Cartier's display of the Maillon watch

PARIS — The Swiss watch trade shows may have been scuppered by the spread of the coronavirus this year, but Cartier has drawn up an alternative to a traditional fair with plans to launch an online platform next week to show its new timepieces.

“The teams pulled it together in very little time, working remotely — it was a real challenge,” said Arnaud Carrez, marketing and communications director of Cartier International, which belongs to Compagnie Financière Richemont, in an interview.

The COVID-19 shutdown has spurred labels to push deeper into digital realms, which serve as an important link to consumers — the only one, when lockdown measures are in effect — but also as a means to generate interest when splashing out on new products is not a priority.

The brand is launching the platform, dubbed “Cartier Watchmaking Encounters” on April 25, coinciding with what would have been the opening day of Watches & Wonders, the Geneva trade show formerly known as the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. The site, which will feature the brand’s new products, will be offered in English, French and Chinese.

Cartier’s 2020 Pasha watch  Courtesy

New products include a rendition of the Pasha watch with oversize numbers and a square within a circle — and set to launch in China over the summer and the rest of the world in September — as well as the feminine Maillon watch, the skewed Tank Asymétric model and a limited edition Santos-Dumont piece, which is debuting on Tmall’s Luxury Pavilion. There will also be a range of exclusive precious watches on display. 

When Watches & Wonders was canceled, executives at the brand wondered how to connect with its audience, Carrez explained.

“We thought it was extremely important to engage with our diverse and varied audience — clients, the general public, journalists, commercial partners,” he said.

On the one hand, the label wanted to present the new products for the year in an original manner, but it also sought to introduce Cartier’s approach to watchmaking, with content about brand services, like watch loans, custom engraving or watch servicing. 

“This platform is really meant to regroup a certain number of facets of Cartier’s watchmaking style, and going beyond the new products, to show the rich and varied watchmaking ecosystem” associated with the label, he added. 

The idea was to produce engaging storytelling for a range of audiences — not too technical or not too marketing-oriented. 

“We wanted the platform to convey the Cartier spirit, offer a vantage point on Cartier watchmaking while displaying the collection as if the retailer, journalist or someone in the general public were actually at Watches & Wonders — to bring it to the level of a physical experience — more than a catalogue of products,” added Carrez.

The brand drew on content prepared for the trade show — photos for press kits and social networks, and the elaborate window displays that were meant for the stand at the fair.

“We had our hearts set on raising the bar even higher this year — we had nearly finished the production of our window displays. So some of the photos were directly inspired by these displays which we’ll use in local events that will take place in certain markets, depending on how the situation evolves,” he added. 

The company is drawing on its partnership with Alibaba, on Tmall’s Luxury Pavillion platform, for insight to apply on a global level, Carrez said.

“It’s a source of inspiration and learning that’s interesting for us, beyond the good results and sales we’ve seen since launching on the platform in February. It allows us to learn about digital transformation. China is key for our omnichannel strategy and what we do with Tmall is a real laboratory in terms of digital marketing, omnichannel, consumer insight, engagement — all this feeds us on a global level,” said Carrez, noting the pre-launch of the Santos-Dumont watch on the site is the first time the brand has launched a new watch exclusively through digital means.

Cartier took an initial step in this direction with its Panthère watch launch in 2017, through a pop-up configuration on Net-a-porter as well as offering it at a limited number of retailers. But the Santos-Dumont launch goes a step further.

“It’s an extra step in our digital journey — in China and around the world. It’s the first time we launch a new watch product on a digital platform before launching it in a physical boutique. It will be extremely interesting and rich in new information for us,” he added. 

As for the new “Cartier Watchmaking Encounters” platform, the executive hopes people will take time to explore it.

“I hope that, given the current context, people will spend time on it, because there’s an enormous amount of content,” he added.