Blocks away from where I originally started aBlogtoWatch in San Francisco, I found myself enjoying the hospitality of Omega’s newest boutique near the popular Union Square shopping district. Omega invited a legion of press partners, clients, retailers, ambassadors, and special friends to celebrate not just the new store opening, but also Omega’s symbolic return to full operation now toward the end of the pandemic — just weeks before I met with Omega in Los Angeles to finally celebrate the launch of James Bond 007: No Time To Die.
Omega was actually among the rare brands to more or less maintain watch production from its facility in Switzerland during the pandemic. That means much of the product shortages and supply chain issues known to affect the timepiece industry didn’t hit the jewel of the Swatch Group with much severity at all. That isn’t entirely surprising given that if there is one core strength to the Swatch Group, it is excellence in industrialization.
According to Omega, the purpose of the event in San Francisco was actually less about the new store opening and more an opportunity for Omega to say “thank you” to its colleagues and constituents. One of the important things that much of the timepiece industry learned during the pandemic is the value of connections and the crucial warmth of in-person relationships. While “virtual” meeting efforts can be applauded for their “can do” attitude, the consensus among most people in the business of selling luxury timepieces is that very little can replace the power of physical connections. As such, in-person events are back. Omega just sort of made it official, and is doing so around the United States — still the brand’s most important market.
A cornerstone of Omega’s company strategy is to use events — like the one in San Francisco — to express what it calls “brand values.” This practice is less about what each product has inside it and more about what the people who make up the brand hold dear. These values are crucial to making connections and friends – which collectively make up the people who work at or with Omega. It is especially important to impart these values because as the next era of the luxury watch industry unfolds, professionals and clients will increasingly align themselves with the brands they see as friends.
To express their values, Omega not only brought in CEO and President Mr. Aeschlimann but also a cadre of celebrated brand ambassadors ranging from Olympic athletes and astronauts to movie actors and Cindy Crawford (the longest services ambassador who originally began working with the brand in 1995), whom Omega introduced at a gala event held in San Francisco’s de Young museum.
To get a better idea of what Omega is up to and what it has planned for the upcoming future. I was able to spend sometime with Omega CEO and President Raynald Aeschlimann, and here is what he had to say to the aBlogtoWatch audience:Ariel Adams: As the CEO and President of Omega, you have no shortage of places to visit that are important for global business. Yet, in the last month or so, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you here in California twice. Help explain your vision for the strategic importance of California’s markets for Omega right now, and in the near future.
Raynald Aeschlimann: California and the USA have always been strong and important markets for us. We have been present in Los Angeles with a boutique at the Beverly Center Mall for more than 10 years, and we have just renovated and reopened our boutique around the 007 Bond Premiere event. San Francisco is our 4th boutique in California, with the others being in San Diego, L.A., and Costa Mesa — and the great city on the Bay is definitely a strategic opening for the brand given its close proximity to the tech industry. The special support from OMEGA HQ in Switzerland is an acknowledgment of the market’s importance and its impressive business developments.
Ariel Adams: Omega is lucky because as an “accessible” luxury timepiece brand, it also manages to capture the attention of very wealthy and very elite collectors. What are the expectations of Omega from its most elevated level of customer these days?
Raynald Aeschlimann: The expectation is to transcend the usual brand/customer interaction and to create an authentic relationship based on mutual respect and open honest dialogue. It has to be something more akin to a friendship, where you gain an understanding of an individual’s style and tastes and have an insight into their lifestyle. There is also an understanding that we will continue to develop very exclusive yet coherent wristwatch masterpieces.
Ariel Adams: Omega has an impressive portfolio of brand ambassadors, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting over the years at events such as the recent beautiful gala dinner at San Francisco’s De Young museum. Omega ambassadors must be such a valued part of the brand. What is it like taking care of each of them? Omega must have a department dedicated to it. Talk a little bit about what it is like not only to choose appropriate brand ambassadors but also how to maintain their excitement.
Raynald Aeschlimann: It’s a great pleasure to take care of our ambassadors, and it’s always a one-on-one interaction, as they are all individuals with specific talents and personalities. Again, it’s about building personal relationships. This takes time and an understanding that all relationships evolve and need nurturing. In regards to choosing ambassadors, we look for true individuals who excel in their chosen fields, match the brand’s values, and have personal integrity.
We also love to work alongside those with a genuine passion for our brand, and we always have plenty of great projects and events, so it is not difficult to maintain excitement. Our ambassadors are inspiring personalities, and their excitement for our brand is visible.
Ariel Adams: Speaking of brand ambassadors, Omega has been a shining of example of the power of popular personalities to educate the world about great timekeeping products. In short, brand ambassadors are a great way to keep awareness high and invigorate a brand. What I would like to know is what you say to naysayers in the watch industry space who feel that brand ambassadors might be cliche or a bad investment?
Raynald Aeschlimann: It depends on what they mean by investment. We certainly don’t treat our ambassadors like commodities who have to guarantee a quick return. We try to foster long-term partnerships, built on respect, that benefit both parties. I would also argue that our partnerships are diverse and not just focused on luxury and glamour. Our ambassadors are dedicated athletes, brave adventurers – individuals who have made their own way in the world. They’re a very inspiring group of people who are positive role models, and our brand is enriched by their association, not just financially but in many ways.
Ariel Adams: Omega and its contemporaries in the luxury watch space are fully aware that, in some major ways, the world after the pandemic will be different from the world before it. How do you hope some of these changes can be beneficial for your business and also create opportunities for creativity in the watch industry as a whole?
Raynald Aeschlimann: I think we have seen a shift in values and an emphasis on what’s truly important, which I think will benefit OMEGA in the long-run, because we are not making throwaway items, we are making products that last a lifetime — more than one lifetime, which can be passed down through families and hold or even increase in value over time. To make something enduring in a fast-changing unpredictable world is a positive.
Ariel Adams: The enduring message resonating from the Omega team after the event series in San Francisco, was that relationships and in-person experiences are critical what you feel is a necessary part of the brand’s performance in California and the West Coast. Getting people together is the most exciting way to develop passion for the products. What are some of the next steps you and the Omega team will be taking to ensure that the Omega name is present in as many in-person events as possible, in this part of the world?
Raynald Aeschlimann: Retail and in-person interaction with clients has always been key for us since we started retail 15 years ago. From a watchmaking course behind the bench to a private viewing of a James Bond movie, and invitations to international events with ambassadors, OMEGA puts its clients at the heart of its strategy. Our clients also have many opportunities to discover new models with the watchmakers or to interact with our product development managers in Switzerland. Learn more at the Omega watches website here.