February 2014

Vanity projects? Marketing tools? Successful and meaningful collections? It depends on many variables.

At the end of 2013, I went to a press conference at Geneva retailer Les Ambassadeurs where they announced the launch of their first collection of limited edition timepieces celebrating their 50th anniversary. This impressive event, where they had the heads of the watch companies involved introduce each limited edition, got me thinking about retailer-themed limited editions in general. As a result, Europa Star has decided to take a closer look at retailer limited editions – how they are created, why they are attempted, what makes them special, what the keys to success are and more.

First of all, any limited edition has to be worth the limitation. Customers have grown tired of and see through faux limited editions – a change in colour, a small variation to make a watch different, too many pieces for a limited edition (c’mon, 5,000 pieces in a limited edition?) and such.

Most retailer limited editions are done to celebrate something special, like an important anniversary, a new store, a milestone in cooperation with a brand and more. As an example, Pisa Orologeria in Milan, Italy has done a number of limited editions: in 2009 for the opening of their Dreamroom Vacheron Constantin; in 2008, a limited edition of the Calatrava celebrated the opening of their Patek Philippe boutique; in 2005, they marked 10 years of partnership with A. Lange & Söhne with a Datograph in platinum; in 2005, 60th Anniversary Panerai Radiomir Rattrapante; and in 1995 a special IWC Portuguese to celebrate Pisa Orologeria’s 50th anniversary.

Chiara Pisa, CEO of Pisa Orologeria (Milan)
Chiara Pisa, CEO of Pisa Orologeria (Milan)

“We believe in the importance of tradition and history; so to celebrate some of our fundamental milestones, we have realized limited editions.” Chiara Pisa

“The history of the Pisa family is founded on the passion for high-value watches and a careful choice of brands offered to its customers,” explains Chiara Pisa, CEO of Pisa Orologeria. “These values have created a solid collaboration with the most important watch brands in the world. We believe in the importance of tradition and history; so to celebrate some of our fundamental milestones, we have realized limited editions.

Patek Philippe for Pisa Orologeria
Patek Philippe for Pisa Orologeria

“Our limited editions always respect the aesthetics of the specific individual watch, while trying to make sure it has value,” Pisa continues. “We start from the design of the model and propose some unique elements. The change of a particular detail can be an interesting opportunity to make a new product memorable. All our limited editions have been great successes. We have always sold them out.”

There is so much product on the market that special watches can really stand out. If a retailer limited edition is done well, it can be a winning proposition for everyone involved – retailer, brand and customer.

“Today, so much of the product that is in marketplace is available to everyone, so it’s very difficult to differentiate yourself from other retailers when you carry the same product,” says Ron Jackson, USA and Caribbean Agent for DeWitt (North America). “If you come up with a concept, a charity, or some call to action about why this limited edition makes sense, you have to marry the product and the price to the activity.
“It’s not something you should go into thinking it will be easy,” he continues. “The challenge is to find the right concept, then the right product and the right price and quantity. You don’t want to do a limited edition that doesn’t work, which means you have all this inventory in stock. The best concepts are ones where there is a way to promote the limited edition, an organization or an event. Limited editions don’t sell unless there is a way for you to let people know they exist, especially outside your client base. A great limited edition can bring you new customers.”

Wempe, who has done two special collections, one for the 125th anniversary of the company and another for the 100th anniversary of the Wempe Chronometer manufacture, was careful to make changes to set these collections apart.

Ruediger Albers, President of Wempe Jewelers (New York)
Ruediger Albers, President of Wempe Jewelers (New York)

“A watch with just a different dial colour with our company name on the dial simply was not what we had in mind. We wanted more.” Ruediger Albers

“We developed designs based on our collective experience in the watch business and approached manufacturers with our ideas,” says Ruediger Albers, president, Wempe Jewelers (NYC). “It was essential that all models had technical modifications which would clearly distinguish them from standard models. A watch with just a different dial colour with our company name on the dial simply was not what we had in mind. We wanted more. The inner rotating bezel in the Audemars Piguet Scuba, the first divers watch in the Offshore line, was born this way, for example.

