Set watches to stun: Omega, maker of fine timepieces, joined luxury row at San Francisco’s Union Square neighborhood with a brand new boutique — its first in the heart of the financial district.
Previously, the company maintained a Bay Area presence through third-party retailers and a dedicated storefront at San Francisco International Airport. But Geary Street’s foot traffic and premium proposition — nestled amid Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Neiman Marcus and many more — appealed to Raynald Aeschlimann, Omega’s president and chief executive officer.
“What we want to have is presence, which is very important, in some of the key locations of the cities,” such as New York’s Fifth Avenue and Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the brand’s first two U.S. locations, Aeschlimann explained to WWD. “I think San Francisco is — sorry for being a bit European — is one of the cities where you feel very well by walking around Union Square and Geary Street. And that’s why we wanted to have a nice location there, close to other brands, especially the multinational brands.”
The Geary Street location, the company’s 25th luxury boutique in the U.S., is situated in a large, airy space topping 1,000 square feet. It’s cast in brightness and minimalism to highlight the Swiss luxury watches.
There are no counters, so there’s nothing that stands between the patrons and the products, allowing them to peruse the collections, such as Constellation, Seamaster and Speedmaster, and experience the mechanical timepieces worthy of divers, cosmonauts and Olympians. (As an International Olympic Committee partner, Omega was responsible for timing, scoring and other systems during the games.)
According to Aeschlimann, the company set a new course for physical retail roughly three years ago, with a new approach to architecture, guidelines and displays deployed on a worldwide basis, starting stores in Asia, Zurich, Geneva, Paris and London. “Every capital had the new concept of architecture, which is based on our DNA and based on a lot of light, gold and red, which is the color of Omega,” he said. Red carpet stretches out to greet shoppers, who can explore the space, parse new straps or have their devices serviced while lounging on the sofas. The premium experience matters, especially when it concerns consumers of $5,000 to $10,000 watches.
The Omega boutique arrives at a unique time, as San Francisco has seen a number of store closures due to rampant theft in recent months. It’s also opening during a pandemic that is ongoing.
But for Aeschlimann, such challenges make traits like quality and resilience even more important.
“It’s really something that I pushed very much, about continuing to develop and continuing to even launch some new products. One is called the Silver Snoopy Award that is probably the most looked at — there’s more than 20,000 back orders on this watch, you know — that we launched during this pandemic,” he said, referring to the 50th anniversary timepiece honoring the “Silver Snoopy Award” bestowed on Omega from NASA astronauts in 1970. The distinction recognized the brand’s contribution to space exploration.
“We wanted to keep the contact [and relationships] with customers,” he added. “Some people would wait, which is safe. But it’s the contrary; we have to continue the dynamics. We have this in our DNA, and that’s why we opened some stores. We opened the biggest, largest store in Europe at Zurich airport eight months ago.”
While the company prizes technological innovation, it’s of a decidedly mechanical nature, unlike recent smartwatch trends among premium watch companies. Aeschlimann regards the wearables as small computers on the wrist, not watches. They are intriguing, he said, but of a completely different ilk than the sort of fine timepieces that are Omega’s specialty. That could wind up being a refreshing change for the public here, in the backyard of Silicon Valley.
The company marks the grand opening with a celebration that includes an afternoon of panel discussions, with brand ambassadors participating in three segments: “Fashion & Omega,” with Cindy Crawford and Kaia Gerber; “Sports & Omega,” with Tokyo Olympic medalists Mondo Duplantis, Noah Lyles and Dalilah Muhammad, and “Space & Exploration,” with NASA astronauts Nicole Stott and Kathy Sullivan. A cocktail party will follow Thursday evening.