LVMH Watch Week 2020: A Round Table Discussion Of A New-Generation Group Fair And A Photofest Of New Watches From Zenith, Hublot And Bulgari
As Baselworld and Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) continue to evolve, change, and metamorphose, the various groups and brands continue to ponder how to best show their new watches to both retail and press.
In an experimental trial run for a new-age solution, LVMH staged a small fair comprising three of its watch brands – Zenith, Hublot, and Bulgari – in Bulgari’s Dubai Resort.
LVMH’s invite-only editorial event comprised approximately 200 journalists, none of which stayed in the Bulgari resort’s 101 rooms and suites but rather at other posh residences in the modern Middle Eastern city. A selection of retailers were also invited.
About half of the resort’s 20 exclusive pool villas were used for meeting and interview rooms, while portions of the Yacht Club and Marina became party and meal locales.
Our discussion participants are:
ED: Elizabeth Doerr, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Quill & Pad
MG: Martin Green, Quill & Pad’s resident gentleman
RJB: Robert-Jan Broer, founder of Fratello Watches
ED: Well, this was a nice new twist on the typical watch fair: LVMH’s idea to get its key journalists together in a relaxing location promoting more togetherness and quality time with the group’s brands was a great one!
RJB: When your invitation says “Dubai” and “Bulgari Resort,” you know it is going to be swamped in luxury.
MG: This was the first time they flew in a lot of people and organized what is essentially a fair of their own. And while this first one was in Dubai, I didn’t expect the LVMH Watch Week to be much different from the Geneva Days they put on in lakeside hotels in Geneva during SIHH. Same script, different location. Traditionally the LVMH brands have no problem introducing vast amounts of new product across the entire year, so having two large venues – meaning both SIHH and Baselworld – is vital for them.
ED: The only thing that I was maybe slightly disappointed by was my expectation of seeing TAG Heuer’s products as well. Once we got there, I learned that TAG Heuer will have two large launches later this year, but nothing new in Dubai. However, I really would have appreciated spending time with the whole 50th anniversary Monaco collection that was only completed toward the end of 2019 (see 50 Years Of Automatic Chronographs And The Recent Debuts From Zenith, TAG Heuer, And Seiko Commemorating The Milestone Inventions).
RJB: Not an hour was wasted on the premises of the Bulgari Resort with introductory presentations, interviews, production presentations, and photoshoots. There wasn’t much time to hang around.
When it came to my expectations of the watches, I went in with an open mind. I didn’t expect any groundbreaking material in all honesty because 2019 was a huge year in terms of releases for these brands.
ED: Darn right, RJ! TAG Heuer with all those celebratory Monacos and (unfortunately not yet functional) Autavia Isograph and Zenith with the Defy Inventor and Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon in particular. Big year for them.
RJB: I liked the setup of the event, three brands getting full attention for a few days. I think this works much better for them than the huge exhibitions like Baselworld or Watches & Wonders. They not only get more exposure, but also more quality exposure as they really took the time to show and tell us everything we wanted to see and know.
Thoughts on Zenith’s new products
RJB: Zenith came with a number of interesting releases, and perhaps my favorite is a ladies’ watch! That’s right. The Zenith Defy Midnight is a wonderful medium-sized watch that has attractive lines we know from the gent’s version. But for ladies they went all out with the dials and bezels. The gradient dials just look awesome. If I were a lady, this would be on my wrist asap.
ED: Wow, that’s a huge surprise for me, RJ! I can see why you like it, though: it really seems to have all the right ingredients to make a perfect female daily wearer. While separately these ingredients aren’t that exceptional on their own – with the exception of the strap business – together they really add up to something special.
I am particularly enamored of the quick-change strap/bracelet system and the fact that each watch comes with four – count ’em! – straps and bracelets.
MG: While I like the Defy Midnight’s overall concept, especially the ease with which you can switch out the bracelet for any of the straps (other brands should definitely take note of this!), I found the watch per se a tad boring. It doesn’t truly stand out among its fierce competition that does precisely that. The dials are beautiful, but the luminous stars are too small to give off much light, and the specks on the mother of pearl almost make it look like it’s dirty. Pet peeve, but at this end of the market I also feel that the date wheel should match the color of the dial.
RJB: The Defy 21 Land Rover and Defy 21 Carl Cox watches are nice pieces for gents, although the collaborations with both don’t mean much to me. If I primarily look at the watches themselves, the Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover special edition gets my vote. The finishing of the titanium case and the matching rubber strap are just awesome.
