Should you buy a watch from a brand's own boutique?

Boutiques dedicated to one luxury brand are on the rise, offering something different for watch aficionados.

By Felix Scholz, January 15 2020
Should you buy a watch from a brand's own boutique?

Read the business section of the newspaper and with news of business closures and slowing economies, you'd be forgiven for thinking the forecast for retail is a touch grim.  Only, someone hasn't informed luxury watch brands of this narrative.

During the last few months, blue-chip strips such as Sydney's King Street and Melbourne's Collins Street have become home to some of the world's great watch companies, many of whom have not owned an Australian boutique before. 

In Melbourne, Vacheron Constantin – the world's oldest continually operating watchmaker, which dates back to 1755 – set up shop on Collins Street late in 2019, joining the likes of IWC, Panerai and Omega.

But the real action is in Sydney. Hublot – maker of bold, bright sports watches – has opened its first-ever Australian boutique. A stone's throw away lies other recent arrivals: Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Panerai.

Major watch brands are eagerly embracing upmarket boutiques for presenting their wares to buyers.
Major watch brands are eagerly embracing upmarket boutiques for presenting their wares to buyers.

If Swiss finery isn't your style, don't despair: noted German maker A. Lange & Söhne has a brand-new, multi-level 164-square metre space on Martin Place. And then there's Grand Seiko's first stand-alone Australian location on Market Street, as part of the brand's renewed strategy for raising awareness of the exquisitely finished watches. 

Why a watch boutique?

At this point, it's probably worth pointing out what a 'boutique' is, and why they matter.

After all, you've been able to purchase the above brands for years, simply by walking into high-end retailers such as The Hour Glass, Watches of Switzerland and Kennedy. What makes a boutique different is that it is all about one brand – rather than one glass cabinet dedicated to that brand among many. 

Aviation and automotice themes dominate at IWC's Sydney Boutique.
Aviation and automotice themes dominate at IWC's Sydney Boutique.

IWC Australia has boutiques in Sydney’s King Street and Melbourne’s Collins Street and Brand Manager Florian Gutsmiedl explains: "It is essential for us to give our clients, and all IWC enthusiasts, the possibility to dive into the beautiful world of IWC Schaffhausen. However, this is much harder in the environment of a traditional authorised dealer than in an attractive 80-square-metre space entirely dedicated to the brand."

 

This limited edition IWC Pilot's Watch chronograph can be found in the new Sydney boutique.
This limited edition IWC Pilot's Watch chronograph can be found in the new Sydney boutique.

Gutsmiedl highlights the relaxed, inviting atmosphere of a bespoke boutique, as well as the sort of shop displays you won’t find elsewhere – such as the propeller of a WWII-era Spitfire at the entrance. Stand-alone boutiques allow for the purest expression of a brand's 'identity', as well as the opportunity to offer customer service and knowledge that goes above and beyond. 

Build your knowledge

Yuki Suganuma, the Managing Director of Seiko Australia, tells Executive Traveller that the staff's level of brand knowledge is especially important: "Team members of the Grand Seiko Boutique will have had first-hand experience in visiting the factories, Tokyo Head Office and Grand Seiko Boutiques in Japan; this will ensure a deeper knowledge of what the Grand Seiko brand represents." 

With a brand as rich in tradition and detail as Grand Seiko, this higher level of understanding isn't something to be taken lightly.

The glass facade of the Grand Seiko Boutique echoes its distinctive 'snowflake' dial.
The glass facade of the Grand Seiko Boutique echoes its distinctive 'snowflake' dial.

But a boutique isn't just about softly-lit spaces evoking the brand's self-image. It may also offer access to watches not typically found elsewhere. Searching for a hard-to-find limited edition? A boutique is your best bet. 

For example, at the time of writing Grand Seiko's boutique was home to an exceptional platinum watch with a hand-hammered case and dial – one of only 30 made. Vacheron Constantin takes it one step further: the Les Collectionneurs program offers a number of vintage watches that have been bought and completely refurbished by the brand, and are available for sale with a two-year warranty. 

Boutiques are useful for finding hard-to-find watches such as the limited edition Grand Seiko SBGZ001.
Boutiques are useful for finding hard-to-find watches such as the limited edition Grand Seiko SBGZ001.

Creating a connection

So why is Australia getting so many watch boutiques? In short, it's a solid indicator of a mature market. Joel Ruiz, Brand Director for Hublot Australia, points to the fit between Hublot's sporty watches and Australia's love of sport: "Since 2014, we have been involved with cricket and with Australian legends such as Michael Clarke, Pat Cummins and Ellyse Perry. By opening a store in Sydney, we want to express our relationship, and keep going from strength to strength."

Hublot's recently opened Sydney boutique is an oasis of calm and style.
Hublot's recently opened Sydney boutique is an oasis of calm and style.

Given that Australia represents a tiny fraction of the global luxury watch marker (just over one per cent of Swiss watch exports find their way here), the fact that so many major brands focus their gaze Down Under might be surprising. 

Australia's ongoing prominence as a travel destination and the spending power that these tourists bring is undoubtedly a factor; yet it's growing the local market that really matters. This spate of new boutiques (with more to come this year) is a clear sign of confidence in the stability and growth potential of the Australian luxury watch market. 

So, if you're planning on shopping for a new watch in Sydney or Melbourne – you're truly spoiled for choice.

Felix Scholz

Felix Scholz is Executive Traveller’s watch editor, and one of Australia’s most respected authorities on the subject. As you might expect, he travels to Switzerland quite a lot.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 161

Much appreciated, Felix. I'm enjoying learning a little more on the horological side of things (and there's a new word for me, too). Cheers!

Happy to help!

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

20 Apr 2015

Total posts 24

I'm conflicted the way Richemont and Swatch are opening single brand boutiques while silently withdrawing their brands with many long standing authorised dealers. I understand why they are doing this - why share the profits of a watch sale with a 3rd party dealer?

I've bought from dealers and boutiques (Omega, Rolex, ALS, AP, JLC, Glashutte Original). On the plus side, the service levels are usually great at boutiques and they offer extended warranties as an "bonus" when buying with them. However, there is a price to pay. Boutiques never discount and customers will be paying a premium for the boutique experience versus an authorised dealer (Rolex and Patek being the exception).

Another frustrating tactic used by the brands are to funnel hard to get or special release models solely to the boutiques forcing customers to buy certain models from them (a blue dial Royal Oak is a great example). This handicaps the local dealers who have been providing a service for decades who now have to explain to their loyal customers that they simply cannot get the watch they want. It also makes it difficult for customers living outside of Sydney and Melbourne who have to travel a great distance to just view a watch they might be interested in.

My advice, visit the boutiques, see and feel the watches you are interested in, and if possible, shop around on price.

Hi Bobloblaw (how's the law blog?)

All valid points -- the closing of third party doors certainly happens as boutiques open, but typically only in the city or location the boutique opens in. If they're closing points of sale in other locations it likely isn't cause and effect situation. Another (valid) argument is that s rising tide raises all boats. Brands invest significant marketing and promotion in a boutique when they open, and that can has a positive impact on other retailers (that shopping around situation). And as for better stock allocation and unique limited editions -- yeah, there's no way around that one.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Should you buy a watch from a brand's own boutique?