When I heard that Madison Avenue was having its 5th Annual Watch Week (4/20 to 4/25) my first thought was that the luxury watch makers were either very brave or very naive to face the onslaught (read: hype) of the Apple Watch. Would these heritage brands like wise old owls, have their fixed stare aimed directly at the young fledgling smartwatch long enough to knock it off its perch of assumed dominance. Then three things happened which changed my thoughts on the subject. First of all, I realized that the “Tech Gods” (or “Tech Geeks” if you prefer) weren’t completely sold on the Apple watch and were not necessarily bowing down at the altar of Apple (more on that later).
Secondly, I became aware that there are still quite a few traditionalists out there in the watch collecting community by virtue of reading the WSJ Off Duty article “Can Apple Topple Tradition?” which suggests that with too much technology, the pendulum will naturally swing back to the more classic. (The Wall Street Journal is also the sponsor of Watch Week so maybe there is a tie-in there). Case in point: the debut of the made in Detroit, Shinola, THE “Anti-technology watch.” Thirdly, the tour I joined on Monday (right after a lovely Blogger Breakfast at the Plaza Athenee ) of several of the participating stores involved in Watch Week festivities was an eye opener.
Coming on the heels of the Swiss trade show BaselWorld and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), Madison Avenue Watch Week (MAWW) is designed for both the avid aficionado already familiar with these high-end brands as well as the neophyte who may feel intimidated walking into a luxury watch store.”Although these watches are introduced at BaselWorld many real watch collectors don’t get to see them until they come into the store” said Amy Rosi of Aros Communications, the press agent for the event. “This event is a real retail collaboration. As with any competing companies, brands are generally very proprietary about their designs. Watch Week is a time to discover your style” she added “Watches are not just a timepiece.”
“There are so few ways that a man can make a style statement and a watch is one of them” agreed Blogger Karen Klopp of What2WearWhere. She recounted a story of shopping with her 27-year-old son in Saks and steering him toward the watches. Like so many of his generation he doesn’t wear a watch preferring to consult his phone instead, again begging the question over whether the Apple watch will be successful.
As I mentioned, this same issue raised its head when I attended the Fashion Law Institute Symposium’s session on wearable tech and surprisingly, heard doubts raised on the Apple Watch’s viability by the resident geeks. I myself had what I’m going to call a “Katy Perry moment” and no, it doesn’t involve shooting whipped cream out of a bra. It concerned a video shown during the session, which featured Miss Perry on the red carpet in a CuteCircuit color-changing gown giving props to the London-based designers Ryan Genz and Francesca Rosella. Only problem is that like the SNL Coneheads she said they were a design duo from France, to which I, in my article said “oops!” Well, then I’m deserving of an even bigger “oops!” as I mentioned that the Apple Watch appeared on the cover of Japanese Vogue however it was Chinese Vogue. Sometimes I think evil elves are possessing my flying fingertips while I’m happily typing away at the keyboard or perhaps they create their mischief after I’ve put the article to bed? Maybe they’re also responsible for shrinking all my summer clothes over the winter.
|A. Lange & Sohne boutique|
Back on the watch tour, I and four other bloggers (two from serious watch publications), Ms. Klopp and Lila Delilah, editor-in-chief of MadisonAvenueSpy.com set off with Matthew Brauer of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District to see the watch wizards. It was raining quite heavily making it a bit of an adventure just to negotiate the few blocks between 67th and 61st Streets. First we went to A.Lange & Sohne boutique, the only German watchmaker in the bunch. They have a beautiful new jewel box space with an upstairs area for private parties. Their watches were very tasteful, totally handmade as are all of the watches that we saw in each boutique. There was an air of discipline among the salespeople who were very staid but welcoming; gray suits and brown shoes seemed to be the dress code for the men. The brand is currently celebrating their 200th Anniversary with a 200-watch edition originally of “The 1815” in platinum with a black dial.
