It’s Time for Luxury in New York City

On Friday afternoon, I attended the second edition of TimeCrafters, a luxury watch fair held at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Twenty-two high-end watch brands, from Audemars Piguet to Zenith, were represented in a cavernous space—the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall—that allowed for plenty of elbow room to ogle their finest timepieces. 

More an exhibition of watchmaking expertise than a selling show, the event is geared toward collectors. As I cruised around the room admiring the elegant showcases and rarefied vibe, I chatted with people I’ve come to know from my years of attending the Baselworld and Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) fairs.

Liliana Chen toured me around the Breguet stand, where an engraver from Switzerland demonstrated the handmade techniques that Swiss watchmakers are known for, while Ginny Arakelyan—who just joined Swatch Group USA as PR manager for Blancpain, Glashutte Original, Jaquet Droz, and Tourbillon Boutiques—talked up her brands’ latest introductions.

At the Girard-Perregaux stand, the celebrated watchmaker Dominique Loiseau held court beside a chalk board marked with drawings and phrases under the heading “Manifesto of Time: Overturning Watchmaking Conventions.”

Legendary watchmaker Dominique Loiseau at the Girard-Perregaux stand at TimeCrafters

Through an interpreter, I learned that Loiseau is working on a grand complication that will debut next spring. Details on the model—which will include a sonnerie, a split-second chronograph, a minute repeater, as well as a “surprise” complication—were scarce, but the legendary watchmaker talked about some of the conceptual foundations that underpin his work. Using phrases such as the visualization of sound, and chance is an art form, Loiseau spoke colorfully, if somewhat cryptically, about the opportunities he’s been given by Girard-Perregaux to indulge his supreme talent.

Next, I sat down with Michele Sofisti, CEO of Sowind Group, the owner of the brand (together with the PPR group, the majority shareholder) to talk about GP’s reorganization.

“The key word is simplicity,” Sofisti said, citing a planned 60 percent reduction in SKUs next year and the introduction of two brand new families of products to accompany Girard-Perregaux’s existing 1966, Vintage, Cat’s Eye, and complications collections.

Next month, the latter category will make room for the new Bi-axial Tourbillon in titanium, an elegant yet sporty model that Sofisti handed to me to inspect. Its price—420,000 Swiss francs, or about $453,000—suggests that it’s not intended for the casual collector. 

Girard-Perregaux’s new Bi-Axial Tourbillon, due out next month

When I asked Sofisti about the apparent slowdown in China’s luxury market, where so many Swiss brands have staked their fortunes, he put things in perspective: “A slowdown in Europe means we’re underwater, but a slowdown in China means there’s less growth.”

He makes a good point. But I doubt most watchmakers are quite so blasé about weakening numbers in the one market where outperforming expectations had become the rule, and not the exception. Paradoxically, China’s slowdown strikes me as somewhat reassuring news for watch retailers and consumers in the United States. After a few years of playing second fiddle to the Far East, they are once again being courted by luxury brands—like those exhibiting at TimeCrafters—with real fervor.

On a final note, L’shanah tovah! All the best for the new year!