Watches & Wonders 2021 Panels: Client Experience

Bricks, mortar, and more.

Aside from the flurry of novelties unveiled during the purely-digital Watches & Wonders 2021 (W&W), discussion panels took place every day, each conceived to tackle some of the most salient issues facing the luxury-watch industry. We bring you a roundup of the panel that took place on April 10 on a key topic for brands and customers alike: the client experience.

Despite the predominantly digital set up, W&W managed to create a truly interactive debate with a mix of participants on site in Geneva, as well as speakers dialling in remotely, all converging to discuss the same topic. Here are the key findings that emerged.

The panel with Beatrice Goasglas of TAG Heuer on site with moderator Mélanie Freymond, and the other panellists on screen

Client experience in the digital era

The client experience is a central theme for luxury brands, which are all trying to go above and beyond to create an encounter that matches the quality embodies by the products that they make. Watchmakers already started down that path several years ago with increasingly elaborate boutiques, but the development of digital tools and now the pandemic have overturned how brands conceive the whole of the client experience.

As Beatrice Goasglas, Vice-President for Digital & Customer Experience at TAG Heuer, noted, “Digitalisation is an opportunity, even a blessing, for brands and maisons to engage even more with their final customers.”

Indeed, especially within the context of the pandemic, digital tools have played an essential role in enabling brands to stay in contact with their customers. The pandemic has brought along with it a finer understanding of the importance of digital touchpoints – these enable brands to speak not only to a large number of people but also to communicate “one-on-one” with potential clients. 

IWC chief executive Chris Grainger-Herr acknowledged this evolution and added, “Digital innovation opened many more options to engage with the customer, but at the same time it showed very clearly that you have to be able to link to something physical, tangible, and personal to make these connections between people and brand real.”

Coming from a purely digital environment, Matt Bowling, chief executive of pre-owned watch seller Watchfinder, tempered the assertion, “Indeed we see that for some [clients] the physical dimension is important, but not for everyone. Ultimately, we leave the choice to the customer to choose which way they want to engage with us. The key is to make sure the experience they have is consistent throughout and exceeds their expectation.”

The recent IWC Tribute to 3705 limited edition that was sold almost exclusively on IWC’s online store

Connecting the dots

The acceleration of digitalisation is now obvious, but these changes have been under way for four to five years. The key to success for a brand, according to David Hurley, Executive Vice-President at Watches of Switzerland USA (WoS), is “connecting all the dots between online and offline to create the most personalised experience. We still have a lot to learn on how we can perfect that approach.”

Guillaume Jonglez, Retail Strategy Senior Director EMEA at software giant Oracle, agreed while adding, “the situation became much more complex for the luxury industry as the touchpoints with customers have multiplied. The technology should enable brands to make the experience totally seamless and consistent whatever the channel used.”

The pandemic, it seems, has made brands realise how a customer-centric approach is essential and how technology can help. It has also showed very clearly that the human aspect of the relationship is key in engaging the final customer – even if through a digital tool.

From left: Chris Grainger-Herr, Matt Bowling, David Hurley, and Guillaume Jonglez

What do customers gain from engaging with the brand? Are they looking for a totally immersive experience with a physical store enhanced by digital tools as IWC offers in their new flagship boutique in Zurich? Or do they simply want the product delivered at home as Watchfinder or WoS now offer?

Brands have to be ready for both in today’s world. And they have to “multiply the engagement points through apps, sessions on [virtual-discussion app Clubhouse], social media in order to create an entire immersive universe where clients can connect with the brand on many more levels”, as IWC’s Mr Grainger-Herr put it.

The end of brick and mortar?

This was one of the most salient question discussed during the panel. Surprisingly, there was a general consensus: the participants all recognised that physical boutiques are becoming hubs in an omni-channel environment where reach and quality of contact with the customer is enhanced.

That was confirmed by Mr Hurley of W0S who explained, “the most successful launches that were made this year were through stores in SoHo [in New York City] with a strong digital support. With the upcoming reopening in the UK for example, we have thousands of appointments already made: it shows customers still want that physical dimension of the products”.

Indeed, after one year of restrictions on movement, workplaces, and social gatherings, the need for physical contact is growing stronger everywhere. Humans are social animals – that has been made clear.

WoS in New York’s SoHo

The real question is what is the purpose of digital? How does it serve the brand’s values and the customers’ needs? It is going to be different for each brand”, as Mr Jonglez of Oracle emphasised.

This is what “phygital” will be in the future: the right balance between physical and digital. Each brand has to find its own answers that align with its core values. The client experience is going to be a mix of all these new tools that enable the brands to be more creative than ever.

Client experience has been and remains a critical issue for every business, even more so for the luxury industry, and in particular for watchmaking. The pandemic has accelerated changes that were already on the way, namely the digitalisation that multiplies customer contact points. But it has also forced the industry to become be more agile than before, forcing creativity in using digital channels to improve the customer experience.

Never waste a good crisis, as the saying goes, and it seems the watch industry has taken the message to heart on many levels, and the client experience is one of them.

