Sidenote: I understand I’ve been somewhat inactive with my blog over the months. I’ve since lost the original website due to someone hacking the server and have had to revert to my backup site until I can finally sit down and sort out the technical issues with the website. This is my first blogpost in a while. Enjoy – more to follow.
On the 14th of July 2017, I was invited to Wimbledon to participate in the launch event of Avantist watches – a tennis themed watch label that also has the title of being the first watch label to come out of Brunei.
Now I’m going to be honest here – this was the first ever ‘brand launch’ I’ve ever attended (not including the unveiling of individual watches) so I was quite excited and interested to see the mechanisms involved in the fruition of a new watch label. Though in fairness, it’s not as if though a new watch label is unveiled every other weekend; so an opportunity to learn whatever I can is appreciated. I’m not a reputable name in the watch industry, but I do hear about a few things every now and then. Generic news about new ‘luxury’ labels is something I usually ignore as I have seldom interest in them. Though I had particular interest in this event as Avantist is a label I’ve been following for quite some time – long before they were publicly announced.
I wanted to dedicate this ‘quick comments’ article as an informal summary of what I observed at the event, and my take on the general marketing approach Avantist has taken with their label. I have plans to focus on the horological side of things in a separate article, as part of a larger project I’m working on (more to follow). I just want to say that even before attending the event, there were many aspects I was already quite impressed by; such as the fact the marquee was booked on a Friday night in Wimbledon during the semi-finals or perhaps more-so: the brand ambassador for the label happened to be none other than Martina Navratrilova.
I set off for the event straight after a day at school – having had a few minutes to quickly wear a suit to take away the ‘schoolboy’ vibe. I remember putting on my ‘Watchnerd’ badge on my lapel and happily taking a quick #teamwatchnerd picture for Instagram in hope I would meet with fellow watch enthusiasts. It was then a One hour trip to the other side of London as I made my way to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. I made it to the venue about Ten minutes earlier than I expected, where I was greeted by hospitality staff who kindly stored my briefcase in a cloakroom (yes, I understand normal teenage boys don’t walk around carrying briefcases). I then met up with the CEO of the label, Keeran Janin and thanked him for the invite and quickly proposed a plan to work with him in an upcoming project of mine. After establishing the initial formalities I was then offered drinks – to which I pointed out that I was underage and opted for a glass of water (I could’ve easily gotten away with drinking but of course I’m much more responsible…!) Hospitality staff quickly exchanged the water for a seemingly endless supply of Orange juice and I was set for the night.
The venue was very nicely set up, with small canapé/drinks tables to encourage conversations and Avantist branding plastered everywhere so you didn’t forget what you were there for. There were marketing assistants walking around the venue with demo watches for presentation purposes. I remember being presented with an example to which I promptly threw a bunch of quickfire questions such as asking about the case material and movement. These are standard questions you can ask at any watch retailer or watch show, yet I was given a number of hesitant responses at which point I eased back on the questions.
I want to quickly isolate the event and briefly mention a few words about the watch (more in the follow-up article). All I have to say is that the watch itself is absolutely stunning. It’s a tonneau style case (something I have a bit of a soft spot for) made of a combination of Steel and Titanium. The timepiece is very well made with fine finishes for it’s class. The display is very legible and uncluttered, with raised indices and an unobstructed date window. The watch is paired with a comfortable and durable feeling calfskin-on-rubber strap. The highlight of the watch is that on the dial is an inlay of a ring of string that Martina Navratrilova herself used on the racket that gave her the 1987 title at Wimbledon. Each piece is embedded with a bit of history and soul, which I found very charming and accentuated the feeling of intimacy. I remember looking at Keeran’s Instagram story and watching him unboxing the racket from the mailbox. Seeing the final product in person was very satisfying. There are approximately 30 examples of the first series pieces where if you buy one, you get to sit down with dinner with the tennis champion!
To the credit of the marketing assistant, he did try to advertise the timepiece through non-technical means. I recall a particular point about how the watch “sits nicely on the hands” and that the crystal didn’t obstruct any views. For any luxury timepiece, this should be expected. I could easily get hold of this information by skimming through the brochure, but since this was an event showcasing a luxury watch, extra attention-to-detail and convenience should be standard. I asked whether the crystal was made of domed sapphire glass to which I got a blank stare as a reply. It appeared that I was the first and only person at the event to ask such questions, as most of the guests were just interested in how ‘nice’ the watch looked. I then found out that the assistants demonstrating the watches weren’t official employees of Avantist but rather part of a separate marketing company. To my knowledge, Avantist is only made of three founding members where everything else from physical marketing to watch construction is outsourced. I think from a watch collector’s perspective, a little bit of extra homework from the marketing assistants would go a long way. These are of course minute details, but something to consider for future launch events (I understand there is another upcoming event in New York).
