It was a busy time for TAG Heuer in Shanghai this week, with the opening of a new boutique and a dinner to mark the 150th anniversary. Like every luxury brand, TAG Heuer has ambitious plans to grow its Chinese business, as shown by the presence of both CEO Jean-Christophe Babin and Honorary Chairman Jack Heuer in Shanghai.
The new boutique is located on Nanjing Road West, a fashionable shopping strip in Shanghai that features shop after shop stuffed with watches- both dealers and boutiques of the brands themselves. The TAG Heuer boutique is designed to sell not just watches, but also TAG Heuer’s growing product line, with dedicated areas set aside for accessories, sunglasses and the Meridiist mobile phone.
Pleasingly, there was also a significant amount of space given to a display on the history of Heuer/ TAG Heuer, as well as a display of some vintage Heuer watches (including a Heuer Daytona, a Heuer Monza and a Heuer Autavia).
As you’d expect, the boutique allows a lot of space to showcase the watches, rather than feeling that you’re just looking at a cramped tray of watches sitting in a glass cabinet.
Later that evening there was a dinner for 150 guests at the Hilton Hotel, featuring local models, celebrities, a minor blogger from Hong Kong…and Lewis Hamilton, who was the surprise guest of the evening.
Before heading into the dining room there were drinks served in the foyer, where TAG Heuer had set-up a display area showing off a selection of new and vintage watches, including five watches that I had lent TAG Heuer for the weekend- a Monaco, Calculator, Silverstone, Montreal and an Autavia GMT, all selected by Jack Heuer himself.
Jack Heuer spoke for about 20 minutes, giving an overview of the history of Heuer and the achievements of his predecessors, modestly playing down his own immense contribution. Jack told of the significance of Mikrograph and Microsplit timers that not only allowed increased accuracy for sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, but also the revolution that 1/100th second timing brought to the fields of science and medicine.
Jean-Christophe Babin then gave an overview of his vision for TAG Heuer, the importance of the Chinese market and the new Grand Carrera Pendulum. There was also an update on the “Odyssey of Pioneers”, the round-the-world trip that the TAG Heuer branded Tesla roadster is making to showcase TAG Heuer in its 150th anniversary and to prove that an electric car is capable of driving around the globe.
The highlight of the night was the arrival of Lewis Hamilton, who entered the room to a rockstar-welcome. Hamilton had come straight to the hotel from the first practice session at the Grand Prix, and was in a ebullient mood having set the fastest time in Friday Practice. He gave some insights into his day at the track and spoke very graciously- of course, he was there to promote TAG Heuer, but did so in a genuine and enthusiastic way- hard to imagine some other former World Champions handing the night so well.
What was also clear was that Hamilton genuinely loved his watches. He wears a one-of-a-kind, customised TAG Heuer Carrera with diamonds (admitting that he liked a bit of bling) and Lewis tried hard to convince Jean-Christophe Babin to gift him a Monaco V4 if he won the Shanghai Grand Prix. Babin’s compromise was the promise of a Rose Gold Monaco V4 if Hamilton won the World Championship- perhaps pointing to the next version of the Monaco V4.
What was interesting, if not that surprising, was the feedback from many at the dinner on the strength of the Hong Kong and Chinese watch markets- sales are strong and there is a mood of confidence on the outlook. If it wasn’t for the emergence of the Middle East, Indian and Chinese watch markets, one can only wonder how much the economic downturn of the last three years would have affected the Swiss watchmakers- it could well have been another “quartz-crisis”.
Overall it was an interesting day- a chance to celebrate both the history of Heuer and TAG Heuer, as well as taking a look at what will probably be the most important watch market of the future- China.