April 24, 2024

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On Sunday, Miami’s Design District will play host to the first watch event of the year, albeit one dedicated to just a handful of brands under LVMH’s watch stable. The fifth iteration of the luxury conglomerate’s annual Watch Week will feature two recently revived venerable watch names, Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth, alongside regulars such as Hublot, Tag Heuer, and Zenith. It is also the first event to take place just three weeks after a top-level reshuffle of the chief executives of some of its brands.

At the event, Gérald Genta — the brand named after the legendary designer behind Patek Philippe’s Nautilus and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak models, among others — will be presenting a fresh take on the Mickey Mouse model, 40 years after its original was first revealed at a Swiss watch fair.

“When Mr Genta unveiled the original at the 1984 Montres et Bijoux exhibition in Basel, the organisers asked him to leave because it was not considered a serious enough watch for the show,” says Jean Arnault, the Louis Vuitton watch director who is now in charge of the Genta brand. “Afterwards, he wrote a letter to management, politely removing himself from any further watch exhibitions.”

The Gérald Genta dial name passed to the Italian jewellery house Bulgari in 2000, which LVMH then bought for $5.2bn in 2011 — the year of Genta’s death. But the brand had produced little of note between 2000 and last year, when it was announced that it would be relaunched under LVMH with its original remit of making high complication watches in low numbers.

Its latest octagonal, platinum-cased model is powered by a minute repeating, jump-hour movement and has a hand-enamelled dial on which time is marked by a prancing Mickey’s revolving arm. Given the SFr390,000 ($449,900) price, few event organisers would consider Genta’s offering anything less than serious, these days. Indeed, the horological scene has changed beyond measure in the 40 years since Genta was rebuffed — as has the burgeoning world of watch shows.

Gérald Genta Mickey Mouse watch
Gérald Genta’s latest take on the Mickey Mouse model

Until 2019, Baselworld — the century-old Swiss event that began as Montres et Bijoux — and Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie were pretty much the only two watch exhibitions that mattered. But it is a very different picture after the Covid pandemic and Baselworld’s collapse in 2020.

Now, globetrotting watch lovers can indulge their passion almost year-round at events in locations ranging from Las Vegas to London, from Geneva to Doha, and from Singapore to New York.

Although LVMH Watch Week was only launched in 2020, in Dubai — and was forced to go virtual for two years amid the pandemic, before returning “live” in Singapore last year — it has quickly gained traction as one of the most important events in the horological calendar.

For Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin, who was one of the main driving forces behind the instigation of Watch Week, the event is all about having frequent opportunities for product announcements during the year.

“I felt very uncomfortable back in 2019, when we were told the dates for the Basel and Geneva watch shows would be moving to April,” he recalls.

“I believe clients need to be able to create a structure at the start of the year — the sooner they know some of the novelties that are going to be produced, the sooner they can plan their own activities.

“Now, in addition to LVMH Watch Week and Watches & Wonders, we also have Geneva Watch Days, at the end of August. That gives us the chance to focus on three separate sets of new products. And we are calling next week in Miami our ‘time of gold’, because most new pieces will be made from precious metals.”

Babin says the strategy is based on the expectation that high-end consumers are generally far less likely to be affected by difficulties in the global economy, “and that they are even more likely to want to indulge in luxury and go looking for objects made from precious metals”.


Hublot sign
Hublot’s store in Miami’s Design District

As part of the executive reshuffling earlier this month, ex-Tag Heuer chief executive Frédéric Arnault became head of the LVMH’s watch division, which necessitated handing over the reins of Tag Heuer to Julien Tornare. The latter’s position as chief executive of Zenith has, in turn, been filled by Benoit de Clerck’s move from Richemont-owned Italian brand Panerai.

As he settles in to running Tag Heuer, Tornare welcomes the opportunity to kick-off his role with a debut in Miami. “The US is our biggest market, so the concept behind LVMH Watch Week — which is largely that we go to the markets rather than the markets come to us — is particularly relevant to Tag Heuer, especially since we have a very important boutique in the Design District.”

Meanwhile, Hublot chief executive Ricardo Guadalupe says that the combination of big watch events in Switzerland and smaller ones in different parts of the world allows him to regularly “meet 100 per cent of our distribution network as a result of us going to them in different locations each year”.

Guadalupe adds that, for Hublot, watch shows have evolved from being almost entirely B2B events to more skewed towards consumers. “We have around a dozen [boutiques] in the US and we will invite some VVIPs to Miami, after which we will send the 20-or-so new pieces on a roadshow around the country. Clients definitely appreciate the opportunity to meet CEOs and, in our case, the artists with whom we collaborate.”

LVMH Watch Week runs from January 28 through February 1

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