Virtual / Reality

The future of luxury is not digital.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The future of luxury is not digital.

How do you judge if a watch is good? For Roger Dubuis CEO Nicola Andreatta – an industry veteran who has “pretty much done every single job in a watch company” – it involves running his fingers over a timepiece to “follow its curves and touch the angles”. 

During our chat at the opening of the brand’s new boutique last September, he shared: “The first thing I do when I look at a watch is to feel it and operate it. From that, I can tell how good a manufacture is. Watch appreciation is about the senses: seeing, touching or even listening to it.”

Watch enthusiasts would understand this. There is something sublime about feeling the buttery-smooth winding of a mainspring or the fluid click of a chronograph pusher or running a thumb over the perfectly smoothed edges of bracelet links. So, despite the relentless tide of technology and digital outreach programmes luxury brands have had to adopt to attract a mostly home-bound world, no amount of virtual store visits or Zoom presentations can replace the experience of sitting down with your favourite salesperson to admire actual – not augmented reality – watches on your wrist.

There is something sublime about feeling the buttery-smooth winding of a mainspring.

That subtle tactility is why luxury items and the prices they command are not easily understood. A photograph of a pricey mechanical watch will not fully reveal the hours of work that went into the assembly and decoration of its hundreds of micro components. Often, it takes getting up close and personal with these creations to appreciate the amount of time and skill required to make them.

One of my career highlights was visiting the A. Lange & Sohne manufacture in Glashutte in 2018. Now, it’s one thing to admire the brand’s beautiful movements through a display caseback. But it is another thing altogether to witness a watchmaker assembling and finishing the 636 speck-like components that make up the tiny chain of a complex fusee-and-chain mechanism that is just one part of a watch movement.

Digital initiatives, such as the Zoom presentations brands have been holding to reach out to clients and journalists, have their benefits. Viewers appreciate the effort to connect and the information shared by the respective brand heads. What is less appealing, however, are the blurry live images of new watches on screen, moving in and out of focus as presenters try to bring them closer to their webcams to highlight specific details. 

As one collector, who attended such a presentation, wryly shared with me, “Honestly, I couldn’t see the differences between the current and previous models that they were trying to show.” As the virtual increasingly become part of our reality, it’s becoming more apparent that some things are still best experienced in the physical world.