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Bulgari Introduces the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar

Another record.

Having notched up records for the thinnest watch in several categories – including tourbillon, chronograph as well as minute repeater – Bulgari is continuing with the perpetual calendar. The Italian jeweller now claims another record for thinness – its seventh – with the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar.

Taking the mantle from the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin, the new Octo perpetual calendar is just 5.8 mm in its entirety – with a movement only 2.75 mm high. It’ll be offered in the traditional livery of the Octo Finissimo of sandblasted titanium, but unusually also in platinum with an alligator strap.

Platinum (left), and titanium

Initial thoughts

There’s no doubt that Bulgari is perhaps the best at ultra-thin watches – its titles for the thinnest watch in seven categories are testament to that.

Yet the brand doesn’t simply rely on its record-setting thinness as a gimmick. Most of its ultra-thin watches are interesting beyond the slimness.

The Octo design in its own right is striking. And the perpetual calendar has been executed in a symmetrical, sensible manner. Though the dial is somewhat crowded, it remains legible thanks to the large sub-dials and minimalist aesthetic. It’s a well-designed watch and perhaps the most stylish perpetual calendar on the market.

The calendar includes a retrograde date in an arc on the upper half of the dial, with the day and month just below, and the leap year in a tiny display at the base

Between the two, I’m leaning towards the titanium version; I very much prefer the Octo Finissimo on a bracelet. The angular, slim bracelet complements the faceted design of the case well. I also like the subtlety of the sandblasted finish, which endows the watch with a sleek, sporty feel. And it also costs substantially less than the platinum model, while arguably offering a stronger, more original look.

Priced at US$59,000 in titanium, the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar represents value for money. Not as good value as some of the other Octo Finissimo models – especially the chronograph that costs a bit under US$18,000 – but a relative bargain against its rivals. In comparison, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin costs almost triple, albeit in titanium with a platinum bezel.

Stylishly svelte

The Octo perpetual calendar is an astounding 5.8 mm high – half a millimetre thinner than the previous record-holder from Audemars Piguet.

The titanium variant is paired with a matching sandblasted titanium dial, while the platinum model is paired with a radially-brushed dial in bright, metallic blue.

The dial finishes continue on the respective cases. The titanium model has a clean sandblasting throughout, while the platinum version has a more conventional brushed finished in the vein of many luxury-sports watches in precious metals.

Instead of the usual date window, the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar features a retrograde date, which Bulgari says was a necessity in order to preserve its slim profile.

Given the flatness of the dial, a retrograde date preserves its unbroken expanse, better fitting the aesthetic of the watch better than a traditional date window.

The case features three recessed buttons on its sides – one for setting the retrograde date, another for the month, and the last for the day. As a perpetual calendar, it requires no adjustment until the year 2100.

Ultra-thin movement

The thinness of the watch is thanks to the BVL 305. Though a newly developed calibre, it shares its foundations with the BVL 138 found in the time-only Octo Finissimo – both movements look almost identical through the exhibition back.

The complexity of the BVL 305 lies under the dial, where the perpetual calendar mechanism has been integrated as much as possible into the movement, instead of being a discrete module as is the norm for most perpetual calendars.

As is tradition for the movements in the various Octo Finissimo models, the BVL 305 utilises a micro-rotor to avoid the thickness of a full rotor. And despite being ultra slim and highly complicated, it still manages a handy 60 hours of power reserve.

The under-dial view revealing much of the calendar mechanism

Key facts and price

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar
Ref. 103200 (titanium)
Ref. 103463 (platinum)

Diameter: 40 mm
Height: 5.8 mm
Material: Titanium or platinum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: BVL 305
Functions: Hours, minutes, and perpetual calendar with retrograde date, day, month, and retrograde leap year
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 60 hours

Strap: Titanium bracelet with folding clasp or alligator strap with platinum pin buckle

Availability: From Bulgari online shop, boutiques, and retailers
US$59,000 (titanium), US$89,000 (platinum)

For more, visit


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Patek Philippe Introduces the Calatrava “Clous de Paris” Ref. 6119

And the elegant cal. 30-255 PS movement.

Though now often overlooked in favour of a luxury-sports watch, the Calatrava is perhaps the quintessential Patek Philippe – it was introduced in 1932 and named after the brand’s emblem – possessing a diversity of designs that all share an elegant simplicity.

Patek Philippe’s second instalment of new watches at Watches & Wonders 2021 focus on fine, sophisticated wristwatches – it also just announced a striking new perpetual calendar – and naturally encompasses the Calatrava, which sees the addition of the Calatrava “Clous de Paris” ref. 6119.

A tribute to well-known Calatrava models such as the ref. 3919 and its successor, the ref. 5119, the ref. 6119 blends several signature elements of past designs in a larger case to create a more contemporary guise that’s available in rose or white gold. Importantly, the ref. 6119 is powered by the newly-developed, hand-wind cal. 30-255 PS, a large, thin movement with twin barrels – and an impressively high moment of inertia for the balance wheel.

