Big, bold and unabashedly extravagant, Roger Dubuis has never shied away from taking risks. It fortified its name in exceptional timepieces forged from the best materials and designed to arrest attention. Originality is not a mere trait at the manufacture, but an obsession: Classic chronographs are consistently tweaked for flair and wildly inventive ideas are put to the test.
The Excalibur collection is the archetype of this attitude, drawing from its name the courage to call upon the worthy. Only those comfortable with taking chances or wearing their individuality, for instance, would pick up one of the hefty Knights of the Round Table editions, which feature the 12 figures of King Arthur’s legendary court cast in gold and finished by hand, with pointed swords acting as hour indicators. At the other end of the spectrum is the Excalibur Spider series, with the RD107 in particular combining a minute repeater with a flying tourbillon within a carbon case accented in bright green. Wear it if you dare, the brand seems to tease with these statement timepieces.
And the penchant for experimenting is not restricted to the watches themselves. Hands down the most fascinating aspect of watchmaking is how the centuries-old craft continues to find relevance with cutting-edge technology. The most natural expressions of this are in the manufacture with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, as well as on the wrist with contemporary products such as smartwatches.
Apart from guests who have toured the manufactures, few customers have the opportunity to really experience just how closely tradition and innovation are linked in the haute horlogerie experience. E-commerce stores might complement boutiques but they distinctly lack the magic of browsing, of soaking in the luxe touches of the surroundings and discovering timepieces that might not attract them online or on social media.
When Covid-19 dug its claws into 2020, businesses anxious to keep bottom lines in the black and move the season’s inventory accelerated digitisation, much of which was in the pipeline anyway. The field of haute horlogerie was no different, but there are monumental challenges in persuading customers to invest in luxury products they had only ever seen onscreen. Trust and familiarity in preferred brands went a long way, but brands had to up their game to entice and convince without compromising on the customer experience.
Enter virtual boutiques. Powered by artificial intelligence and virtual reality, they bridge the gap between the physical retail experience and the digital space, leveraging total immersion and comprehensive product information to put the customer at ease. Brands that trade in the tactile and experiential especially — from luggage giant Tumi to watchmakers such as IWC and Piaget — sought salvation here. The complete boutique experience is transposed online with visitors “walking” through the entrance and facing painstakingly recreated store interiors that include lounges, dedicated sections, furniture and product displays.
Roger Dubuis, however, took it a step further. Its virtual boutique is inspired by its flagship store at Singapore’s ION Orchard and offers even more experiences than those enjoyed by walk-in customers. The virtual entrance and timepiece displays echo those of real life, but the adventure then departs from reality with a secret lounge — the most thrilling part of the digital experience. Visitors merely have to navigate their way through the boutique to the guest lounge and click on the screen that declares, “No rules, our game”.
Similar to unlocking the next level of a video game, access into the hidden space immediately transforms the aesthetics of the virtual interface into an uber cool game room with two interactive zones that celebrate the brand’s key territories of expression and section, whisking visitors away on a manufacture tour. Best of all, the entire thing happens to the soundtrack of a customised Spotify playlist featuring the tunes of Frieder Nagel, Melokind, Rival Consoles and Recondite.
At the Expressive Singularity zone, visitors are shown glimpses behind the scenes of Roger Dubuis, where its attitudes and aptitudes are showcased through notes of its approach, technical expertise and fluency in craftsmanship. The Adrenaline zone pays homage to the pedal-to-the-metal excitement of the maison’s exclusive partnerships with names such as Lamborghini Squadra Corse and Pirelli on collaborative products such as the Skyline Chess Game Roger Dubuis X Singapore.
After all that, simply swing by Geneva, as one does. A manufacture visit ushers guests through the home of Roger Dubuis, that temple of timepieces where no idea is too outrageous and no challenge insurmountable. For the full guided experience, clients could book a virtual walkthrough with a friendly brand ambassador, who will connect with them in real-time to elaborate on select timepieces or offer recommendations.
The buyer experience is an assuring one, with full product details and prices clearly presented and high-resolution images offering close-ups of the dial, case and movement. In fact, the only thing lacking is three-dimensional renderings that could better model the look and feel of timepieces, a definite desire if one is contemplating putting down some serious cash. Purchases in the virtual boutique are accompanied by a sales ceremony similar to what would ordinarily occur in-store.
“Welcome to the future of retail and our new world,” said Roger Dubuis CEO Nicola Andreatta at the regional preview.
The entire package espouses hyper horology, the manufacture’s vision of horology as an amplified, fully sensorial experience. The virtual boutique allows customers to witness first-hand the long-time relationship between tradition and innovation in watchmaking as well as remain connected to the brand and know its nuances more intimately. Ironically, the distance imposed by the pandemic might have brought Roger Dubuis closer to its clients.
This article first appeared on Mar 15, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.