DUBAI DIARIES: ”We’re like kids on holiday without our parents,” says famous watchmakerZach Blass
What is Dubai Watch Week all about? That’s a question I’m starting a lot of my conversations here with to understand why so many of the industry’s luminaries have travelled halfway around the world to attend. And on Day 1, I heard the best answer yet. Unfortunately I can’t name names, but let’s just say he’s among the greatest living watchmakers in the game. He paused a minute, looked up, and answered: “It has a lot to do with being so far from Switzerland. It’s like we’re all kids and we’re on holiday without our parents able to watch us. It’s great, and great, unexpected things can happen.”
And what do you know, we have proof of that in full effect on the site today. Max Büsser and Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani’s latest co-creation, the MB&F x Bulgari Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra, started exactly this way. Right here, at Dubai Watch Week a few years ago. But what’s on offer here if you’re not a master watchmaker looking for a new collaboration buddy?
One fantastic element of Dubai Watch Week is the Horology Forums. These insightful panel discussions get into the nitty gritty of all things watches, but at the same time are a safe space for candid and transparent conversations.
Alignment of the Fittest
The first panel of the day consisted of Brietling CEO Georges Kern, WatchAnish founder and CEO Anish Bhatt, and Avenue Fifty Two founder Lisa Rokny. This explored the alignment of brands’ online personas with their offline realities. What is necessary to exist and thrive online and how does that relate with the offline business?
By having a brand CEO, social media influencer (sorry Anish), and a luxury brand agency and advisory founder on the panel, the topic was covered from all angles. The buzzword of the hour was authenticity. All of the panellists agreed that the stronger digital dialogue with a consumer was less about marketing constructs and more about authentic engagements that offered a real sense of emotional connection and how the products would ultimately fit into our lives.
One moment that stood out to me was when Georges Kern clarified what it means for watch brands to undergo a digital transformation. Speaking from his own experience, he shared that, while most would consider digital transformation to mean overhauling/creating an e-commerce experience, there is actually a whole lot more to it than that. Breitling, for example, began to explore blockchain and how it could elevate the client experience. Kern noted that while 70% of today’s purchase decisions are decided online, e-commerce only comprises 10-15% of sales each year. In his experience, consumers of all ages still want to have the luxury boutique experience and therefore digital authenticity is important in terms of drumming up interest to explore products further in store.
The notion of brand ambassadors was discussed at length as well, but the nub of it was that the panel agreed that most ambassadors do not add value to the products they align with. It is only those who have a genuine connection with the product that create a greater sense of intrigue and emotion with today’s consumers who have a better bullshit detector than ever before.
The next panel of the day, Epicurious Collectivist, focused on the idea of how much, and how, we distribute knowledge about art, luxury, and culture. Hosted by author and journalist Michael Clerizo, and joined by Francois-Henry Bennahmias (CEO Audemars Piguet), Sofia Guellaty (founder, Mille World), and Jim McHugh (photographer), the group put their diverse perspectives together to analyse the luxury climate.
Clerizo kicked off the panel with an image of a Kraft Mac & Cheese packet that originally cost $2.50. The reason he displayed this packet was because of how the value of the packet changed exponentially as knowledge of what was inside grew over time.
So what is so special about this packet of Mac & Cheese? Well, Crayola partnered with Kraft to develop a special crayon colour “C-Rex” for its contest. One lucky winner would find this unique colour inside one of these promotional Kraft boxes. “Nobody has ever found it,” Clerizo noted. As a result, the value of the crayon has increased to about $3,000 – a 119,900% increase over its original value.
The point of this anecdote was that anything can be packaged and positioned as exclusive. But it takes a particular dissemination of knowledge and sentiment to generate an increased assigned value.
Later during the Q&A portion of the panel, Francois-Henry from AP addressed the notion of limited editions. When prompted with the idea that too many limited editions dilute the significance of the pieces, he revealed: “At some point in the history of the company we were making a lot, a lot, of limited editions – in the early 2000s, and it represented 10-11% of our production volumes.” Francois-Henry acknowledged that for a company that produced 45,000 or so watches per year it was simply too many. But, today, the volumes are considerably less for limited editions: less than 1.2% to be exact.
Creative Hub: Breitling
As the horology forum transitioned into the Creative Hub space, Kern returned once again to the stage to present their recent release of the Breitling Super AVI B04 Chronograph GMT watches. We also got a sense of the authenticity he discussed in the earlier panel with real pilots serving as ambassadors for the launch.
We then got to go hands on with the product, and as a tiny wrister I can say these 46mm cases actually wear surprisingly well on the wrist.
Documentary sneak-peek: Making Time
Ever since I first watched the documentary film The Watchmaker’s Apprentice, which chronicles Roger Smith’s studious journey under the tutelage of George Daniels, I have been jonesing for more horology-based films. I finally had my prayers answered, getting a sneak-peek of the film Making Time through a 29 minute trailer that had all of us wishing we could just see the whole film ASAP. Directed by Liz Unna, the film tells a story about time through the lives of five passionate horologists of different backgrounds, from Philippe Dufour to Aldis Hodge and more. The beauty of what I saw, is how the film really humanises the art of making time – focusing on the stories of the watchmakers more than the creations themselves. It clearly will resonate with both watch enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys a great documentary. Stay tuned for more information on the film’s distribution.
Launch party: MB&F x Bulgari LM FlyingT Allegra
The day rounded off with negronis and Peronis in celebration of MB&F x Bulgari’s LM FlyingT Allegra collaboration. I had an absolute blast catching up with many of my industry peers, including Laetitia Hirschy, CEO of Kaaviar PR and one of the founders of WatchFemme. Laetitia was the perfect wrist model for the new watch, and we all fawned over its exquisite design. While it is not something I have the wallet (or cojones) to try and pull off myself, you can appreciate the clear footprint of both brand’s identities in the timepiece. The best collaborations convey clear signatures of each collaborator, neither overwhelming the other or trying to hog the spotlight. The LM FlyingT Allegra does just that and, to no great surprise, the watches have all already been sold. Bravo MB&F & Bulgari on a job well done.