The Swiss luxury watch industry is generally a conservative affair. Enter Philipp Plein. Following the launch of his fashion watches with license partner Timex Group last year, the arch disruptor unveiled his first collection of Swiss-made luxury timepieces at an offsite location during Geneva’s Watches and Wonder trade show.
Said watches were delivered by a tuxedo clad parachutist who jumped James Bond style out of a helicopter and landed on a raft in the middle of Lake Geneva before making his way to the duplex penthouse suite at the city’s Fairmont Hotel Hotel for the launch event where entertainment involved a private performance by 80’s musician Bonnie Tyler.
“Every time we enter a market we use the same formula — we are disruptive, loud and aggressive in design, language and the way we approach the client,” said Plein during an interview.
Hand finished in Lugano, Switzerland, where the group has its headquarters, the Crypto King and Queen collection for men and women features resolutely chunky (”we German’s say if it’s heavy it’s valuable,” Plein quipped) double layer transparent dial and case-back with brand signature skull, double dome sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. Colorways range from red and black to a ‘cryptonite’ lime green.
Plein joins Gucci — most recent major fashion house to have successfully entered the luxury watchmaking sector. The Kering owned brand launched its high watchmaking division in 2021 concepted by former creative director Alessandro Michele.
Latest Gucci outing, also shown offsite during Watches and Wonders, is inspired by the golden age of space travel. Five signature collections feature tourbillons, moon phase movements and a new perpetual calendar which embody both high watchmaking expertise and Gucci house codes.
Gucci’s kaleidoscopic G-Timeless Planetarium takes its name from the Orion Nebula NGC 1976 while the G-Timeless Dancing Bees collection celebrates the archival insect motif that first appeared during the 1970s.
“You have to be bold as a fashion brand to enter the luxury watch market,” Plein acknowledged. “We are not here to compete with Richard Mille or Rolex. They have so much tradition and brand equity. People buy them as an investment. That’s not us.” Rather, he’s banking on a combination of product and price to address a market niche.
It’s the philosophy on which he’s built his brand. “When I started out in fashion 25 years ago I had no brand equity, all I had was product,” he said. “But I knew no one would buy a black cashmere sweater from an unknown brand. They’d rather go to Loro Piana.” However he realized that by adding Swarovski crystal he could sell said sweaters for more than Loro Piana.
“It might be to a niche 1% of the market but there’s a market and a client who is willing to spend more on something they can’t get anywhere else.”
“We have a very interesting sophisticated product with a complicated Swiss movement which gives you good value for money,” he said, citing the brand’s signature maximalist approach to design alongside an entry level price of around $3000 — sitting between comparable categories at Tag Heuer and Rolex. (Most expensive rose gold model comes in at just under $20,000).
“It conveys a sense of innovation rather than tradition,” added retail advisor Carmine Rotondaro.
The Philipp Plein Crypto King watches will be sold with complimentary, limited edition nonfungible tokens (NFTs) by digital artist Antoni Tudisco. They come presented in boxes with rechargeable screens playing said artwork. The NFTs themselves can minted via an enclosed QR code engraved on a metal plaque.
“We earned a certain credibility in the Web3 community as one of first luxury brands to accept crypto,” says Plein.
The brand which has been accepting cryptocurrency as a payment option since 2021, launched a Web3 concept store in London in 2022. It has also sold limited edition sneakers linked to NFTs.
Over the last 12 months, H. Moser & Cie, Tag Heuer, Bulgari and Jacob & Co have also launched luxury timepieces with NFT or Web3 dimensions.
Gucci likewise is a forerunner when it comes to Web3 and the metaverse. It auctioned an NFT film of its Aria collection at Christies in 2021, teamed up with Bored Ape Yacht Club on PFP projects and was the first major fashion house to acquire land in The Sandbox Game which which it partnered in October for a two-week pop-up event.
Most recent partnership is with Yuga Labs, the Web3 group which might be compared to Gucci parent Kering, comprising digital native brands such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, Meets and 10KFT. The multi-year strategic partnership announced Monday, debuted with an activation in Yuga’s gamified universe, Otherside.
According to a statement from Gucci, the aim is “extending the dialogue between fashion and entertainment in the metaverse,” and “pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in both physical and digital spaces to create entirely new experiences for their communities through creative story telling.”