A. Lange & Söhne for Wempe
A. Lange & Söhne for Wempe
Jaeger-LeCoultre for Wempe
Jaeger-LeCoultre for Wempe

This way, we were able to offer our clients and watch enthusiasts some truly unique timepieces that had the brand’s DNA, yet their designs and technical modifications made them easily identifiable as part of the Wempe Anniversary collection.”
Ace Jewelers in Amsterdam, Holland, has never done a limited edition for their stores. “We feel a limited edition for a retailer should be different, really different,” explains Alon Ben Joseph, CEO, ACE Jewelers. “A new complication to an existing model, a complete and unexpected redesign of the dial, a material or case shape not explored before – something truly new, that will spark sincere enthusiasm amongst the valued clientele and watch-collecting community.
“In times gone by, long before the days of limited editions, the name of a prestigious retailer where the watch or jewellery item was bought was often nearly as important to the customer as was the name of the manufacturer,” he continues. “Nowadays, while we believe the name of our own company is prestigious, it is more than ever the brand name on the dial that indicates the significance of the purchase. And adding a line of print to the dial and/or changing the colour scheme of a watch is done way too often in the last decade to genuinely surprise the discerning buyer. As a result, we have so far refrained from such limited edition productions.”

Choosing the right number of limited edition pieces to offer is a challenge. Too many and the collection might not be valued by collectors, too few and it could sell out too quickly, disappointing people and leaving money on the table.

Greubel Forsey for Les Ambassadeurs
Greubel Forsey for Les Ambassadeurs
Girard-Perregaux for Les Ambassadeurs
Girard-Perregaux for Les Ambassadeurs

Les Ambassadeurs, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, did six different limited edition pieces, with different quantities and at different price points. “None of these watches exist like this anywhere else,” says Joachim Ziegler, CEO, Les Ambassadeurs (Switzerland). “We wanted to do something at different price ranges, so we could offer something for all our clients. Not everyone who loves watches is a millionaire, so we wanted to offer pieces for several thousand up to half a million. There are a lot of limited watches on the market, but these are very limited – three unique pieces, one set of five, one of eight, one of 15 and one of 50. I expect them to be valuable as collector’s pieces in the future.”

Offering limited editions is a great idea, but they have to sell. If you are still trying to sell the remainder of a limited edition you introduced five years ago, it might not look so good.
Retailers who do well with their own limited editions have customers in mind already for these pieces and choose brands that are already performing well in their stores.
“We are quite interested in these limited edition projects, since they give us the opportunity to present our clients with interesting, unusual and hard-to-get pieces that are not available elsewhere,” says Michael Sandler, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Merchandising, Tourneau (USA). “For the most part, these limited editions have been very successful, and more particularly so when they’ve been done in collaboration with very high performing watch brands. Success has come as a result of strong design, strong brand partnerships and excellent demand from our customers.”

Franck Muller for Springboks
Franck Muller for Springboks

Mark Gold Jewelers in South Africa did a limited edition of 22 pieces with Franck Muller, to commemorate the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and dedicated to the South Africa side, the Springboks. “The project was a success – all the pieces were sold, partly due to the fact that South Africa was the reigning champion at that time, so there was much hype prior to the tournament. One of the critical factors I feel is that it is important to have quality design and well thought out reasoning as the basis of the design and not just an added logo onto an existing model. For example, the piece we did with Franck Muller incorporated green stitching to match the correct pantone green numerals of the Springbok team on the dial of the limited edition piece. An interesting thing to point out as well was that I had one client in particular who wanted a specific number in the collection, as his favourite player wore number five. He then took the watch to that player and got him to sign the box and papers.”

Paul Sheeran, owner of Sheeran Jewellery in Ireland, is on the fence regarding how successful a limited edition for his shop would be. “I think it depends on the amount of watches you make,” he says. “If you have a multitude of shops, it can be an interesting thing, but as we only have one shop, it might be more difficult for us here in Dublin. I am conflicted about it. I know others have done it, but I don’t know how successful they have been. I don’t know what the resale value would be.”

