NO TIME IS THE RIGHT TIME
Despite socio-political issues, instability and little to zero economic growth, the world’s top watch brands are clearly investing in Lebanon. The new A. Lange & Sohne boutique is one of only 16 in the world. Though the brand has been present in Lebanon for 13 years, the single-brand store opened in May 2016. Why invest here, and why now? It is part of a long-term plan, says A. Lange & Sohne CEO Wilhelm Schmid, explaining the decision was made two years ago when the outlook was better. Unfazed, he says, “If you wait for the perfect time you’ll never get anything done and we always aim for the long run, so it doesn’t matter if we start on a low or high – business and markets are cyclical.” The brand’s only other boutique in the region opened in Dubai four years ago (an Abu Dhabi store was also opened but has since shut down). A. Lange & Sohne has no points of sale in the whole of Africa, and going further east, it has single-brand stores only in Hong Kong and Japan.
When asked who the strongest buyers of the niche brand are internationally, Schmid admits it is hard to think about it in traditional terms because many clients purchase watches in countries they do not live in. “Currencies do funny things so if you buy a watch for $300,000 and the price di erence is 10 percent, that $30,000 makes a di erence and is worth a ight,” he quips, asking, “If an American is buying a watch in Japan, is that a strength of the US market or the Japanese market?” Instead, he says their main client base is best described as watch collectors, and 7075 percent of their clients are repeat customers.
Jaeger-LeCoultre is happy to be in Beirut too, despite the situation. The brand’s Middle East Regional Brand Director Marc de Pana eu says, “Lebanon is a very important market for us because it has a very unique pro le. Being between the Middle East and Europe, Lebanon has the best of both worlds in a way. Our style, and what we stand for – cra smanship and understated luxury – speaks a lot to the Lebanese customer.” He adds that the situation is complex in the whole world right now, not just in Lebanon.
THE BEAUTY OF THE CRAFT
Though watches were originally tools for telling time, today they tell a lot more than just that. Connoisseurs do not necessarily follow big names, but instead research to understand what brands stand for. Wearing one brand or another may re ect a certain image the wearer wants to convey. “I would go as far as saying that sometimes the purpose for which the watch was made, which is telling the time, is not the primary use of the watch anymore,” Pana eu admits.
The core reason these watches are considered luxurious is the cra smanship and technology that go into each piece. “What makes a watch beautiful is the caliber inside the watch, as well as the design,” Pana eu says. He describes it as: “taking what’s happening on the universe level and putting it in tiny components. This is how watchmaking started – using the sun and stars.” Schmid calls A. Lange & Sohne watches “little miracles” and “mini machines,” explaining that most of their designs are quite understated on the outside, but the mechanics are visible through a glass bottom when the watch is turned over. “Our design is elegant, but when you turn it around it’s quite opulent. We do everything for the owner, not so much for the public,” he says.
Many brands produce all watch parts in-house. “By doing everything in-house we maintain our patrimony and ensure consistency. People want authenticity, they want to know where products were made, by whom and using what technique,” he explains, adding that they have always produced everything themselves, but competitors who did not always do so are now shi ing to in-house production too.
Legendary IWC watchmaker turned brand ambassador Kurt Klaus insists that watches must be assembled by hand, explaining that even though machines produce the tiny parts that go into a movement, a machine could never put them together. “Every piece has to be adjusted, oiled in the right place – and this is a highly quali ed watchmaker’s skill. Most of our watches have a glass bottom so the movement must