It’s go time. U.K.-based Watches of Switzerland, which counts itself as the largest distributor in the world of luxury Omega and Tag Heuer, is pushing into the U.S. market with a flagship location, a first for the brand, at 60 Greene Street in New York’s SoHo.
The 8,000-square-foot space is the lead-up to what will be two stores in New York, the second bowing at the Hudson Yards development in March.
“We really think the market is underserved here. Overall, in terms of watches, the market has been flat. There hasn’t been the same level of investment in the category as we’ve seen in London, Paris or the Asian market. We see the U.S. as a big opportunity for us,” said chief executive officer Brian Duffy at a preview of the new outpost. The company is known as the largest distributor for Rolex, Cartier and Breitling in its native U.K.
The prestige watch retailer has had the U.S. in its sights for some time, establishing a solid foothold in the market with its $104.6 million deal to acquire Mayors Jewelers Inc, a 107-year-old specialty retailer concentrated in Florida and Georgia, including some that have Rolex agencies, from Birks Group Inc. in 2017.
Earlier this year, Watches of Switzerland took over a space at The Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas as a soft launch, but the SoHo store is the first of a new design of spaces, developed in collaboration with U.S.-based architecture firm MNA. The ceo said the new format puts the total experience in the forefront, noting that an updated Wynn location is to open one day after New York and will feature one-off high-end pieces that “resonate with the customer in that Vegas environment, pieces by brands like Jacob & Co.”
“We call ourselves the Sephora of watches. It is a multibrand environment,” he explained. “We wanted to have lots of reasons for people to come in, relax, have a drink or read a book and just enjoy watches. The store should feel unintimidating, welcoming and warm and — importantly — you should be getting the best of each brand offer. We aim to do it in a very modern and contemporary way.”
Housed in an original SoHo ironworks building, the store uses the character of the space with 25-foot ceilings, wood floors, original columns and exposed brick across two floors. The first floor has three in-store boutique-style spaces for Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe, each designed to the brand’s specifications and taste. There are also sale spaces for Omega, Breitling, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hublot, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux, Tag Heuer, Bremont and Longines.
Unique to the SoHo location is an assortment of vintage watches curated in collaboration with Analog/Shift, an industry-known purveyor of some of the most desired watches in the world. “We knew coming to the U.S. that vintage was really important. It is something that really resonates with the client, especially here in SoHo,” the ceo said. The collaboration will consistently be updated to bring new and rare pieces to the store.
Downstairs features a section for “Service and Restoration;” a fully functional bar by New York’s Death & Co., and a library area of books curated by Esquire Magazine’s fashion director Nick Sullivan. The library will double as a space for pop-up installations of brands that are not there permanently, or brands with new launches or limited editions. Grand Seiko occupies the space for the opening.
The retailer also has a substantial e-commerce presence in the U.K., where Duffy said it “leads the market, and is exponentially growing.” A U.S. site is now live and will be fully transactional in February.
Duffy stressed that online retail will not totally replace the brick-and-mortar experience in the hard luxury sector.
“I don’t think luxury will ever totally move online. I think in luxury you need to give an experience. People need to try watches on. Make sure you are getting what you love and cherish. Online will never replicate that. You want exclusivity and an experience in an environment,” he said.
He continued, “We really believe in a multichannel approach. It’s really important that the relationship is a combination of in-store and online. People are researching online and buying in store, or buying online and come in-store. Maybe for a bit of advice or to understand how a complication works. We really emphasize a store network with a heritage of capability, that online complements,” he said.
The SoHo branch of Watches of Switzerland opens today.