Guests at a Roger Dubuis virtual reality event in October in Shanghai. Credit Eric Leleu for The New York Times

Guests at a Roger Dubuis virtual reality event in October in Shanghai. Credit Eric Leleu for The New York Times

Virtual Reality Takes Fans Inside the World of Watches

New York Times, November 13, 2016

Swiss watchmakers are nostalgic by nature. How else to explain their constant reference to a golden era of timekeeping, more than 200 years ago, when masters such as Abraham-Louis Breguet devised the world’s first complicated timepieces?

At the same time, however, a growing cohort of forward-thinking watchmakers is embracing the possibilities of virtual reality, or simply V.R. The immersive technology, designed to simulate a user’s presence in a real or imaginary environment using a special headset, is being hyped as the biggest thing to happen to the luxury industry since e-commerce.

“The key word for V.R. is experience,” said Tom Emrich, the Toronto-based co-producer of Augmented World Expo, a conference dedicated to augmented and virtual reality. “Luxury brands are taking it a step further: Instead of watching the experience, the end user is actually in the experience.”

While there is some disagreement as to what qualifies as virtual reality — some believe that 360-degree video, or videos that capture images in every direction simultaneously, should be distinguished from V.R. because it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion — watchmakers aren’t fazed by these distinctions. Here are the stories of four watch brands pioneering the use of these mediums in an effort to educate, entertain and, ultimately, lure customers.

Roger Dubuis

Over the course of four days in late October, the Geneva-based watchmaker Roger Dubuis welcomed about 250 guests to its “Dare to Be Rare” event in Shanghai. Billed as an “immersive presentation on the state and future of the brand,” the event highlighted three well-known Roger Dubuis calibers — RD01SQ, the skeleton flying double tourbillon; RD820SQ, the automatic skeleton with microrotor; and RD0101, the Quatuor — through a virtual reality experience viewed on an Oculus Rift headset.

Clients were “able to travel inside like a roller coaster, into the movement,” said Dorothée Henrio, the company’s global marketing director.

It wasn’t the first time that Roger Dubuis had relied on Oculus to tell its story. In 2015 the brand produced, with a French agency, a two-and-a-half-minute virtual reality film to acquaint attendees at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva with its newest collection of skeleton timepieces.

The experiment went so well that Roger Dubuis took the experience to its boutique in Macau that April.