Virtual Reality Takes Fans Inside the World of Watches

A growing cohort of forward-thinking watchmakers is embracing the possibilities of virtual reality.

New York Times, November 13, 2016

A growing cohort of forward-thinking watchmakers is embracing the possibilities of virtual reality, or simply V.R. The immersive technology, designed to simulate a user’s presence in a real or imaginary environment using a special headset, is being hyped as the biggest thing to happen to the luxury industry since e-commerce. “The key word for V.R. is experience,” said Tom Emrich, the Toronto-based co-producer of Augmented World Expo, a conference dedicated to augmented and virtual reality. “Luxury brands are taking it a step further: Instead of watching the experience, the end user is actually in the experience.” While there is some disagreement as to what qualifies as virtual reality — some believe that 360-degree video, or videos that capture images in every direction simultaneously, should be distinguished from V.R. because it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion — watchmakers aren’t fazed by these distinctions. Here are the stories of three watch brands pioneering the use of these mediums in an effort to educate, entertain and, ultimately, lure customers.

Over the course of four days in late October, the Geneva-based watchmaker Roger Dubuis welcomed about 250 guests to its “Dare to Be Rare” event in Shanghai. Billed as an “immersive presentation on the state and future of the brand,” the event highlighted three well-known Roger Dubuis calibers through a virtual reality experience viewed on an Oculus Rift headset. Clients were “able to travel inside like a roller coaster, into the movement,” said Dorothée Henrio, the company’s global marketing director. “The client is buying a timepiece, but we really want to offer him an experience,” Ms. Henrio said. “That’s what the ultrarich are looking for. They could have bought a piece of art or a Lamborghini but instead they bought a Roger Dubuis.”

Filmed in Chantilly, France, Piaget’s two-minute-plus “Polo Experience” — available in both V.R. and 360-degree video formats — debuted in mid-July at an event in Brooklyn. “It was very important for us to digitize our launch and be in tune with the younger generation,” said the brand’s global communications director, Valerie Nowak. “It’s all about being game changers,” Ms. Nowak said, “and renewing the way we consider high watchmaking and, in parallel, the way we see polo.”

TAG Heuer went all in with virtual reality a year ago to create a racecar-centered V.R. experience to highlight the brand’s iconic collection of automotive-inspired chronographs. The two-minute video, “Crafting a Legend: Ride with TAG Heuer,” sought to teach viewers about the complexity of the watch brand’s movements — first, by placing them inside a sports car racing around a circuit and then by catapulting them into space, where viewers could explore the inner workings of a Carrera wristwatch. It took about three months to make, said Jean-Robert Bellanger, the company’s digital marketing director, as well as some additional time to create adaptations in different languages and for different devices before its premier at the Baselworld luxury watch fair in March. “Today it’s very difficult to let people know what’s inside a watch,” Mr. Bellanger said. “We thought virtual reality would be a very good experience, but also very entertaining.”  “V.R. is a tomorrow technology,” he said. “In five years, there won’t be any more mobile phones. It’ll just be ear plugs and virtual reality glasses.”

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