Switzerland is known for many things, but being late is definitely not one of them. Unless it’s the watch industry we’re talking about, in which case traditions often take precedent over advancement. Following those traditions has brought about an entire renaissance for the analog watch, but their adherence has also left many brands very late to the party when it comes to online retail, connecting eager new watch fans with the latest products. But can you really blame the luxury industry for being reticent to join the world of e-commerce shopping? The most obvious challenge of retailing luxury products online isn’t the products themselves but the marked omission of the collective luxury shopping experience — one that has traditionally existed exclusively in the physical realm, with bright boutique lights, plush leather chairs, and chilled Champagne. With the global pandemic effectively shuttering physical retail spaces all summer, and online shopping now at an all-time high, we wanted to know how five Swiss brands have translated the luxury experience to the e-commerce space, so we poured a wee bit of dram, pulled out the American Express, and got to work. Here’s what we found.

Editor’s Note: aBlogtoWatch was not compensated in any way by any of the brands featured in this story. Our goal was to experience each brand’s checkout process just as any reader or customer might, and document the experience accordingly. All of the watches were returned, using prepaid shipping labels provided directly by the brands themselves, again, using the same processes and resources available to real customers.

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Ordering online from Chopard:

Watch Ordered: Alpine Eagle Large 41mm ($12,800)
+ Very discrete (excellent for gift-giving), yet highly personal

+ Bracelets can be custom-sized, with unique fit preferences prior to dispatch
+ Fast shipping and generous 30-day return window (must be new/unworn, of course)

It’s been a little over six years since Chopard launched its e-commerce platform, and relative to many other Swiss luxury brands,  this veteran status in the space comes across as quite natural and automated. With priorities clearly focused around customer discretion and ease and speed of checkout, the whole experience felt very efficient, in a “hands-off” sort of way — maybe not a process that screams “luxury” in the traditional sense, but when you think about it, the only real luxury we have is time, and for this process to be easy, smooth, and fulfilled quickly is quite honestly the most luxurious thing I can think of.

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Conversely, the delivery was far from impersonal: The order was dispatched with complimentary overnight shipping and arrived the next morning neatly packed with a nice gift bag, two sealed cloth masks (a particularly thoughtful touch in times like these), a bi-fold envelop with the watch’s receipt and official authentication & timekeeping certificates, another sealed sleeve with more “Stay Happy” stickers (obviously a hat-tip to the brand’s Happy Diamonds collection), and the kicker: a personalized, handwritten postcard. Yes, I know there’s an Alpine Eagle waiting for me at the bottom of this box, but let’s not forget watch collectors are in it for the little things, literally and figuratively. And in this instance, the little things really are the big things. Learn more about Chopard watches and explore the brand’s e-commerce store right here: chopard.com.

Ordering online from Omega:

Watch Ordered: Seamaster Aqua Terra 41mm ($5,700)
+ Smooth, familiar e-commerce process

+ Bracelets can be custom-sized, watch arrived with all links included and bagged separately
+ Complimentary 2-day express shipping

Another e-commerce veteran, Omega has been selling watches online since long before the global pandemic forced everyone’s hand — and the brand’s experience in the space shows, with a quiet confidence that requires an absolute minimum number of clicks or keystrokes to complete an order — the end result of a highly polished, optimized platform.

After a brief FedEx Second Day Air journey, the watch arrived nestled inside a tidy custom-branded outer mailer, which secured Omega’s familiar beige wooden inner watch box, wrapped in a nice matte white paper and finished with red bow. Tucked into the cardboard mid-box was a faux wax-stamped cardstock insert containing my receipt, customer service contact information, and a note of congratulations. Also in this mid-box was the familiar red pictogram card, warranty card (marked “E-Commerce Boutique” as the retailer name), and Master Chronometer certificate card included with every modern Omega, tucked into a white leatherette sleeve.