When looking back at the guests, I remember casually walking up to a couple to start a conversation with “So, are you guys watch collectors?” to which I was met with a prompt “No” as an answer. I then followed the question up with “Do you even follow anything to do with watches?” And once again “No” was the answer. My final question was “Do you like Tennis?” at which point their faces lightened up and I got a “Yes”. I began drawing a mental image of what this event actually entailed.
Usually when attending watch events with fellow enthusiasts, I come across as someone who lacks in technical knowledge, as I’m more interested in the story behind watches and the business side of brands. Yet this was an instance where I was the snobby technical watch geek- a completely new feeling. I remember looking over one of the guests who was praising how he liked the fact that the watch ‘didn’t tick’ to which I promptly said “It’s a mechanical movement, the sweeping feature is a standard trait unless of course you have a deadbeat seconds complication”. I could’ve been speaking in a completely different language for all the impact that one sentence made.
I came in thinking this would be a watch event featuring tennis, it turns out it was actually a tennis event featuring watches. The vast majority of the people invited were either tennis enthusiasts or employees for partner companies of Avantist. Though i’m sure there was the odd keen horologist scattered around the place. Another highlight of the event was a Q&A with Navratrilova asking questions about moments in her career and current plans, as well as insight into the ongoing Wimbledon matches. The rest of the evening was just a series of non-horology conversations and networking opportunities.
As a final summary of the event and my take on the marketing approach of the brand launch, all I can say is that I don’t think that the Avantist watch is for someone who is a solely horological purist. That being said, I don’t think that was the avenue the brand and its partners were looking to go through. I feel that this watch is primarily for someone who is a tennis fan and an enthusiast of design. If anything, it’s an opportunity to share a piece of history and have a connection with a tennis idol via a luxury accessory that happens to tell the time. At £8000 and an ETA movement, this is a watch that enters the mid tier of luxury watches and ‘entry Rolex’ price range, so it was never meant to be an outlandish example of haute horlogerie- at least not one that I’m familiar with. That being said, I think it’s incredibly good value for what’s on offer. It retains the class of ‘luxury’ but doesn’t alienate a potential client base with immense prices. As I said, not for the horology purist, but more along the lines of ‘bragging rights’.
I also want to mention that the idea of appealing to watch enthusiasts and tennis fans aren’t exclusively separate variables. There are plenty of opportunities for the two areas of interest to cross over. This isn’t the first example of a tennis player endorsing a luxury watch label, with Roger Federer and Rolex being quite close, along with Richard Mille having Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev as brand ambassadors and limited edition watches produced in their name.
Yet Avantist promotes a different case of luxury, in that they’re able to offer intimacy and emotion with their timepiece. For this brand launch event, tennis is at the core, and this was to appeal to wealthy tennis enthusiasts who would hopefully take interest in a watch endorsed by Martina Navratrilova herself. I don’t follow any particular professional sport, though I do like to keep myself physically active through Kendo and Badminton. For me, participating in sport promotes discipline and a desire to succeed, and here we have something to embody that. There are another Two ‘match played’ rackets to go through as well as opportunities to partner with other tennis players or even venture into other sports. Who knows, maybe a Serena Williams edition? The brand itself has huge potential for growth in terms of tapping into a niche area of interest, but with a budding potential client base.
As another point of interest, since intimacy and emotion is a prevalent theme, maybe Avantist can look into producing memorabilia for their events? I know I usually complain about being overwhelmed with random tokens, but I still appreciate the effort put in, as well as the fact the brand leaves behind a positive final impression. My desk is littered with various little items from watch labels across the globe, but I enjoy the fact I have them. The co-founder Andrew Murphy did give me his own Avantist badge as a little joke to recognise me as their youngest supporter, but the recognition could be spread among the few people who attended the launch event. I know the likes of Patek Philippe has random trinkets which even the most prestigious of collectors (the sort of people who don’t blink an eye at spending six or seven-figures on a watch) get giggly over. Though I suppose with Avantist, setting up an opportunity to take a selfie with Navratrilova is an amazing thing in itself.
If they can make their mark in the right way, the prospects on hand could be immensely lucrative. Keeran has set himself apart as remarkable individual with a keen and ever evolving business mind, and has garnered my full respect as a result. The execution of the sheer scale of what has been achieved by Avantist is highly praiseworthy. It’s usually after several years of a label building up a reputation do they have the resources to enlist someone of Navratrilova’s caliber to represent and endorse their brand. I was given a behind-the-scenes ‘sneak peak’ involving some very ambitious projects the brand is working on. Needless to say, there’s a lot more to the brand than meets the eye. I for one am in support and look forward to following their activities and seeing their growth and development, all whilst learning more about horology and business. The brand is still in it’s infancy and still has a long way to go before it can stand out as a competitor in the fierce luxury watch industry. With that being said, I look forward to give you a much more in-depth look into the brand and the story behind it’s birth.