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Skiing is believing: Why a growing number of watch brands are hitting the slopes Skiing is believing: Why a growing number of watch brands are hitting the slopes

Skiing is believing: Why a growing number of watch brands are hitting the slopes

Luke Benedictus

Whether it’s golf, sailing, motor-racing or tennis, luxury watch brands love associating themselves with “premium sports” that reinforce their lofty image. And by “premium sports”, we’re talking about those traditionally reserved for people with deep pockets and country club memberships. That’s why it’s no surprise – particularly given their mountainous country of origin – that more and more watch brands are suddenly making timepieces or supplementary products that are aligned to skiing and alpine sports.

Adding downhill momentum to this nascent trend is the fact that the Financial Times reports that the skiing industry is forecast to boom. Research by Future Market Insights found that the skiing holiday sector is expected to grow from US$5bn last year to US$15bn by 2032.  That suggests it’s a niche that’s well worth exploring.

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Last year, for example, IWC teamed up with the Swiss high-end ski brand Faction to launch their own limited run of co-branded skis. Riffing off the white ceramic design of their Top Gun Edition chronograph in “Lake Tahoe White”, the freestyle skis pay homage to the Californian ski resort.  The tops of the skis are emblazoned with glow-in-the-dark lettering that reads: “IWC Lake Tahoe”.

The collab skis are handmade in Austria to the same specifications used for the skis of the brand’s exciting ambassador Eileen Gu, the double Olympic champion. Landing the athlete – the youngest-ever athlete to win the freestyle skiing gold – was a marketing coup for IWC due to Gu’s unique cross-cultural appeal.

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Born in San Francisco in 2003 to a Chinese mother and an American father who was largely absent from her life, she became a member of the US freestyle ski team in her teens, winning a gold medal for America in the 2019 World Cup. Which is why it was a massive shock when, later that year, Gu suddenly announced she was changing her sporting allegiance to represent China.

Despite that controversy, from a brand perspective, Gu is that rarest of things. With her model looks, bags of talent and nerves of reinforced steel, Gu is a marketing unicorn due to her appeal that registers with both East and West. She’s already picked up an avalanche of high-profile endorsement deals that include Adidas, Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, Estee Lauder and Victoria’s Secret, which have collectively made her the world’s third highest paid female athlete in the world last year.

Breitling is another brand circling similar icy ground. Last year, they snapped up two-time gold Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim for their “All-Star Squad” of sports ambassadors. Just 22, Kim has already established herself as one of the most decorated snowboarders in history.

Zenith is another brand that’s keen to hit the slopes. Last year, to celebrate the opening of their Zurich boutique they collaborated with French ski-couture company Fusalp that were founded by a team of tailors and are revered for their stylish mountain wear. The result was the Zenith Defy Classic Fusalp Limited Edition that’s available in a wintry white ceramic or a stealthy black to go with Fusalp’s accompanying seven-piece, all-black capsule collection.

Zenith Defy Classic Fusalp

The watches – the last to be released in the Zenith Defy Classic line before the collection was discontinued – give the brand’s star motif the deep-freeze treatment by fashioning it into a snowflake-styled design for the openworked dial. Fusalp’s French heritage is also acknowledged via the blue, white and red rings beneath the applied hour indices that add a discreet sense of gallic flair.

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Norqain, meanwhile, have taken a more functional approach to alpine life. The young brand’s focus on skiing, adventure and winter sports has led to their associations with a crew of “Norqainers” who front the brand that include several freestyle skiers and ski racers.

Keen to create a watch that could withstand these types of high-performance sports, Norqain created their proprietary carbon composite material, NORTEQ that’s 3.5 times lighter than titanium while still being extremely robust. The material was used in the recent Wild One collection where the watch cases are built with rubber shock absorbers to ensure they can laugh off high-impact activities whether on a mountain bike trail or flying down the slopes.

It’s that sort of snow-blasted punishment that has fascinated Richard Mille and informed their long-term relationship with French World Cup alpine ski racer and Olympic medallist, Alexis Pinturault, who’s been sponsored by the brand since 2014. The brand have used the skier as a sort of flying test-lab to test out and inspire some of their high-tech creations. Specially designed for Pinturault, the RM 67-02 is made to withstand extreme temperatures and high altitudes while offering lightweight ergonomics and durability. It’s a watch that’d looked great nestled above your ski gloves while slaloming down your next black diamond at speed. Although given it’s priced at around US$400,000, you should probably master your parallel turns first.