The horology pundit with access to the prestigious Salon de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva and the Baselworld Watch and Jewellery fair in Basel would tell you that the watches are not the destination. One does not travel all the way to Switzerland just to look at timepieces. Rather, it is to be in the centre of the watchmaking universe, to be immersed in the distinct worlds that individual brands have created and revel in the know-how, innovation and creativity gathered under one roof. The watches themselves are the result of these elements colliding.
For most Malaysian enthusiasts, the only way to keep up with these releases was to track them on social media or wait for the models’ arrival in local boutiques, depending on the allocations. That is, until Swiss Watch Gallery launched the Art of Time in 2011.
The exhibition, conceptualised in conjunction with the retailer’s 10th anniversary, was a public invitation to experience a slice of that Swiss adventure with dedicated booths showcasing the DNA and ethos of its various brands and the most interesting timepieces in their stables. Since then, it has gone on to become a highly anticipated event for its showcase of novelties, interspersed with sibling exhibition Time Kulture.
The 2019 edition is the sixth instalment of the Art of Time and its greatest effort yet. Held in the centre court of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, it transports visitors to the Swiss Alps with an immersive decor inspired by traditional chalets. Amid the privacy and warmth of wood panelling and soft downlight, the luxurious interior pays tribute to watchmaking with exquisite designs, revolutionary mechanisms and breakthrough technology from 12 iconic brands that have withstood the test of time.
Girard-Perregaux, Arnold & Son, Parmigiani Fleurier and Ulysse Nardin are joining the exhibition for the first time, and will display their novelties alongside Bell & Ross, Graham, IWC, Jaquet Droz, Oris, TAG Heuer, Tudor and Zenith. The discerning visitor will also want to seek out prized pieces that represent the ultimate savoir faire of watchmaking: Parmigiani Fleurier’s Tonda 1950 Tourbillon, Ulysse Nardin’s Executive Tourbillon Free Wheel, the superlative Bridges Cosmos by Girard-Perregaux and the mechanical marvel that is Jaquet Droz’s Tropical Bird Repeater, among others.
These landmark timepieces and brands befit the Icons of Time theme, extended with a revived facet of a previous exhibition. In 2015, Swiss Watch Gallery appointed five Malaysian friends of the brand that embodied the height of success in their various fields. Sutra Foundation chairman Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Mohammad Khalid or Lat, Fugee School co-founder and model Deborah Henry, designer Datuk Jimmy Choo and squash champion Datuk Nicol David represent the pursuit of excellence, creativity and innovation strived for in the world of watchmaking. Five new friends, spanning entrepreneurship, art and sport, will be announced for this year’s show.
“Art of Time 2011 was a huge gamble for us,” says Ashvin Valiram, executive director of the Valiram Group that owns Swiss Watch Gallery. “I had to push, force and cajole my team to get this done, to replicate Baselworld. Getting that first edition off the ground was a big challenge and, since then, we have pushed the boundaries in many ways to be recognised as the premier watch exhibition in Malaysia.”
Location is everything, he adds, and securing the central concourse of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, in the heart of the city’s Golden Triangle, has provided the kind of access that is impossible at Basel and Geneva, where invitations and appointments are de rigueur. Valiram Group further enhances the realism of the Swiss experience by bringing in master watchmakers and artisans for live demonstrations. This year, a master enameller from Jaquet Droz will be on-site on opening day to share the intricacies of the demanding craft.
“We try to mirror some of the things we like about Basel and Geneva,” says Ashvin. “We also try to bring in unique or never-before-seen conversational pieces to this market to create that sense of wow. There were 15,000 visitors at our last exhibition. It is not a very commercial exercise and involves great expense, but it helps the Malaysian public develop their horological appreciation and signifies the partnerships we have with the brands. We are the only Malaysian-owned retailer of this scale and at this level in the luxury watch world, so, we are basically carrying the country’s flag in the watch business.”
Demand for a digital platform for this is incessant, but here, Ashvin pauses. “A watch is a highly emotional product and unless you immerse yourself and feel it for yourself, that emotional bond cannot be formed. In the next five years, I am hoping to expand Art of Time to be not just a show about timepieces, but a greater appreciation of co-related arts and crafts. Our customers are evolving in their knowledge and appreciation, and we want to make sure we’re right there with them. Watches are bought to celebrate occasions, they can grow in value over time, become heirlooms … We want to reinforce these values.”
This article first appeared on Oct 21, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.