Swiss Watchmakers Embrace Pop-up Retail Experiences


Victoria Gomelsky | May 07, 2018

Luxury watch brands, such as Audemars Piguet, Omega and Zenith, are increasingly experimenting with pop-up boutiques. This concept can create a sense of urgency and exclusivity around products while testing the strength of new markets.

Forever is a familiar concept to mechanical watchmakers in Switzerland, who often boast that their timepieces are built to run in perpetuity. But when it comes to marketing those timepieces, the Swiss are increasingly turning to pop-up retail experiences, temporary by definition.

Even though many brands have invested millions of dollars in recent years to open their own boutiques, ephemeral retail opportunities have their advantages. Not only do pop-up boutiques allow brands to create a sense of urgency around their products or test the strength of new markets, they also provide an opportunity “to present a product or tell a story in a style or setting that surprises people,” says Raynald Aeschlimann, president and CEO of Omega, which currently has two pop-ups—one in Paris, the other in New York City—with very different agendas.

Audemars Piguet and Zenith also are experimenting with temporary ventures. Below, we delve into the factors that set each of these efforts apart in a marketplace increasingly enamored with the possibilities of fleeting retail.

Audemars Piguet

Image credit: Audemars Piguet

Last month, the Le Brassus, Switzerland-based prestige watchmaker announced that it was entering the e-commerce arena for the first time. What made the news remarkable is that it’s doing so in partnership with JD.com, China’s largest online retailer, through a pop-up boutique that will be live through June 8.

Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias said the brand opted for a short-lived online experience as opposed to a fully established online presence because “2018 is a test year for Audemars Piguet in terms of e-commerce.”

“If successful, we may consider exporting the e-commerce model outside China and would increase watch output slightly to support this,” Bennahmias added. “Our current limit of 40,000 is a good number. Maybe within the next three to four years we will increase to 44,000 or 45,000. We need to walk before we can run.”

The brand will debut four new products on the platform, including the Royal Oak Offshore Diver with khaki dial on a khaki rubber strap, the Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph with a bright pink dial and bezel accented with 32 brilliant-cut diamonds, the Royal Oak Selfwinding Chronograph in yellow gold with a two-tone dial, and the Royal Oak Quartz in 18k pink gold with diamonds.

To call attention to JD.com’s “white glove” luxury service, which features well-trained drivers in uniform, site founder Richard Liu and Bennahmias teamed up on April 10 to hand-deliver a timepiece to the first client who ordered online. Talk about service!


Image credit: Omega

With two current pop-up boutiques, Omega is clearly enthusiastic about the concept. Its New York City pop-up, called “Her Time,” opened on Dec. 7 on Fifth Avenue in conjunction with the debut of the Trésor collection of women’s timepieces, and runs until mid-summer.

“With a pop-up, the primary goal is to place a new product or chapter in the Omega story in a sharper light, by narrowing it down to a particular time and place,” Aeschlimann explains. “By focusing our attention on something very specific, we can generate a different kind of buzz. The temporary quality of the boutique gives it an edge of urgency, and this is a great tool when you have something special to communicate.”

While the brand’s permanent New York boutique stocks all the latest Omega models, the “Her Time” pop-up’s focus is considerably narrower.

“We were able to trace Omega’s history of women's watchmaking right back to the beginning, which is not possible when presenting only the latest models,” Aeschlimann says. “It’s a way of retelling and reinforcing the brand’s story through a display of watches, as opposed to just pictures, or words on a page.”

The Paris pop-up, on the other hand, is devoted exclusively to NATO straps. Opened on March 1 in the Marais—a bohemian neighborhood that lacks the grand shopping boulevards where so many Swiss watch brands are typically found—the space, which does not offer any watches for sale but instead allows customers to order straps through a digital screen, will be open through August.

“It made it possible for us to mirror the online buying experience in a bricks and mortar setting,” Aeschlimann explains. “The focus was on speed and flexibility. A customer can browse and buy at their own pace, outside of normal boutique hours. Plus, it’s informal and fun.”


Image credit: Zenith

A prime location on Paris’ Place Vendôme is a surefire way to communicate a brand’s prestige—which explains why Zenith seized the opportunity to temporarily occupy the former Louis Vuitton boutique, whose corner space is among the square’s most prized settings.

“It’s probably the only store on Place Vendôme that has so many windows on the side,” says Arnaud Vidal, Zenith brand director for France. “There are fantastic watch brands on the square—Rolex and Patek Philippe, for example—but they only have one to two windows to display watches. We have six windows! It’s unique in that sense.”

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Louis Vuitton, Zenith’s sister brand within the LVMH stable, has owned the right to operate within the 160-square-meterspace since 2012, when it took over from jeweler Alexandre Reza. When the fashion brand moved into a new Peter Marino-designed flagship across the square in October, the corner location at 23 Place Vendôme was up for grabs. Rather than awarding the space to one of its big multicategory brands, such as Bulgari, the group opted to let Zenith fine-tune its retail approach. The watchmaker moved into the space in late November and plans to stay until the end of September.

“Zenith hasn’t developed a real retail strategy,” Vidal says. “We don’t even have a store in Switzerland. We used to have one in Geneva but we closed it two years ago.”

The pop-up provides the brand with an opportunity to introduce itself to local and international clients with a full display of timepieces, and prove itself within the group. The limited-time-only nature of the space adds to the excitement.

“People are looking for exclusivity, and they like the fact that it’s here but it’s not going to be here forever so we have to enjoy it now,” Vidal says. 

The perks of a being a client include specially catered dinners in the boutique—prepared entirely in the downstairs space by a seasoned chef—as well as access to limited editions, including a recent model available in just 23 pieces.

“There are many nice locations in Paris, but Place Vendôme tells people everywhere on the planet that it’s high-end, it’s very special,” Vidal concludes. “It wouldn’t have been the same to be on Rue de la Paix.”

Cover image credit: Zenith