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Watch retailers transform Midtown Manhattan

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Phillips gleaming new auction house headquarters.

After a tumultuous year and a half of lock downs, business closures, stay at home orders and a near total freeze in foreign tourism, Manhattan is finally starting to resemble its old self again.

Correction: not so much its old self, but a new and improved version with shiny remodeled showrooms glinting over the sidewalks of Midtown.

Rolex has even demolished its entire building to make way for something new.

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It may take another season or two for the prestige streets and avenues below Central Park to teem with wealthy tourists again but, as Roberta Naas reports, waiting for them are spectacular new destinations from the likes of Bucherer, Vacheron Constantin, Breitling and auction house Phillips.

Despite more than 200 cumulative years of experience in the retail watch world, the all-new Bucherer/Tourneau flagship store on 57th Street in New York City is anything but your grandfather’s retail watch store. Similarly, other newly opened renovated boutiques are setting precedents for future “stores” with their living-room like concepts, open bars, art installations and relaxed atmospheres.

The Encyclopedia of New York City defines Midtown Manhattan as an East to West axis that starts at Third Ave and runs to 8th Ave and encompasses 34th street through to 59th street on the south to north axis. It’s a large space that is chocked with Broadway, Time Square, and – on the upper dozen or so blocks surrounding Rockefeller Center – some of the most luxurious retail stores in the world.  This is where the likes of Harry Winston, Bulgari, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Tiffany and so many others reside in quiet grandeur. It is also the home of some of the most superb watch retail stores – many of which are beginning to sprout new wings and offer watch lovers and collectors a vibrant environment to indulge in their passions.

Tiffany & Co on 5th Avenue.

One can easily spend an entire day at the recently opened Bucherer/Tourneau 57th Street Time Machine store. Located on the site of the previous, somewhat globally  famed Tourneau Time Machine space, the new store – being rebranded now to Bucherer since the family-owned Swiss company Bucherer acquired Tourneau just about three years ago to facilitate its entry into the US market —  spans three floors, boasts an expansive all-windows façade and invites visitors to relax and pamper themselves in their passion. The nearly 19,000-square-foot space is the result of approximately a year and a half of planning, exhaustive construction and incredible partnerships with all of its watch partners.

Bucherer/Tourneau’s brand new Time Machine.

A walk inside  brings the visitor to the first floor, where he or she is greeted by warm woods, custom furniture, an open bar and even the Bucherer Blue one-of-a-kind Harley Davidson motorcycle (more on that soon). Guests can go downstairs or upstairs from there, with both floors offering some pretty spectacular space. There are three bars, one on each floor including an espresso bar, and a host of great art installations and photography by New York artisans. The lower floor also houses the watchmaking service and repair department, with watchmakers on full view and the extensive Bucherer Certified Pre-owned watch department, among other displays.

Inside Time Machine.

The upper level of the “store” offers something really new to the mix: Bucherer Fine Jewelry. Known throughout Europe for its exquisite jewelry and bridal business, Bucherer 1888 now brings its Fine Jewelry collections to America, complete with some one-of-a-kind collections made just for the USA market.  Among those exclusives is a Fleur des Alpes ring collection, each set with a rare and beautiful 7- or 8-carat center stone surrounded by diamond-set raised petals.

Also on the third floor, is another bar, quiet seating areas, an open library-like lounge environment and a host of top brands. In fact, the store showcases approximately 40 top watch brands, and is the first space in America to house the Bucherer Blue collection of specially made timepieces. Bucherer Blue is not new to Bucherer 1888, but it is new in America. For this series of watches and other luxury lifestyle images (such as the aforementioned Harley Davidson motorcycle bedecked with jewels and a complicated watch), Bucherer works annually with its different partners to bring in timepieces that were never made before in particular color combinations or complication combinations. The pieces on display in the store are for sale, and many have already been snapped up.

