If 2020 had been a year like any other, a large group of Panerai fans would have gathered in New York City this October for P-Day. First organised by the Paneristi – a self-coined term describing Panerai hardcore fans – in Germany and Italy in 2002, the annual event now welcomes attendees from all over the world. These include some of the members of a local Panerai enthusiast group, called GPF Appassionati. The GPF stands for Guido Panerai & Figlio – a precursor to Panerai that was established in 1864 – and appassionati means enthusiasts in Italian.
As a result of the pandemic and ensuing global movement restrictions, P-Day, along with other horological events both large and small, have been called off. So, of course, watch enthusiasts have found new ways to share their passion for all things horological. In a Zoom group session with The Peak, GPF Appassionati members told us that they have been organising regular virtual get-togethers instead of real-life meetups. With social distancing likely to be a part of the new normal even as lockdown measures ease, online meetings look set to stay for a while. Wojciech Czapor, who works in the oil and gas industry, and is now based in Kuala Lumpur following a stint in Singapore, says: “We try to have these Zoom sessions weekly. We arrange a time when people are done with work and have already had dinner with their families, so we can talk to each other and have some fun outside of the everyday madness.”
Social Media Supremacy
For other watch buffs, social media has become even more central to indulging their hobby. With retail stores closed in recent months due to circuit breaker measures, #wristshots continue to flourish on Instagram and Facebook as watch owners share their horological passion by posting photos of their own timepieces. The difference is that the photo backdrops have been largely limited to spots around the home or in the car – after all, if you are just driving out to get a takeaway lunch, you might as well get a couple of wrist shots out of it. Indeed, with more time on our hands now, some see no reason to stop at straightforward photographs of a watch on one’s wrist or set on a table. Having recently joined a group of fellow enthusiasts, watch collector and photography buff Cham Gee Len has enjoyed participating in the group’s light-hearted photography challenges. “I participated in a pocket-shot challenge,” says Cham, explaining that participants were required to snap images of a watch on their wrist and hand tucked into a pocket without the use of a tripod or help from another person. Some challenges trod more heavily into serious watch-nerd territory. “There were also a lot of macro-shot challenges. One involved finding a reflective part on the watch dial and shooting it to show if the undersides of the watch hands were polished or unfinished,” adds the arts manager.
Brands Zoom In
With horology fans spending so much more time online, it is little wonder that brands have been looking to attract their attention with digital initiatives and innovations. With major watch fairs such as Watches and Wonders (formerly Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie) and Baselworld cancelled, they have explored myriad ways to showcase their latest releases.
In April, Breitling and Rado were among the first to unveil short videos featuring their CEOs sharing their brands’ novelties onscreen. Watches and Wonders went online with a website where participating brands posted a mix of content, including video clips and images of their new releases, as well as messages from CEOs.
Despite being a major Panerai fan, Miki Rosziman, a private equity training manager and member of GPF Appassionati, shares: “I enjoyed Breitling CEO Georges Kern’s presentation and I think it has set the benchmark for future online launches. I felt his sincerity and passion, and I liked the way the video combined visuals about the history of the brand and its ambassadors, before revealing the new launches. Watching it made me want to get another Breitling.” For a more personal touch, several brands – including A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc – also held Zoom presentations.
Company executives met clients and journalists online to present their latest launches and to answer questions about them. Many of the enthusiasts we spoke to applaud these companies’ efforts to connect in challenging times, even as they emphasise that viewing watches on a screen does not come close to being able to handle them in the metal. Having been invited to a few such Zoom sessions, private investor Melvin Lim says he appreciated the opportunity to “chat with and learn about technically interesting new watches” from honchos such as Stephane Belmont, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s heritage and rare pieces director.
Technology is also fuelling brand outreach in other ways. For instance, IWC and Piaget have launched virtual boutiques that allow the viewer to access information about their watch collections and get their enquiries answered in real time, in a life-like setting.
enthusiasts applaud brands’ efforts to connect online, but nothing beats handling watches in the metal.
IWC has also employed augmented reality to offer 3D views of its latest Portugieser models. Some companies have used social media to spotlight the personalities they work with: IWC and Panerai hosted Instagram Live sessions with their ambassadors, while retailer The Hour Glass launched a series of short films on Youtube in April, featuring independent watchmakers, artists and designers sharing their creative processes. For Arael Boo, a watch collector and familiar face on the local social scene, The Hour Glass’ short films offered an interesting way to “learn about watchmakers I was already interested in, such as Rexhep Rexhepi and Max Busser”. Adding that he also discovered Hermes’ new Arceau L’Heure de la Lune moon phase timepieces through Watches and Wonders’ Instagram posts, he says: “Such initiatives, if done right, can draw collectors into exploring new watchmakers, brands and designs.”
Having the time to reflect has led some to consider how they want to shape their collections, moving forward.
It will be challenging for brands to stay on top of consumers’ minds, especially as the pandemic changes the way people interact with their watches from day to day. One significant shift is that many are wearing their watches a lot less. Lim notes: “I hardly wear my watches nowadays. Many of us tend to be in a rush these days – when you go out, you do what you have to do and get home quickly. I don’t feel like wearing watches in case I knock them against something while I’m rushing around. Years ago, I rushed into a lift and as the doors almost closed on me, I instinctively raised my arm to keep the lift door open. The dial of that watch came off from the impact. I’ve learnt my lesson.” For others, the spectre of a gloomy economic outlook and having the extra time to reflect on their collections while stuck at home has led to careful considerations of how they would like to shape their collections, moving forward.
Head of broker management and GPF Appassionati member Kwek Joo Chuan says, “I’ve been collecting all sorts of watches, and some of my buys have been quite impulsive. This year, I’ve decided to consolidate my collection, let go of some watches and focus instead on rarer pieces.” The pandemic has also cemented Cham’s desire to pick her purchases more carefully. “I had already planned to slow down this year, after the last couple of years of watch acquisition after acquisition.” The former investment banker adds, “The global economy will be severely affected by Covid-19. And now, with the escalating tensions between the US and China, I think keeping cash is extremely important.”
But it is certainly not all gloom and doom. Despite avowing greater prudence, Cham does not hesitate when asked about the timepieces she has her eye on. At the top of her list are three A. Lange & Sohne models, including the Saxonia Thin and the Little Lange 1 Moon Phase. (“Maybe next year, or goodness knows when,” she qualifies.) Make no mistake, many collectors still intend to buy new watches. With Singapore easing social-gathering restrictions, enthusiasts are eager to resume their get-togethers and to head to the stores, where they can talk timepieces with their favourite sales assistants.
The difference between then and now is that they are going to be a lot more cautious about the poison – to use local collector slang for tempting watches – they pick. For brands, it will be a true test of the horological value they can offer. Collector and IT director Benjamin Kei believes there will be a horological silver lining to the pandemic: “When times are good, companies don’t have to put much effort into selling their wares. In a challenging environment, everybody tries to outdo each other. Brands might dig deep into their history and come up with something surprising or you might get some high-end movements – usually encased in more expensive precious metals – in a steel case. I’m keen to see what interesting pieces might come out.”
Illustrations & art direction Ashruddin Sani