The best retailer limited editions help everyone – the retailer gets unique editions to help promote an event, a partnership, a cause or an anniversary. The brand gets additional exposure and the chance to reward a good and loyal partner. And, the customer gets a valuable limited edition that enhances his collection.

“With our limited editions, we are able to offer to our clients an exclusive product, and we stimulate the passion of the collectors through the brands we choose,” explains Chiara Pisa from Pisa Orologeria.

If your store is well known, this can really have an impact on the value of the limited edition. “First of all, these limited editions show to the outside world how close we are with the brands we featured, and secondly it offers our customers something they can’t get anywhere else,” explains Les Ambassadeurs’ Ziegler. “It certainly helps with the awareness – we have a reason to make noise, and we have a new message to communicate. Also, Les Ambassadeurs is a famous name, so it benefits the brands to be chosen for our first big anniversary limited edition collection. It is quite an honour for both sides.”

Wempe’s limited editions did well, selling out, and Albers knows how valuable they are. “I personally own the Patek Philippe 5125 in white gold – no. 88 signifies the year I came to New York and my certificate bears the signatures of Philippe and Thierry Stern as well as Hellmut and Kim Wempe,” he says. “The best investment of my life as the price has tripled. Only one problem: I love the watch and what it stands for so much that I could never sell it.”

Independent retailers have a number of brands in their stores, so how do you choose the right brands for the various limited editions? “We choose the brands depending on the occasion or event, the price and the style,” says Ayman Nassif, managing director, BTC (Egypt). “We have worked with Corum, Bovet and Ulysse Nardin in the past. We worked to satisfy our customers, who like exclusive and unique things, and make them feel unique.”

Ayman Nassif, Managing Director of BTC (Egypt)
Ayman Nassif, Managing Director of BTC (Egypt)

“We choose the brands depending on the occasion or event, the price and the style.” Ayman Nassif

It is the nature of the beast that if you choose one brand, there are several others that you did not choose. Sometimes, these brands ask why they weren’t chosen. “This sometimes leads to long discussions,” admits Les Ambassadeurs’ Ziegler. “There is no easy explanation for that. Sometimes you have to make a choice, but there is always an opportunity for the future.” There will always be brands with whom you have better relationships, and disappointing other brands is par for the course.

Corum for BTC
Corum for BTC

“These limited edition projects are collaborative efforts,” says Tourneau’s Sandler. “In some cases, the brands approach us with proposals to produce limited edition models, and in other cases, we reach out to specific brand partners with ideas. Decisions are based on brand productivity, distribution, product availability, aesthetics, price point and a number of other variables. If a brand asks why they weren’t included, we simply explain that we are extremely selective when it comes to limited editions, and that not every opportunity or proposal is right for Tourneau, whether based on timing, model choice, etc. We do our utmost always to be honest and upfront with our brand partners.”

All the retailers I spoke with made it a point of emphasis that they were not charging premiums for these watches, but rather merely passing on the costs of the special work.

“Many of these limited editions are produced at a higher cost as compared to the standard models, because special dials need to be made, custom cases or casebacks need to be produced, etc.,” details Tourneau’s Sandler. “That customization comes at a cost, both to the manufacturer and to the retailer. The customer is often willing to pay the premium because the watch he/she is purchasing is more rare and desirable.”
“The main goal is not a commercial one, it is really to offer something special to our clients who have been true to us,” adds Les Ambassadeurs’ Ziegler. “Thanks to them we are still around.”

Finally, working on retailer limited editions is something different, a change in the routine that can be a really good experience. “Doing our limited editions was great fun and it really enriched our daily business life,” says Les Ambassadeurs’ Ziegler. “If you are just thinking of the bottom line, don’t do it. This really worked for us because we linked it to our 50th anniversary, and we may do others in the future. I will be much smarter next year, when I know how this all turns out.”

Source: Europa Star February - March 2014 Magazine Issue