Clocks and Music: A Harmonious Match

In the late 1990s, when Daniel A. Spitz was a student at the Swiss Watchmakers Education and Training Program (better known as WOSTEP) visited the Audemars Piguet factory near Le Brassus in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

“I was trying to explain to them, ‘Do you have any idea how much disposable income and how many hours are collectors in music?’” Mr. Spitz said in a recent video call from his home in Gun Barrel City, Texas: It’s about the drive to southeast of Dallas. an hour away. “’How many more would be aware of what a really good watch is if you collaborated with musicians?’ They looked at me like I was crazy.”

Ah, how times (and melodies) have changed!

Over the past few years, many Swiss watchmakers, including Audemars Piguet, have formed partnerships with artists, DJs, award ceremonies, music festivals and even recording studios that emphasize the fundamental link between music and timekeeping. (Let’s not forget that the Italian word “tempo” comes from the Latin “tempus” meaning time.)

This is an issue that Mr. Spitz is particularly apt to address. The former lead guitarist of the pioneering thrash metal band Anthrax left the band in 1995 to become a watchmaker; He attributes this passion to his childhood spent dealing with Swiss watches in his grandfather’s watch and jewelery shop in New York’s Catskills district.

(He returned to Anthrax for a 2005 to 2008 reunion cycle, then quit music altogether. “My carpal tunnel syndrome keeps me from playing for a long time,” he said.)

Carpal tunnel syndrome hasn’t stopped Mr. Spitz from designing and manufacturing about three custom wristwatches a year, with prices starting at $128,000 per year and a waiting list approaching two years. He said doing a full hour at a time allowed him to avoid doing repetitive tasks with his hands, but when there was a problem he would just stop and work on something else.

He stressed the focus, precision and ambition required by both fields, while addressing the intrinsic connection between music – particularly his own brand of heavy metal – and high-end mechanical watchmaking. “When you want to be one of the best guitarists on the planet, you lock yourself in your room for years and you play and you play and you play – you have to figure that out,” Mr. Spitz said. “It is the same with watchmaking.”

As for Switzerland, the links have struck a chord – just look at a few new sponsorships, themed collections and even product collaborations.

Audemars Piguet in 2019 a global partner From the Montreux Jazz Festival (a role formerly filled by Swiss brand Parmigiani Fleurier). That same year, the watchmaker launched a music program to support emerging music artists and create musical experiences for listeners around the world.

Before the 55th edition of the festival comes to an end on July 17, the brand is embracing this mission in one Live performance It was staged by the Montreal-based hip-hop duo Lyonz in the foothills of the Swiss Alps around Montreux.

American watchmaker Bulova, owned by Citizen Watch, asserted its claim in the mainstream music industry by signing agreements with the Recording Academy and Latin Recording Academy to create and distribute watch collections featuring the Grammy and Latin Grammy logos in 2016. .

He even made custom-made Grammy watches for first-time winners, with dials made of Grammium, the special alloy used for the ceremony’s gramophone-shaped award.

“It’s not just about selling a watch,” said Jeffrey Cohen, Bulova’s CEO. “It’s about selling a feeling or feeling.”

While the pandemic has made it impossible to enjoy this weather at live events in general, many brands have created virtual music experiences throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021. The first is Bulova, three-year-old “Melody of TimeVideo series featuring emerging musicians, co-founded with Universal Music Group. And Zenith teamed up with electronic music DJ Carl Cox last fall to arrange a special DJ set at Zoom for nearly 50 clients in Mexico.

“Obviously, you don’t get the same result when you do it online,” he said. Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith, in a recent phone call. “You miss the atmosphere, you miss the real sound, you miss the interaction with the artists. But in between doing nothing and that, we went with that. ”

Navigating the pandemic was more difficult for Geneva-based watchmaker Vacheron Constantin, who in 2018 signed a long-term deal with London recording site Abbey Road Studios, made famous by the Beatles. “It definitely impacted the customer experience,” said Laurent Perves, the brand’s international commercial director and chief marketing officer.

Before the pandemic, Vacheron Constantin used the recording complex as an event space (like celebrating the 2018 debut of the Fiftysix collection). More intriguing, however, was what the brand did with the La Musique Du Temps collection of rattle watches introduced in 2019: Vacheron arranged for sound engineers at Abbey Road to record each watch’s unique sonic imprint. If their watches are serviced, we can reproduce the exact sound,” said Mr. Perves.

Silvia Belleza, an associate professor of Gantcher at Columbia Business School in New York, said this type of project, which explores how consumers show each other their status, is a more complex effort than a sponsorship to raise a brand’s profile. “If you can show why there is a connection between the measurement of time and music or sound,” he said, “not only are you placing the brand name close to an event or cultural event, you are actually creating a story.”

However, do any of these collaborations really sell watches?

“The goal here is to bring something additional to our customers in terms of experience, content, reach and storytelling,” Perves said. “It’s important to us to spread the message and educate people about what we do.”

(Managers may not say it, but of course building this kind of community is a pillar of the industry’s modern sales strategy.)

While watchmakers want to determine the return on their investment, it is doubtful they will be able to do so.

“I’m not going to lie – it’s very difficult to measure,” said Ms. Belleza. “You don’t have a shop at the music event and you can count how many watches you sell. Return is about awareness, visibility, engagement with high-level activities, not the number of hours sold in the short term.”

Instead, watchmakers who create sensory experiences powered by music—or even, specifically, when the music doesn’t match the brand’s image (point to Anthrax hits like Mr. Spitz’s 1987’s “I’m the Man”)—long-connect with existing customers and lead the way. Gain new customers throughout.

Take it from Lee Garfinkel, an advertising creative director who has often used unexpected music throughout his career.

He founded a television set in 1995. advertising For Mercedes-Benz where Janis Joplin sings “Oh my God, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” on the soundtrack.

“At first, the dealer group was crazy,” Mr. Garfinkel said in a recent phone call. “’Why are you driving this screaming woman singing about my cars?’ But for me, it was a great way to help people wake up and realize that something new and different is happening.”

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