Using Omega’s online selector, I’d ordered the Aqua Terra sized to my 6.5″ wrist with a little wiggle room, and it snapped to my wrist with ease. It’s worth mentioning that the watch comes affixed with the usual protective stickers but also had a special red plastic ring encircling the bracelet itself — once broken and removed, the watch couldn’t be returned. So if you’re ordering a Seamaster or Speedmaster on bracelet just to try in on, I’d highly recommend choosing a slightly larger wrist size in the online selector to ensure that the watch can indeed be tried on comfortably to best inform your purchase decision – the return policy extends to 14 days, ensuring that you have plenty of time. Learn more, and shop Omega’s extensive online offerings right here: omegawatches.com.

Ordering online from Parmigiani Fleurier:

Watch ordered: Tondagraph GT Annual Calendar Chronograph ($18,500)
+ Non-traditional blend of online convenience and physical retail personalization

+ Watch shipped in separate packaging outside its presentation box for added timekeeping security
+ Highly personalized experience, with direct brand contact

Back before social media and e-commerce became the norms, one key facet of “luxury” was defined as access — and the less access customers or clients had to the brands that produced luxury products, presumably the more luxurious something might be perceived as being. Thank god those days are behind us — modern luxury is all about the inverse — the more access to a brand the customer has, the better. Few brands understand this concept more clearly than Swiss independent Parmigiani Fleurier, who’s translated that highly personalized experience of luxury retail to its new e-commerce platform, which just launched this summer in the United States and Canada (though global shipping can easily be arranged through the brand’s concierge).

Though quite new to the e-commerce space, Parmigiani Fleurier seems intent on doing things a little differently — something that becomes immediately evident in the checkout process when the customer has the option of choosing to credit the sale to a local Parmigiani retailer (even if that retailer had not facilitated any part of the transaction) — a nice touch that supports the home team during challenging physical retail times. The non-traditional personalization continued upon completion of checkout, when I received a confirmation email, and shortly after that, a friendly text message from Parmigiani’s regional sales manager in California who provided me with my tracking information, and a word of congratulations on the purchase, hyping me up a bit for the watch’s delivery that would take place two days later.

The new Tondagraph GT (don’t miss Bilal’s in-depth review of this awesome new sports watch) arrived in its own individual cardboard sleeve, separate from the presentation packaging, in the same manner as many watches are shipped directly to retailers. Though the reasons for this might differ from brand to brand, a watch’s presentation box is rarely the best vessel for the bumps and bangs of a FedEx box, so in the interest of preserving accuracy, this smaller box-in-a-box is a nice way to ensure your new watch doesn’t begin its journey on your wrist with any major timekeeping deviations. The cardboard sleeve was bubble-wrapped, and sealed with a “sanitized” sticker on it, a very thoughtful, human touch that’s much appreciated in times like these. Included with the watch itself was a branded microfiber cloth and a nice leatherette credit card clip, because what is modern luxury without a little branded swag? Get started and browse all the available options right here: parmigianiamericas.com.

Ordering online from Hublot:

Watch Ordered: Classic Fusion ‘Black Magic’ Chronograph 42mm ($10,900)
+ Multitude of payment options accepted, including bank/wire transfer

+ In-store pickup possible for those interested in adding a boutique visit to their purchase experience
+ Fast, 2-Day UPS shipping with free returns within a 14-day return window

Activating the fast-moving hype machine around sporadic, highly limited releases throughout the year has always been the modus operandi for Hublot, in the same manner that this strategy works for streetwear brands like Supreme, or limited releases from sneaker giant Nike. So it should come as little surprise that Hublot’s online shopping experience for its North American clients acts as a natural reflection of those brands with a comparably large, frequently rotating selection of products available after just a few clicks, the input of a credit card, or even the completion of a bank wire transfer — because what is luxury without flexibility, right?

Clad in all-black rubber and ceramic, the brand’s best-selling Classic Fusion “Black Magic” Chronograph arrived after two days with UPS in a very cool foam-lined shipping box (no cardboard box matryoshka or packing peanuts here) custom built to perfectly accommodate the porthole bezel-shaped watch box. Hublot also enables its customers to select in-store pickup at one of its boutiques, should the new owner need to have a bracelet sized, pick up an extra strap, or just to receive a socially distanced word of congratulations in person. I opted for delivery, so my congratulations came in the form of an envelope containing a welcome letter from brand CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, a receipt, return instructions should I so desire, and Hublot’s authenticity card, which looks a little bit like an elite black credit card — a very cool touch. Explore the rest of Hublot’s Classic Fusion collection available online right here: hublot.com.