MG: In theory, I think that the Defy 21 Carl Cox is much more sophisticated, RJ, with its cool carbon fiber case with and carbon bezel with luminous material. An absolute winner for me was, however, the new Defy 21 Land Rover. One of the few watches on which I think every detail is right.
ED: Both are extremely attractive, I agree, but the DJ disk as the running seconds on the high-speed, double frequency Defy 21 Carl Cox stole my heart!
RJB: The new Elite models were nice as well, especially in gold with the moon phase complication. Perhaps not very outspoken, but I like these understatement watches.
MG: I also like the direction that Zenith is going with the Elite. As a dress watch kind of guy, I fell in love with the Elite Moonphase, which looks great in both stainless steel and gold. I also think that it is very smart of Zenith to offer it in two sizes (though the smaller size has diamonds on the bezel) and not officially mention whether they think it is a men’s or a women’s watch, letting us decide that ourselves.
ED: In general, I love this move toward unisex and lack of labeling in the Elite collection. All of these Elites are true beauties and can be easily worn by anyone.
RJB: Zenith also pleases collectors with the re-edition of the El Primero A384. That Gay Frères re-edition bracelet is not for me, but the case and dial are very nicely done.
Thoughts on Bulgari’s new products
RJB: Bulgari is hot! It seems to be the watch journalist’s darling, and that’s well deserved.
MG: Bulgari never disappoints me.
RJB: The Octo Finissimo received a few more line extensions in steel, gold, and ceramic. Although I am a sucker for gold (ask anyone), the steel version really impressed me with a slightly thicker case (around .5 something mm) and the addition of a screw-down crown, it now offers a water resistance of 100 meters, which is a major upgrade to the the 30 meters of the previous models.
This make the Octo Finissimo now suitable for daily use . . . unless you’re a Comex diver.
ED: I thought these were amazingly good line extensions, RJ. Making this ultra-thin watch even more robust is a sensible upgrade. I was impressed by the approach.
RJB: The combination of polished and brushed finishing on the Bulgari Octo Finissimo in steel gives it an amazing appearance, too. With a retail price of €11,900, this watch is not even half the price of a Royal Oak Reference 15202 (if you can get one) and perhaps it is even more unique in its appearance.
This Octo Finissimo in steel excites me more than the hyped-up Royal Oaks, and this comes from someone who has owned a number of them, including the popular 15202ST.
MG: I got more excited about the new tourbillon in the Serpenti collection to be honest, RJ. Going for a shaped movement is a bold move – as is making it look like a flying tourbillon by using a sapphire crystal top bridge.
RJB: The ladies are very well taken care of with Bulgari’s new Serpenti, an attractive and uniquely shaped watch for ladies who don’t want to be like their Datejust-wearing friends, preferring to show some individuality. Nothing wrong with a Datejust, but there is also certainly nothing wrong with being yourself and making your own choices.
ED: While the Serpenti Seddutori Tourbillon took center stage at Bulgari, I would also like to mention two watches featuring unusual dials: the Diva’s Dream Peacock with feather marquetry (something I haven’t seen at this brand before and a beautiful addition) and the Diva’s Dream Finissima Minute Repeater Malachite with – you guessed it – a green malachite dial.
Thoughts on Hublot’s new watches
MG: I always get the feeling that Hublot has to have another manufacture hidden somewhere, they bring out so many new watches every year. In many cases, they are entirely new concepts as well.
ED: You’re right, Martin, Hublot seems like a hive of busy bees to me!
RJB: The new Big Bang Unico Integral left me puzzled. I like it, but I don’t love it. It is too Royal Oak-ish for me. Having said that, the gold version is very impressive on the wrist.
I can see the demand for a metal bracelet (whether ceramic, steel or gold, Hublot did them all for this model), but does a brand always need to fulfill a certain demand? Especially when it means getting awfully close to Audemars Piguet territory?
MG: I liked the Big Bang Unico Integral with integrated bracelet more than I expected, as how they crafted and finished the bracelet is superb. I do, however, feel that LVMH should tread carefully as I was also shown a titanium version set with diamonds. Stunning without a doubt, but also quite similar to a recent watch by Zenith.
ED: I also really like it more than I thought I would, which speaks to its quality.
RJB: What I loved, but never would wear myself, is the Classic Fusion Gold Crystal. The Classic Fusion is my favorite Hublot line as it most closely resembles the original MDM Hublot from 1980, but with today’s quality and design cues. The Gold Crystal just looks very artistic, using a pitch-black dial spiced up with crystalized 24-karat gold.