The cal. 30-255 PS

Initial thoughts

I’ve always been a fan of the Calatrava, especially variants with a hinged, “hunter” back like the ref. 5227. Best described as fine watches for gentlemen, they typify Patek Philippe’s traditional and refined approach to watchmaking.

But the cases of previous generations of the Calatrava were relatively small – the ref. 3919 was 33 mm, while the ref. 5119 had a 36 mm case. And more recent models, like the 40 mm ref. 6007 introduced last year, tended to be more casual in style, maybe too informal for a Calatrava.

In comparison, the ref. 6119 hits the sweet spot. The case is 39 mm, bigger but still refined enough to still be considered an elegant dress watch.

My vote goes towards the white gold model.

Between the two, I’d go for the white gold model; it is understated with its vertically-brushed grey dial, and feels more modern than the rose gold version. In the launch announcement, Patek Philippe describes the ref. 6119 as a model that “reflects the changing preferences of our era” – the white gold model is definitely the more contemporary look.

Priced at US$29,570 (or 39,000 Singapore dollars), the ref. 6119 is fairly affordable compared to the rest of Patek Philippe’s catalogue. On it face, the ref. 6119 is pricier than the competition. The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony costs US$21,500, while the A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin is US$14,800.

That being said, the ref. 6119 is superior in its movement, which is finer and arguably higher spec than the competition. And then there’s the fact that it is perhaps the best-looking, while also boasting the most history.

The ref. 6119 in rose and white gold

Contemporary Calatrava

As its name suggests, the ref. 6119 features a Clous de Paris, or hobnail, bezel like that found on the ref. 3919 and ref. 5119. Some of a trademark feature on Patek Philippe watches of the 1980s and 1990s, the hobnail bezel is relatively uncommon today but eminently striking, elevating the decoration of the case without being over the top. The ref. 6119’s bezel has a broader, sloping profile, giving it greater wrist presence.

Intricately machined hobnails

While the dial is restrained in style, it is made up of many thoughtful details. The key element that gives it a more modern appearance is the railroad minute track on the outer circumference. It’s a simple printed track, but enhanced by applied gold spheres for the minute five markers.

The applied “obus” hour markers are solid gold and facetted on four sides, allowing them to catch the light nicely. In addition, dauphine hands have three facets lengthwise, giving them a more prominent look as compared to the slender, flat leaf hands found on past models.

The faceted “obus” markers and tri-facetted hands

And there’s also plenty of texture. On the white gold model, the dial finished in a pronounced vertically brushing, while the sub-seconds dial is stamped with a concentric pattern and divided into quarters with crosshairs, bringing to mind “sector” dials of vintage watches.

The rose gold version has a more classical grained finish that extends into the seconds register, which is ringed in rose gold to match the case.

The case design draws on the original Calatrava ref. 96 of 1932, with curved, tapered lugs instead of the straight lugs on the refs. 3919 and 5119. These give the watch a slightly larger footprint, giving it more presence without having to grow the case diameter too much. Despite the larger case, the ref. 6119 remains svelte at just 8.08 mm high, making it a bona fide dress watch.

The slim profile is thanks to the new, in-house cal. 30-255 PS.

Although it is significantly wider than the cal. 215 PS found in the refs. 3919 and 5119 that was the de facto movement in hand-wind Calatrava models for decades, the cal. 30-255 PS retains the same thickness of 2.5 mm.

Several aspects of a traditional movement construction were reconfigured to help with the thinness. One is a “central pinion without a wheel plate that meshes with the center wheel via an intermediate wheel” – essentially a more streamlined arrangement of the gears – and another are the crown and ratchet wheels that sit under the barrel bridge instead of over.

The manual-winding movement boasts 65 hours of power reserve, a stark improvement over the 44 hours of the cal. 215 PS.

It does that with twin barrels that unwind in parallel, or at the same time. The double, parallel barrels increase the torque of the movement substantially: the balance wheel has the highest moment of inertia amongst its 4 Hz movements according to Patek Philippe. In other words, it has excellent HDF.

This improves the stability of its beat rate – meaning better timekeeping regardless of external factors like shock – and also allows for easier regulation. And like all movements certified with the Patek Philippe Seal, the cal. 30-255 PS is rated to an impressive -3/+2 accuracy per day.

Notably, the cal. 30-255 PS also appears slightly better finished than its predecessors, showing the usual Cotes de Geneve and perlage, but also improved details like the bevels of the bridges that incorporate sharp external angles.

The balance wheel and twin bridges for the going train

The keyless works under the dial

Key facts and price

Patek Philippe Calatrava “Clous de Paris”
Ref. 6119G-001 (white gold)
Ref. 6119R-001 (rose gold)

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 8.08 mm
Material: 18k white or rose gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 30-255 PS
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Alligator with gold pin buckle

Availability: Now at retailers
Price: US$29,570; CHF25,000; or 39,000 Singapore dollars

For more, visit


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