Watches & Wonders Miami, which is being held this weekend, is becoming a must-stop for high-end watch brands to reach new and existing clients.

MIAMI — As watch brands shift from traditional trade shows to focus on end consumers through meaningful experiences and exclusive face time, Watches & Wonders Miami is evolving into a major international platform for the category.

The annual winter event has nowhere reached Art Basel Miami Beach proportions, but watch executives said the comparison isn’t far off in the importance to show up with their best products and create rich moments for existing clients and new ones.

The collaboration between the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie and the Miami Design District, which heads into its second edition from Friday to Sunday, has no intention of giving up its Presidents’ Day Weekend slot, when the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, and Baselworld move their shows to back-to-back dates in spring 2020, according to FHH chairwoman and managing director Fabienne Lupo.

“It’s a great statement about WWM,” said Lupo, who expects the event to transition into a preview for SIHH and Baselworld. “Brands are already using it to unveil their latest designs, so the American market could see new novelties even before professionals in Switzerland.”

Daniel Paltridge, president of Bulgari North America, has sensed the business-to-consumer versus business-to-business trend building for a while and said it’s affecting categories across the board.

“Consumers are more knowledgeable than ever and don’t want to wait for retailers or the press to tell them brand news or to learn about the details and ideas behind designs,” said Paltridge, who’s bringing watch designer Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani to discuss the inner workings of new watches, like the ultra-thin, lightweight Octo Finissimo Automatic in carbon. “People love to meet the creatives and hear their thought process and how the watch goes from the drawing board to the boutique.”

Other watchmakers have gotten the memo. For the first time, the four premier players including Swatch Group, Compagnie Financiere Richemont, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering are participating in the same event. Exhibitors increase from 21 for the inaugural edition to 30, with 16 freestanding, permanent boutiques as well as 14 pop-ups housed in a new tent option in the Jungle Plaza. More executives are making the trip to host an expanded agenda of cultural activations, dinners and sold-out panels and workshops. WWM is going after the female demographic, too, through more female-angled panels like “Women Who Collect,” “Can Women Save the Watch World?” and “What’s Yours Is Mine, What’s Mine Is Yours” about loosening the rules of wearing masculine or feminine styles based on one’s gender.

Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux are among WWM’s new brands. Their chief executive officer Patrick Pruniaux said the timing was right, especially since the event fell on the same weekend as the Miami Yacht Show, which the marine-themed Ulysse Nardin is sponsoring.

“Miami’s very significant to us. We’d like to keep SIHH’s strong momentum going and are expecting clients beyond Florida from all over,” he said of launching at WWM Girard-Perregaux’s Quasar, whose neo-tourbillon, three-bridges skeleton movement introduces a full sapphire case and, introducing aboard a yacht, Ulysse Nardin’s Marine Mega Yacht, a limited-edition extension of the Marine Grand Deck tourbillon watch. “Both events will get different crowds, but it’s also a good opportunity for cross information.”

Audemars Piguet, which operates boutiques at Bal Harbour Shops and Brickell City Centre and opened a Miami office to service the Americas in January, is using its pop-up to focus on Code 11.59, whose round case with three new calibres premiered at SIHH. Along with giving dinners, the brand is flying in head of complications Michael Friedman for two panels.

“We’re looking at this from both fronts — to engage with existing customers and present product to new customers,” said Antonio Seward, chief executive officer of North America.

Audemars Piguet’s self-winding chronograph. 

Hublot has several surprises in store. The Spirit of Big Bang in yellow sapphire crystal, of which only 100 timepieces were produced, is one of its more eye-catching, niche novelties for 2019 directed at WWM’s audience. German artist and longtime client Michael Moebius will unveil his latest celebrity portrait during a cocktail party on Friday. The work is part of his solo exhibition for WWM at Hublot’s Miami Design District store.

“We designed the boutique like an art gallery and thought why not connect all the dots,” said Jean-François Sberro, president of Hublot North America, regarding how its collector concept differs from the brand’s Bal Harbour store to avoid cannibalization. “The Design District also carries at least one watch from every limited-edition series released in the world.”

Roger Dubuis is staging an activation for its new Excalibur Aventador S collection with Lamborghini. The limited-edition collaboration features 88 timepieces with an exclusive movement. The brands are holding a dinner and party on Feb. 16 at TheArsenale, a new lifestyle showroom here specializing in luxury modes of transportation from motorcycles to skateboards, which is also the exclusive Miami retailer for Roger Dubuis. TheArsenale commissioned Krista Kim, a Toronto-based artist whose works inspired Lanvin’s fall 2018-19 collection, to develop a multicolored light treatment for a Lamborghini on display.