Concours d’Elegance becoming a ‘must’ event for watch enthusiasts

The annual Concours d’Elegance (CE)—the upscale watch, clock and timepiece accessories exhibition co-sponsored by the American Watch Guild—is becoming an important must-visit event for watch collectors, enthusiasts, and retailers in the Northeast.

Presented in the huge glass “Crystal Palace” hall of the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City, the watch fair is held in conjunction with the summer Jewelers of America show (July 27-30), and spotlights mid- and luxury-priced brands. But unlike the JA show and other U.S. jewelry and watch trade shows, CE is open to the public. Anyone can come in, and a growing number of affluent watch enthusiasts are doing exactly that. Visitors to this year’s show, for example, included veteran actor Eli Wallach; William Baker, president of WNET, one of the nation’s leading PBS stations; veteran conductor Skitch Henderson; and members of the Horological Society of New York (the country’s oldest) and the International Watch Collectors’ Society (the country’s newest).

Expanding. This year’s CE, its fifth edition, presented 76 mid- and luxury-priced watch and clock brands and timepiece accessories (e.g., winders and watch bands). This was the biggest CE to date: It was 50% bigger in size, in a 160 ft. x 70 ft. enclosed (but unroofed) pavilion, lined with dozens of exterior display windows for watch brands.

CE is almost at the limit of expansion in the Crystal Palace. This year, it took over all of the space formerly used by the JA show’s registration area, which had to move downstairs. Even so, more upscale brands want in. This year, some moved from the JA show’s own “watch village,” while others exhibiting at JA also displayed their wares in CE’s windows.

CE offered something for every horological taste or retail interest. There were established mid-price names popular in jewelry stores, such as Fendi, Bertolucci (debuting its ladies “Passion” automatic chronograph), Fortis, Hermès, Zodiac, Krieger, Junghans, Dunhill, and Maurice LaCroix; and stylish, trendy, or fashion brands including Bill Blass and Burburry (both new in the U.S. market), Jorg Hysek, Ventura, and Grimoldi (which just opened it own U.S. office).

Popular big-watch brands also were in evidence, among them ICE-Tek, AquaSwiss (debuting “Baby Ice,” a smaller version of its large Ice watches), and newcomers Benny & Co., a big-watch aimed at trendy urban clientele, and Officine del Tempo’s overzied watches on silicone straps. Connoisseurs of the craft of luxury watchmaking and/or of limited editions could chat with representatives of Martin Baun, ChronoSwiss, August Reymond, Jacques Etoile, Limes, Nomos, European Company Watch, and Alpina, among others.

Springboard. Now in its fifth year, the Concours d’Elegance also is becoming an entry door for new upscale brands or those trying to get a foothold in the U.S. market. For example, both Ritmo Mundo and Jacoby & Son—two gem- and diamond-covered “big watch” brands popular with affluent urbanites and celebrities—were launched at CE in recent years. This summer’s newcomers included Rudolph Cattin, one of the world’s most successful watch designers, debuting his own Rudolphe Viper collection, commemorating the Dodge Viper automobile; Eurochon, a popularly-priced brand of Germany’s Junghans; Affluence, an upscale Swiss brand redesigned for the U.S. market; SwissSport, a luxury Swiss golf watch and PGA sponsor; Lambretta, its name and designs based on the famous Italian motor scooter; Paul Picot, a high-end Swiss line; America Time, a new British-owned brand; Swedish-designed Gul sport watches; and Mellerio dits Melleir, a new luxury watch from the 400-year-old Parisian jewelry house.

For those looking for the offbeat and unusual, there was the “Think the Earth/WN-1” global watch, a novel design by 15 Japanese artists promoting ecology and produced by Seiko Instruments Inc. (SII).

Attractions. The CE fair wasn’t limited to watches. Among the fine clockmakers were Perkiomen Clock Co. (Schwenksville, Pa.), River City CooCoo Clocks (La Crescent, Minn.) and Van Dommelen Clocks (Princeton, N.J.). Accessories exhibitors included Orbita (watch winders) and Hadley-Roma (watch straps).

Also setting CE apart were other attractions for watch enthusiasts and retailers:

* CE has an annual theme, and this year’s was “Watches & Cars.” Displays included a red Dodge Viper (for the Rudolphe Viper collection debut) and the bright yellow one-of-a-kind “Millennium Mercedes” owned by financial guru Jim Roger (Quantum Hedge Fund founder). Roger drove the car through 116 countries in a record-setting three-year trek and was at CE to sign copies of his book, Adventure Capitalist. (Proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research center.)
* Actor Eli Wallach, a long-time watch collector who exhibited part of his horological ensemble at CE, received the International Watch Collectors’ Society’s first annual “Collector of the Year” award, presented by Marc Green, president of Lux, Bond & Green Jewelers and president of the American Watch Guild. The Society will annually honor an outstanding watch collector from outside the watch and jewelry trades.
* Representatives of Sotheby’s auction house did free on-site watch appraisals.
* The American Watch Institute provided free watch testing.
* There were AWG sessions on watch repairs, displays, and sales.
* A window display contest was judged by 24 leading retailers from across the country..