mong local fairs aimed at collectors, WatchTime is becoming a label, with shows in New York, Los Angeles and Düsseldorf in Germany. The recipe? Organising events where people actually come to buy!
We spoke to Roger Ruegger, editor-in-chief of WatchTime USA.
- Roger Ruegger, editor-in-chief of WatchTime USA.
Europa Star: When and how was the first show organised?
Roger Ruegger: We did our first show in New York in Gotham Hall in 2015. I joined the company soon after that. I had been writing about the industry for about 20 years, as well as working in advertising for brands like IWC. WatchTime’s main mission is to help people find the right watch: we were doing it digitally and in print; what was missing were physical meetings such as fairs. As an end-consumer magazine, and not a trade publication, it was a logical step. Even if social media are successful, nothing can build a community like a physical meeting. Collecting is really mostly about the people we meet.
Being a journalist is quite different from being an event manager. What surprised you first?
There is a huge element of unpredictability. When organising a fair, you are sure of nothing. At some point, you just need to have a leap of faith! Troubles can emerge from the weather, geopolitical events and so on. One of the biggest challenges is making sure people show up, and not just telling you that they will. We were really successful in converting people to actually show up. We also bundled with a bunch of other publications to promote the show. And the location is key: Gotham Hall is a great venue.
“One of the biggest challenges is making sure people show up, and not just telling you that they will.”
Have there been big changes since 2015?
The biggest change has been the reception from the industry of our show. About three years ago, it went from being an “event” to becoming an integral part of the watch calendar. I will never forget the moment I saw that TAG Heuer already had the dates of our show on its website… before they had confirmed their attendance with us. It gave us more confidence and room to manoeuvre. It was also logical to go to the West Coast, which is why we introduced WatchTime Los Angeles last year.
How involved are retailers?
Pretty much not at all. We have a few partnerships, with Wempe or Watches of Switzerland for instance. But brands are our main direct partners, and our core target audience is the watch collector. We have also welcomed a new audience of enthusiasts, especially in Los Angeles.
In organising a multi-brand show, how do you cope with pressures from brands who increasingly want to control everything?
We have 37 brands, so it’s about finding the right balance. For us, it is really important to have G-Shock and Greubel Forsey at the same time and in the same place. All brands must be willing to take part in a shared experience. But we offer a turn-key experience, in which we organise everything and they just bring the watches. The brands are increasingly “immediate result”-oriented and we keep it fairly efficient with relatively little cost.
More broadly, could you share your vision of the future of global watch fairs?
Our project is not a rival or alternative to them. If it were, we probably wouldn’t be as successful today. Our goal is mainly to help people buy watches. But as an industry, we need strong and healthy international events. Of course, changes need to be made.
Based on your experience, what can you advise?
Rule number one is celebrate the community, with a platform where you can actually talk to other enthusiasts. Rule number two is accessibility. With the change in retail, it’s not that easy to go to a watch store, a lot of people feel intimidated and don’t like the “white glove experience”. We create a sense of accessibility to masters such as Stephen Forsey, Rexhep Rexhepi or Kari Voutilainen. The industry is changing at a speed never seen in the history of watchmaking. So we must be very ready to change and we need a new recipe for every evolution. That’s the beauty and the risk of organising a fair.