ED: Judging from all the reactions in the room as we saw this watch, RJ, I’m sure you were not alone in loving this particular piece! While I too like the look of the crystallized 24-karat gold, I’m not a super fan of it used in this all-black setting. The contrast really pops, though, I’ll give it that!
MG: I also really liked the Classic Fusion with the crystalized gold on the dial, RJ.
As a big fan of tonneau-shaped watches, I was delighted to see that the Spirit of Big Bang is now available in Meca-10 and Rainbow versions. That last one truly blew me away, although its concept is about as far from my personal style as possible.
RJB: The Spirit of Big Bang Rainbow is very colorful, but the case shape of this model is not very original in my opinion. I much prefer Hublot’s Classic Fusion and Big Bang styles.
ED: I loved all of Hublot’s color at the fair: naturally, the Rainbow editions caught the eye in a serious way, but there were also colorful new One Click Sapphire versions in bright yellow and with a gem-set bezel. These watches are just plain fun.
Favorite new watch from fair
RJB: Ha! The Bulgari Octo Finissimo in steel, for sure. That’s purely based on my own preference for watches, but aside from that I think Bulgari outdid itself again with the Octo. I even prefer it over the matte gold Octo Finissimo, which would be a close second favorite from the Bulgari lineup.
The price makes this Octo Finissmo so incredibly attractive, especially when comparing it to its peers from other brands that go ultra-thin.
As I said, this LVMH week also had a lot to offer for ladies, and from what I’ve seen on social media many of them applaud this (I follow a lot of ladies on social media).
If I were a woman, I would have a hard time deciding between the Serpenti in gold with diamond bezel and the Zenith Defy Midnight with blue gradient dial.
MG: Overall, I believe that all three brands gave a strong performance, and that makes choosing so difficult. If really, really pressed on the matter, I’d have to go with the Spirit of Big Bang Rainbow chronograph. The setting on this watch is utterly insane, and although it might be a guilty pleasure and matches nothing that I own, I cannot get it out of my mind. I blame it on the fact that I have a degree from the Gemological Institute of America and a great passion for gemstones, but that is just trying to rationalize why I like it.
This Rainbow is a watch that you should unapologetically love, and I am so ready to do that!
ED: At Dubai Watch Week in November 2019, Bulgari’s designer Fabrizio Buonamassa gave a small talk on design history of the Serpenti, which I now know to have foreshadowed the launch of the Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon. Interesting at any rate is that about half of the session was spent with the participants drawing their own versions of a fantasy Serpenti they might like to see one day.
Anyone wanna guess what I drew? So I guess I asked the universe for this watch in some way . . .
What we might buy with our own money
ED: As an owner of a Zenith Elite from the 1990s, it’s not much of a stretch to find these new Elite models incredibly appealing. That new blue dial is just scrumpdillyumptious.
RJB: The Bulgari Octo Finissimo has made it to my want list. And I didn’t have a want list for a long time as I felt I have what I (always) wanted. That has been very good for my state of mind, but this Octo Finissimo in steel changed that. I need one for all reasons given above.
MG: I am torn in different directions: the Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover is one of those collaboration pieces that gets it all right. I would really enjoy wearing that. But the same can be said of the Elite Moonphase; the 40.5 mm version in stainless steel with the grey dial is so stunning and so well proportioned. As it suits my style so well, I would probably wear it to pieces, so in the end I’ll go with that one.
ED: I loved that because of the intensified focus on just three brands so much inside information was floated, that we had plenty of one-on-one time with brands and their watches, and an opportunity to get to know these brands better from the inside out. These are the obvious advantages of a self-organized trade show-like fair like this.
MG: This is LVMH’s first Watch Week, and we also have to take into account that as of this moment, Baselworld is still the group’s main show. As a replacement for January’s Geneva Days, the group was here to test the waters and whet our appetites. This may change in the near future as the group has yet to decide if it will participate in Baselworld 2021.
ED: I had a short interview with Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin on the last day, who expressed being quite doubtful that the group would attend the 2021 Baselworld fair. He cited the dates being too late in the year.
MG: As a journalist, I thought that this fair was a breeze. My schedule included time to write about what I saw, and that’s a first. The facilities were fantastic, though I could have used something like a press center to work. Yes, a journalist always finds something to complain about – even when actually writing on the beach at an exclusive resort in Dubai.
I thought that it was brilliant of LVMH to do it like this, as its brands now have the spotlight at the beginning of the year – and for the first time, they don’t have to share it with other brands. If they do this twice a year, they are in full control of their own show, can get their message out without much disruption from news about other brands, and might actually spend less money than doing Geneva Days and Baselworld.
ED: Sounds like a “Diva’s Dream!”