DUBAI — Intimate presentations in seaside luxury villas, sunset cocktail parties on the beach, fireworks and spa treatments, retailers and media at the inaugural LVMH Watch Week were treated to a decidedly different experience than in Basel.
“Judging from all the smiles on people’s faces, all of the guests were really happy. In watches this was a true luxury experience. For the first time we could do it the LVMH way,” said Bulgari chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin, who acted as the “host” for the event which showcased one of the company’s newest hotels.
“One the one hand you have the quality of exchanges and the time for exchanges and all the extra activities which go much beyond presenting and selling watches and then you have a setting which goes far beyond anything you can experience in Basel or Geneva in Switzerland. This is one of the best hotels in the world, and it feels like summertime here while the rest of Europe is freezing.”
When asked if they would likely be doing this next year, LVMH Watches ceo Stephane Bianchi said “yes.”
The catalyst for creating their own event at the Bulgari Resort in Dubai was the change of dates for Baselworld to later in the year. LVMH Maisons Bulgari, Hublot, Tag Heuer and Zenith showcased their latest innovations during watch week, just as they would have in Basel. Ricardo Guadalupe, ceo of Hublot, said the timing of the event was critical for them. “January is very important. Postponing to end of April was really a problem for Hublot. Everyone in the division was keen to do something in January.”
For Hublot, novelties are key to the business model. “Our consumer is always waiting for new things. Consumers buy not only one, but some have 10, 20, 30 watches. To be here in January to present our first novelties to retailers is great. What we present here will be delivered between March and April. We are taking market shares from our competitors because we can deliver those novelties before Baselworld.”
Holding the event in their own property was also less expensive than participating in trade shows, though Bianchi was quick to clarify that it was not a cost-led decision for the company. “We didn’t do it to be cost-effective. We wanted to do things differently, in a truly luxurious way.”
Babin added: “It’s about return on investment for us. What do you get for that spend. In recent years the cost of trade shows increased and the benefit has stagnated or even receded. So in that context, we are trying totally different approaches. This is costly as well, but less than Basel.”
Babin emphasized that this new format allowed them to focus more on relationships. “You trade a rushed stressful experience, into a true luxury one. You trade a short meeting to a few days get together with your best partner. We have a chance to exchange in a way we don’t have time to do in Basel. This is a totally different concept,” said Babin. “Experience is what really binds you to a brand. The role of this is to primarily build a high-quality, sincere authentic relationship.
Branching outside of Europe has other benefits as well. “To do an event outside of Switzerland is a rupture from the past. But we talk about being a global business with global ambition. And being in the markets is great, don’t need to exhibit in your home. Switzerland is a very small market, but it’s very important.”
For Hublot, Dubai is the perfect destination. Their store in Dubai Mall is the highest grossing in the world. “It’s our number-one boutique in the world by far. Sales here are incredible. It represents about 10 percent of our sales. The second-highest-grossing one is 30 to 40 percent under than Dubai Mall.”
Guadalupe also relaunched the boutique in Dubai Mall with a sleek look designed by Peter Marino. “The quality of traffic at Dubai Mall is very high. Seventy million people visit and the level of consumer is high-value wealthy people. This traffic is critical. We always need a new flow of people to sell watches.
The Chinese customer in Dubai is very important to all the brands. “The biggest potential for us is China,” said Guadalupe. “In terms of numbers of people, there is huge potential and they are big shoppers. There we can double, triple, do even four times the business. Hublot isn’t that strong yet with Chinese because we are a young brand.
For the next iteration of LVMH Watch Week, there was talk that other LVMH brands with watches like Louis Vuitton and Dior could participate as well. And the event would not have to be in Dubai. Bianchi said with so many Bulgari Hotels around the world, there was no shortage of “marvelous locations” to potentially host guests.
Meanwhile, the LVMH Maisons will be at Baselworld at the end of April. Guadalupe said they would be unveiling their connected watch there, designed for FIFA cup referees.