japanese interior in New York City.
This expansive and open space is the largest Grand Seiko Boutique globally, with its sheer size alone (a two-story, 6,100-square-foot boutique is a rarity in New York) promising an unparalleled experience for watch enthusiasts and connoisseurs. It also lets visitors experience the elements of Japanese culture and craftsmanship that are integral to the brand’s commitment to artistry and innovation.
For example, you can see the influence of a traditional form of Japanese woodwork, known as Kumiko, throughout the interior. Moreover, the abundant use of light-colored wood emphasizes Grand Seiko’s ties to the natural world.
While the Citizen and Chanel boutiques offer a more clubby or fraternal experience, Grand Seiko’s space is more meditative; it’s a place where one can contemplate the extensive collection of timepieces. There’s even a dedicated private room for the esteemed Masterpiece Collection. But despite its Japanese influence reaching every corner of the flagship, it was designed to appeal to the global community of watch lovers.
Akio Naito, President of Seiko Watch Corporation, was on hand to open the boutique. “Madison Avenue is synonymous with luxury,” he said while addressing the opening night audience of watch collectors, journalists, and even other Grand Seiko dealers.
But for the brand, the real value of its timepieces is “craftsmanship, watchmaking excellence, and Japanese aesthetics.” Acknowledging these ideals is crucial to building a community of GS lovers.
He even sees visitors to the boutique as being part of the global Grand Seiko family, adding, “Being located at such a prime location, I am certain it will allow more customers and watch lovers from around the world to experience Grand Seiko’s uniquely Japanese worldview and its endless passion for perfection.”