Historically, watch industry events have largely been for retailers, members of the press, and other people who have jobs that relate to the greater world of watches. However, as a direct to consumer model plays an increasing role in this industry, brands are realizing that they don’t just need to win over potential retail partners and media outlets; they need to actually speak to the customers themselves.
I recently attended Worn & Wound’s ‘Windup’ San Francisco event and was reminded just how rare it is to have a consumer-oriented watch show that caters to the people who will actually be wearing the various brands’ watches. I wasn’t able to attend the last Windup SF event that took place in 2019, so I was eager to check out this year’s show and decided to make the drive up from Los Angeles. As a whole, I had a great time at Windup SF and at numerous points during the weekend, I found myself thinking how more watch industry events should be like Windup.
Always Free and Open to the Public
Probably the single biggest thing separating Windup San Francisco from a traditional trade show like Baselworld or Watches & Wonders is the fact that all Windup events are completely free and always open to the public. For me, this approach makes all the difference and transforms the event from just being a platform for press and retailers into something aimed at watch enthusiasts that creates a way for people to discover new brands.
The fact that anyone with an interest in watches can simply walk into Windup without a ticket makes it much more likely that you will run into genuine watch-lovers, rather than people who are just there to cover the event. Additionally, you don’t need an appointment to meet with any of the brands or try on their watches. Just walk up to their booth, introduce yourself, and one of their representatives will be more than happy to show you everything and answer any questions that you might have.
Lastly, since Windup is a consumer-oriented event, most of the watches on display are also available for purchase (or at least available for pre-order). This means that if you happen to see a timepiece that you want to add to your collection, you can buy it right on the spot, rather than having to work through your local authorized retailer. The same thing certainly cannot be said about the new Rolex watches for 2022, which you need an appointment to view at Watches & Wonders and that you also aren’t likely to be able to purchase from your local authorized retailer any time soon.
Direct Access to Brands and The People Behind Them
In addition to not needing an appointment to meet with the brands and see their watches, you will also likely get a chance to speak with the people in charge of your favorite watch companies that are participating in the show. While some independents can be quite large, the term “microbrand” exists for a reason, and for a decent number of the exhibiting brands, you will be able to speak directly with their founders, CEO’s, and lead designers.
This type of direct access is truly special, and in addition to learning about all of the details regarding the actual watches themselves, you will also hear interesting stories and anecdotes about the origins or design processes of certain watches, all told by the people who actually created them. Plus, if you do happen to purchase a watch at the event, there is a pretty good chance that it will come with some free additional promotional items or possibly a discount, and your warranty card might even be filled out by the founder of the company who created it.
Food, Seating, and a Decent Bar
Great watches and a passionate group of collectors and enthusiasts are essential for a good event, but you also need to have a space that is conducive to people hanging out and spending multiple days looking at watches. It may seem obvious, but food, seating, and access to some adult beverages can go a long way towards creating a comfortable and enjoyable space, yet I’ve been to plenty of watch events that didn’t have any refreshments or even chairs available to sit down and have a conversation.
Windup San Francisco featured a large space with both indoor and outdoor seating. A different food truck was parked in the outside area each day throughout the weekend, and the inside space featured a bar that offered beer, wine, and most commonly ordered spirits/cocktails. Being able to tell your non-watch enthusiast friends or spouse that they will be able to sit back and relax with some food and a few drinks can go a long way towards convincing them to accompany you, and it also gives the event more of a festival vibe instead of just being like a watch-centric trade convention.
Additional Meetups and Get-Togethers
One of my favorite things about watch shows are the additional meetups and gatherings that can often happen outside of the actual show itself. Some of these are private after-hours events hosted by exhibiting brands, but some will be random and impromptu get-togethers held at local bars and restaurants by various people from the show who simply want to keep hanging out and talking about watches.
The fact that Windup is open to everyone and focuses on independent watch brands means that you will have ample opportunities to find things to do outside of the show itself. That can mean anything from attending a cocktail party put on by one of the brands to just meeting up with some fellow collectors after the show for dinner and some talk about watches.
Industry-oriented gatherings and trade shows will always be part of the greater watch industry, but consumer-focused events like Windup have a remarkable ability to bring customers closer to their favorite watch companies. Additionally, with such a high percentage of the attending population being legitimate watch enthusiasts and prospective buyers (rather than just being there to do their jobs), the type of environment that exists at Windup almost feels like a giant multi-day watch meetup, and it seems strange that more shows don’t follow a similar format and cater to the people who will actually be wearing the watches.
*All images courtesy of Worn & Wound