Guests attend the Bucherer TimeMachine Grand Opening Event on September 29, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Bucherer)

With the long counter-after-counter selling concept pushed aside, visitors are free to relax, sit at the long custom-made marble table, stare out the expansive windows, watch the constantly playing wall of video screens and see, touch, feel some of the best watches currently on the market. This amid a host of carefully curated art exhibits and gallery installations. With the additional  30-plus Tourneau USA stores being rebranded to Bucherer throughout this year and next year, the brand also unveils as new campaign, “Where will time take you” that focuses on life, adventures and experiences.

While the Bucherer Time Machine store is a stunning draw on Fifth and 57th Street, so, too, is the two-story glass-façade Vacheron Constantin store that opened just across the street. This space is newly imagined and brings the open concept, as well as the “relax and lounge” idea, to new heights, especially for such a prestige luxury brand. Known as the oldest, continually operating Swiss watch brand, Vacheron Constantin conjures up images that could be stodgy when it comes to boutique décor. But think again. The new space has a great interactive digital corner when visitors first walk in that guests can spend hours exploring. Many of the brand’s archives are stored on the digital disks and visitors can pick an era they would like to know more about. I even played with letters written in the 19th century to the brand and found them fascinating.

Vacheron Constantin’s new Manhattan flagship.

Turn around and a display of the brand’s many métiers d’ arts greets you. Down the hall is a quiet library-like room complete with a small bar and small-batch New York made whiskeys and bourbons. A sweeping spiral staircase leads upstairs to an expansive lounge area, the watchmaker repair station and a bright and colorful “strap” bar where customers can pick and choose all-new watch straps.

The space is further endowed with art installations. In fact, when the store first opened, a two-story-tall City scape was built with action-triggered gold-painted cars circling the skyscrapers. The entire installation was built on Chris Burden’s Metropolis 2 sculpture and the brand worked with the Foundation to create it. Every three months or so, the installation will change. Currently, there are larger-than-life photographs on display from the famed explorer, mountain climber, National Geographic photographer Cory Richards (who is also a Vacheron Constantin brand ambassador).

Complementing its art installations, Vacheron Constantin is fast to back up its themes with carefully curated watches from its archives or from its rare collections. In fact, this flagship store is the first to ever boast an entire series of Les Collectionneurs watches that have been purchased by the brand and totally restored for resale. The entire store is like an adventure through time and into reality – an experience that is meant to be enjoyed by all, not just watch lovers.

The same idea rings true of the newly renovated Breitling Boutique at 575 Madison Ave. This flagship store was closed in mid-August (with a smaller temporary space opened nearby) so that renovations could take place. Reopened earlier this month, the new space showcases elements of Breitling as it has come to be known in the past few years under the leadership of Georges Kern.  Industrial designs, surfer inspirations and an overall modern retro appeal. The idea is “urban loft” and can be seen in boutiques in other cities across America. Here again, the vibe is open, relaxed and all about indulging in passions – not just buying and selling.

Inside Breitling’s refurbished store on Madison.

There will be more than just selling when Rolex reopens its Midtown headquarters after a complete demolition and rebuild. Most of its North American team will look down on Fifth Avenue.

Architectural rendering of how Rolex’s new building and showroom will look when it reopens on 5th Avenue.

There are a host of other changes taking place in midtown watch boutiques, as well, as certain existing retailers are planning renovations and expansions. Even the famed auction house, Phillips in Association with Bacs and Russo, recently moved offices to a new location on Park Avenue at 56th Street. Located in a large corner glass building with a downstairs auction space that will go live on December 11th for its first real-life New York City auction.

With so many changes afoot, watch lovers can plan to spend a few days at these locations and call it a dream vacation. And that’s not all. New York’s Meat Pecking district is getting its own luxury watch face lift with new Rolex and Tudor stores recently opened, an upcoming Audemars Piguet AP House open-concept space planned for 2022, and so much more. But that’s food for another feature.

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