Concours d’Elegance Becoming Popular Event

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

The watch fair is held in the “Crystal Palace” hall of the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City, in conjunction with the summer Jewelers of America show (July 27-30). But unlike the JA show and other U.S. jewelry and watch trade shows, CE is open to the public, and a growing number of affluent watch enthusiasts are taking advantage of that.

Visitors to this year’s show, for example, included 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). Wallach, a longtime watch collector who exhibited part of his horological ensemble at CE, also 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.

Expanding. This year’s CE, the fifth and biggest edition, presented 76 mid- and luxury-priced watch and clock brands and timepiece accessories (e.g., winders and watch bands). The show, 50% larger in size than last year’s, took place in a 160-ft. x 70-ft. enclosed (but unroofed) pavilion lined with dozens of exterior display windows.

CE offered something for every horological taste and retail interest. There were established mid-price names popular in jewelry stores, such as Fendi, Bertolucci (debuting its women’s “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.

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 brand aimed at trendy urban clientele, and Officine del Tempo’s oversized watches on silicone straps. Connoisseurs of luxury watchmaking or limited editions could chat with representatives of Martin Braun, ChronoSwiss, August Reymond, Jacques Etoile, Limes, Nomos, European Company Watch, and Alpina, among others.

Springboard. Concours d’Elegance is becoming an entryway for new upscale brands or those trying to gain 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 Rodolphe Cattin, one of the world’s most successful watch designers, debuting his Rodolphe Viper collection, commemorating the Dodge Viper automobile; Eurochron, 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, whose designs are based on the Italian motor scooter of the same name; Paul Picot, a high-end Swiss line; America Time, a new British-owned brand; Swedish-designed Gul sport watches; and Mellerio dits Meller, 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 24-hour, 3D design by 15 Japanese artists promoting environmental responsibility. It’s 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).

CE’s theme this year was “Watches & Cars.” Displays included a red Dodge Viper (to help celebrate the debut of the Rodolphe Viper collection) and the bright yellow one-of-a-kind “Millennium Mercedes” owned by financial guru Jim Roger (Quantum Hedge Fund founder). Roger, who drove the car through 116 countries in a record-setting three-year trek, signed copies of his book, Adventure Capitalist. Proceeds from the sale of the book benefited the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research center.

Visitors took advantage of free on-site watch appraisals performed by representatives of Sotheby’s auction house; free watch testing by the American Watch Institute; and AWG sessions on watch repairs, displays, and sales. The show also featured a window display contest judged by 24 leading retailers from across the country.