Ordering online from Breitling:

Watch Ordered: Chronomat B01 42 Copper ($8,100)
+ Highly detailed process with many thoughtful touches throughout the experience

+ Cool “special gift” add-on after completing purchase
+ Free overnight shipping + scheduled pickup for returns

We’ve watched some dramatic changes take place at Breitling over the course of the last two years — from the shift in management to the evolution in design aesthetic and product release cadence, CEO Georges Kern has made sure every customer touchpoint with the brand has been overhauled, and this includes its e-commerce boutique. And like the dial on the new 2020 Chronomat, Breitling’s shopping experience is simple at a glance, but multi-layered, and highly detailed at every level.

The process begins as many online shopping experiences do — with a bit of single-malt, the creation of an account (though guest checkout is possible), and the selection of a watch — all pretty straightforward. The platform starts to show some slick programming with a neat location finder that makes address a snap, then extra straps can be added to an order during checkout, with the system cleverly only showing straps compatible with the watch currently in the cart. Using PayPal, Google Pay, Affirm, or any major credit card as a method of payment, the purchase is completed — but not before a “special gift” is offered as an add-on after the purchase was made, a nice checkout surprise, not unlike a physical boutique adding a ball cap or branded towel with the purchase.

The copper-dialed Chronomat arrived on my porch after a quick overnight with UPS, but it would be several minutes before it was on my wrist — a monumental unboxing task first lay ahead. The main outer shipping box contained an inner shoebox-sized cardboard insert with a custom, tear-away exterior that’s yellow on the inside, so you know what you’re about to get into — a neat touch. Once inside, I found a neatly organized pouch containing my receipt, maintenance tips, and return instructions (Breitling will schedule a pickup with UPS should you desire to return your watch in new condition inside the generous 30-day window), along with a personalized, handwritten note. Once again, this is quite possibly the biggest little thing of them all for me. Lifting the lid on the custom insert revealed the leatherette watch box, gift-wrapped and securely locked in place with twin elastic strings. Like Omega and Chopard, Breitling enables purchasers to choose their bracelet size prior to adding the watch to their cart, and though a bit snug (friendly recommendation to buyers: err on the looser side with a new watch), the Chronomat’s narrow “bullet” links are all essentially half-links, enabling a highly custom fit, even for those in-between wrist sizes. Shop the new Chronomat, and the rest of Breitling’s watches, right here: breitling.com.

Traditionally speaking, it’s clear that the luxury watch-buying purchase experience was very heavily contingent on said purchase being conducted in-person. It’s understandable that many luxury brands are hesitant to try to translate that experience into the more impersonal, transactional experience of online retail, but credit should certainly be given to those who’ve made the attempt – as illustrated here. Certainly, for many customers, the convenience of simply being able to purchase (or try on) a watch whenever one wants, and when a boutique or retailer is not locally available, or in the instance of 2020, simply closed, outstrips the need for the superficial – the champagne, the leather chairs, and so on. It’s also clear to me that e-commerce, while hardly new, still feels like it’s in its relative infancy in the luxury watch space, with improvements still to be made around the “last mile” of delivery and after-sales support (straps, bracelet adjustment, time adjustments, etc.). Thankfully, the five brands tested had relatively streamlined ordering, delivery, and return processes, though this is likely the exception, rather than a hard-and-fast rule across the board.

There’s also the more glaring fact that an online customer gives up the usual price breaks one might get inside a traditional retailer, but for many buyers, the speed, convenience, and immediate product access is worth a lot more than the hassle of traveling somewhere and the anxiety of negotiating a price. As customers become more accustomed to buying watches online, rather than in-person, I’d hazard a guess that we’ll all become more conditioned to the reality of pouring our own whiskey, settling into our own comfortable chair, making a purchase, and breaking open the box a day or two later.

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