|An array of Men’s Watches at John Varvatos|
Next it was off to John Varvatos where we were greeted warmly and given a look at the more rugged and vintage-y, but no less luxurious watches which are a collaboration between Ernst Benz and John Varvatos. “I like that he (John Varvatos) didn’t just get a licensing deal. He was very involved with the watch design” Ms. Rosi had mentioned during our breakfast. There are many different strap colors and leathers available to totally customize whatever watch you choose. The watches here are of a more casual style which makes sense considering the slightly more laid back Varvatos aesthetic
|Vacheron Constantin Lizard Watch|
One block away was Vacheron Constantin but a world apart. The look was glitzier and more embellished including a watch that reminded me of a Keith Haring design but was in fact multiple lizards. There were two women sewing leather bands in what seemed to be a demonstration of sorts. I learned that on all high-end watches including each of the brands we visited, the back of the watch is always open in order to see the accurate-to-the second movement.
|Shawn Carter’s aka Jay Z Limited Edition Hublot Watch|
We continued a few more blocks and crossed the street to Hublot Boutique where we spent quite a bit of time ogling several of the extremely ornate watches including one made for Jay Z with his Shawn Carter logo. The salesman showed us two huge open leather trunks of very intriguing watches which he removed from the case for our perusal. There were a large variety of colors and details and a lot more “bells and whistles” here…definitely more Hollywood or “rock star” than others on the street. In addition, they had a really nifty way of changing out the bands with a simple clasp almost like the mechanism in a seatbelt which is easily removable from the side of the watch face.
Directly across the street is Panerai Boutique, a blend of Italian design and Swiss technology. The tiny but extremely elegant brand new store commemorates their history in Florence (in 1860) with a wall mural of the center of the town. The watches are very sleek but large, many with thick oversized round faces which instantly transported me to the age of Mod (’60s and ’70s). The woman helping us reminded me of a “stewardess” of that era in terms of her dress adding to the cosmopolitan flair. They feature every color strap under the rainbow including exotic skins. We were offered homemade donuts and other Italian pastries which were amazing. We almost didn’t want to leave.
Briefly we stopped in Jaeger-LeCoultre but they seemed unprepared for our group with no one there to meet and greet us. We inquired about their special debut of the Geophysic 1958 Boutique Edition Watch as well as an example of the UNESCO World Heritage collaboration and were told that it had mostly sold out and they didn’t have a new one to show us. I know this is a well established and well regarded brand but their customer service seemed a bit lacking.
|A Macaron Pyramid at Chopard|
We moved on to Chopard, the largest and probably most well-known of the fine watch makers we visited. There we were greeted by a blonde “Watch Wench” in a cropped top, pencil skirt and matching stiletto pumps. She was happy to show us around and even had an Instagram worthy array of macarons, orange juice and champagne set out for us, although sadly no one partook. Chopard is known for their Happy Diamonds collection (for men and women), as well as their L.U.C Chrono One (Louis-Ulysse Chopard who founded the brand in 1860) and Mille Miglia Racing Watch Collection. She spoke to us about the Fairmined gold program that they have started. Apparently, the gold they were finding was not pure enough so they began their own process.
One of the bloggers asked our hostess if the trend in women’s watches was towards the more diminutive and she answered in the affirmative. “As the clothing styles get more feminine, the watches are getting smaller to complement them. You wouldn’t want to wear a big, clunky watch with the more feminine fashions” she replied. I noticed that her blingy gold and diamond watch was on the larger side.
As part of MAWW many of the boutiques are featuring their own events including a John Varvatos/Ernst Benz cocktail party on Wednesday night and a “Children’s Watchmaking Workshop” at Vacheron Constantin on Saturday, April 25th. Hublot is featuring a Master Watchmaker to offer insight into their in-house UNICO movement which guests are allowed to try and deconstruct. Other featured watch brands include David Yurman, de Grisogono, Faberge, F.P. Journe, Georg Jensen and Montblanc.
For more information or to request invitations and private appointments: www.madisonavenuewatchweek.com