JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky and news director Rob Bates delve into hot topics from the world of luxury watches, starting with Rolex’s recent acquisition of Bucherer and its potential implications for retailers. Next the conversation turns to Audemars Piguet’s latest AP House. This luxe L.A. penthouse epitomizes an intriguing trend in high-end retail, where traditional stores give way to clubby hangouts and experiences trump transactions. Finally, Rob shares some encouraging news about a flurry of brick-and-mortar retail openings this year and dishes on the newest installment in his Diamond District mystery book series.
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03:59 Big deal: Rolex acquires Bucherer
14:53 Audemars Piguet and the evolution of retail
19:53 Brick-and-mortar rebound
22:39 Must-read: a gem of a book
Big deal: Rolex acquires Bucherer
Victoria and Rob discuss Rolex’s recent purchase of Bucherer. Rob was intrigued to learn that Jörg Bucherer, the Swiss billionaire behind the family business, is 87 years old (given that his company acquired Tourneau just five years ago). As Jörg Bucherer has no direct descendants, the Rolex sale is being positioned as a sensible exit strategy, Rob says. Both he and Victoria suspect the deal had been in the works for much longer than either Rolex or Bucherer is letting on—no surprise for two famously secretive companies. “The thing about Rolex that is continually fascinating but also maddening is how opaque they are as an organization,” Victoria says.
Of paramount concern to Rolex’s retail partners is what the acquisition might mean for them. While there’s no way to predict the brand’s long-term sales strategy, Victoria doesn’t see cause for worry in the near future. “Rolex has always honored its partners in the retail world. It’s never gone direct, like so many other brands have. I don’t see why it would start now,” she says. Moreover, “Rolex makes about a million timepieces a year. They won’t all be sold through Bucherer. There should be enough Rolexes to go around.”
Still, Rob points out that Rolexes are highly sought-after, and for a while there’s been a slight shortage of supply. If that intensifies, will the brand favor Bucherer as a retailer, particularly in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe, where Bucherer’s 100-plus luxury boutiques are located? There’s no way to answer that question. Even the companies involved may not know the endgame yet, he says.
Rob notes that this is the second recent surprising move by Rolex: The first was last year’s foray into certified pre-owned watches, sold at Bucherer boutiques, among other places. Are these signs that the company culture is changing? Perhaps, Victoria says. Historically Rolex has been a model of evolution not revolution, beloved in part for its stolid predictability. “They’re a case study in branding excellence,” she says. “We don’t look to Rolex for the unexpected. But we’re living in unprecedented times.” Even a heritage brand that controls the lion’s share of the market may make unexpected moves.
Audemars Piguet and the evolution of retail
The conversation pivots to another luxury watchmaker: In August, Victoria visited Audemars Piguet’s new AP House in Los Angeles. The luxe 6,500-square-foot penthouse is the 15th “residence” the brand has introduced in such glamour capitals as London, Milan, and St. Barts. The concept is meant to elevate the retail environment, and to evolve it from a traditional store where the emphasis is on transactions to an immersive experience where lifestyle takes center stage.
Victoria reports that not only is the space breathtaking—with gorgeous decor and a terrace overlooking downtown L.A.—but on the night she visited, “it was celebrity central.” The event doubled as a goodbye party for outgoing CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, who masterminded the AP House concept and raised the brand’s profile, especially in Hollywood, says Victoria. Among the A-listers in attendance were Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Legend, Don Cheadle, and John Mayer.
“François saw that retail was changing,” Victoria says. “He realized luxury customers had a desire to have a more lifestyle relationship with their key brands.” He may have drawn inspiration from Material Good, cofounded by Ron Ronin, formerly of Audemars Piguet, and Michael Herman, whose background was in wholesale diamonds. Opened in a second-floor space in SoHo (New York) in 2015, Material Good fashioned itself as a chic hangout more akin to a private residence than a shop. It’s open to the public, but there’s no signage, says Victoria. “It’s like a museum-style space with showcases built into the walls. The focus is on hospitality. It’s not on buying and selling.”
Others in the Swiss watch world took note and are now following suit. Among them are Corum, which opened a club-like concept store in Bangkok in May, and H. Moser, which plans to open a store in New York City in October. Victoria wonders whether the trend will soon reach smaller retailers, inspiring them to open club-type spaces in their hometowns.
Rob shares encouraging news about brick-and-mortar retailers: There have been about 1,000 more store openings than closures this year, particularly on the high end. Clearly, observers overestimated how much online shopping would grow after the pandemic—and underestimated how eager people would be to revert to habits like going to stores, he concludes.
“It underscores how important the face-to-face experience continues to be, even after all we’ve learned about digital luxury and omnichannel retail,” Victoria agrees. “What came out of the pandemic was an overwhelming desire to have in-person physical experiences. I don’t think I would have predicted that three years ago.”
Must-read: a gem of a book
Rob announces the release of his new mystery, Slay It With a Diamond. The third book in his Diamond District mysteries series tells the tale of a cursed gemstone. Though this book required more research than his first two novels, Rob says it’s his favorite so far. “It’s inspired by gothic literature, so I read a lot of books like Rebecca, The Turn of the Screw, and Jane Eyre to get into the spirit of it,” he explains. There’s even a creepy mansion owned by a powerful dynasty riddled with bitter feuds and long-buried scandals.
Despite the sinister setting, Rob packs plenty of humor into his newest lighthearted cozy and assures newcomers to the series that they can start with this third book, if they’re so inclined. “Let me know what you think of it,” he encourages readers.
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