Both the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch and Swatch have made history in their own right over the past decades. Yesterday, in arguably the most anticipated and crowd-moving launch the watch industry has ever know, they did it together. Living it in Bienne was perhaps the most exceptional "watch moment" I've had the privilege to be a small part of.
It does not get more "made in Bienne" than this collaboration. OMEGA and Swatch are the essence of what makes Bienne the true capital of watchmaking. Both brands have their headquarters and their museum here. They are the flagships of the Swatch Group, itself based in Bienne. The two companies, while on different ends of the watchmaking spectrum in many ways, have shared a common history for almost forty years. Their buildings are distinct but intertwined, part of the same architectural project led by Shigeru Ban. The OMEGA Museum and Planet Swatch are separated by just a few stairs.
While I did end up getting a watch yesterday, that is not why I got up at 5 am to join the queue. Actually, I had set my alarm later. My plan was to go and film the opening, at 10, to broadcast on Instagram. And while I was especially tired (we celebrated my wife's birthday the night before), something just pulled me out of bed. A kind of "biennergy"!
The place to be
Of all the great venues in the world where flagship boutiques are located, it's hard to argue that there was any better place to buy the MoonSwatch than at the Swatch "Drive-Thru", aka the HQ boutique, in Bienne. Not only is it a pleasant area to wait, facing the Jura hills, on a large plaza away from traffic, but it is right in front of the brand's new head office and its spectacular reptilian architecture.
Does it get any better? Well yes, it does actually. A few meters away, visible from the waiting line, is a full-size Lunar Module replica. Behind it, the OMEGA boutique and headquarters. A watch is a watch, but witnessing the launch of this particular one from the place where both brands cohabit was truly unique.
6 am: the early birds
When I arrived at 6, I was not expecting to find more than perhaps a couple people. I was stunned when I joined a line of already 30 or more. Of course, I had seen the images online, Singapore airport, Les Champs Elysées, I had heard reports from Amsterdam or Munich. But this is Bienne, less than 60,000 inhabitants, and a population so used to having access to the watches they want via their work or family connections. Clearly, this launch was going to be different than any other.
It was pretty chilly out there, a couple degrees Celsius probably. The atmosphere though was warm from the start. After a few polite nods and the odd icebreaker comment or question, a sense of camaraderie quickly developed in the line. Those like me who had come alone started chatting with the other singletons around us. People who had never met started handing each other snacks or coffee, sharing camping chairs, watching for one's belongings during a Mission to... the toilet. We all knew something special was about to unfold in front of us a few hours later. We also knew that we were in the fortunate position to get a watch, and probably even our first choice.
During one of the Instagram Lives I did that morning (or rather tried to do, learning a bunch of newbie lessons the hard way!), I chatted with the first in line, Radan. He had arrived at 7 pm the evening before. Despite the relative cold and absence of sleep, he seemed very relaxed. He also looked very comfortably seated, even though his camping chair was no different than the dozens of others around us. Probably the comfort of knowing he will be the first.
"Which will you choose?"
The main topic of conversation in the line was: "which MoonSwatch will you choose?" Mercury was the most often heard, and, when I popped over to the boutique the next day, the always very friendly (even if exhausted) sales staff confirmed it had been highly demanded. Mars and Uranus, and, to a lesser extent, Moon, Pluto and Neptune, are the references that kept coming back. It was interesting to hear how many people were still undecided.
The first major event of the morning is when the update about how many pieces one could buy started spreading. At first, it was just a rumor. Then, someone I had met a few minutes earlier came up, telling me I needed to change the information on a post I had published on Instagram with the key things to know for launch day. Finally, people's phones started buzzing with links to the Swatch website confirming the news: 1 watch maximum per person, instead of the initially announced 2.
The reaction among people waiting was ambivalent. At first, we were disappointed. Most of us had promised someone (if not ten people) that we would get them our "+1". That said, this additional layer of scarcity made us feel we were in line for something perhaps even more special than we had thought. As the line got longer and longer behind us, there was also a sense of fairness: those who would be rewarded are the ones who come out.
7.30 am: from a group to a crowd
Every 30 minutes, I would leave my bag with my new friends and step out of the line to do an Instagram Live (or whatever it is I ended up doing) to give those still at home a sense of the situation. Things started to change as of 7, and had pivoted into a new dimension at the bottom of the hour.
The self-disciplined line was now regulated by a small security team, who had pulled out red and white tape to keep us in check. While in the earlier hours, newcomers could still join those waiting for them in the line, this was no longer possible. Any new person had to go to the back. And that back was growing fast.
The area under the arch connecting Swatch HQ to the Cité du Temps, empty 30 minutes earlier, was now packed. When the staff entered the boutique, around 7.50, hopeful rumors started around a potential earlier opening, 8 or 9 instead of 10. At the same time, as the crowd kept growing, nervous rumors propagated regarding the quantity available. The number 150 kept coming up, which would mean fewer units than the number of people waiting.
Anyone who arrived after 7.30 was no longer wondering whether they would get the MoonSwatch of their choice; they were wondering whether they would get their hands on any MoonSwatch.
9 am onwards: things got festive
By 9 am, the crowd had reached a thousand people (sounds like a lot? check this video). The line went way back into the Rue Nicolas G. Hayek, along the Suze river. The sun was out. Still, for those with hundreds of folks in front of them, I am not sure this was the most fun experience.
Things were very different towards the front. Not only were people excited about the imminent opening, the zone had become a watch industry exec spotting hub. Top leadership from both companies came by to say hi to the future customers, several of whom were their own employees. They seemed thrilled, and, to be honest, pretty amazed, at the unprecedented turnout, both here in Bienne and around the globe.
The weather had warmed up, and Swatch staff were distributing gummy bears. In good Swiss fashion, trash disposals were also set up along the queue to make sure the area stayed nice and clean. People were cheerful. The salespeople inside the boutique were more active than ever. Only a few minutes left.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
OK, actually, there was no countdown. But as you would expect from a former Olympic official timekeeper partnering with the current one, the doors opened at 10.00 sharp.
A couple minutes later, the first two lucky customers, including Radan, walked out with their trophy. Inside, they had been greeted by top Swatch Group execs. When they walked out, they paused for photos, à la Oscar's.
I forget exactly when my turn came. Before 10.30, I think. The notion of time had become pretty abstract between my short night sleep and the eventful atmosphere. A gentle security guard indicated I had to wait a few more seconds, and then gave me the nod: I was good to go in.
The watchboxes were displayed on shelves around the circular counter. It seemed like all references were still available. At least the one I chose was (Mars). The warranty inside the box had already been filled. I don't even know if I spent a whole minute inside. Onto the next one! Kudos to the staff though, super cheerful and efficient, as always, despite the unprecedented pressure that day.
Exactly how many watches were available upon launch, I don't know. It was about 2 pm when the boutique was officially out of stock. That means quite a few people went home empty handed. Of course, way worse things can happen. Actually, the long waiting lines reminded me of the tragic realities many populations are facing on the other side of the continent. But, at the small scale of the high expectations of those of us fortunate enough to have the freedom and the means to purchase a lovely product we don't fundamentally need, I do feel bad for those who waited so long and didn't get what they came for. I hope the second delivery comes fast.
A day to remember
March 26, 2022 was a very special day in the history of Bienne watchmaking. The collaboration, the product, the crowd, the excitement. There was this notion of sharing, of everyone, from high-end watch collectors to any other people simply attracted to something super cool, all gathering to the same place and wanting the same thing.
I've been fortunate enough to visit quite a few watchmaking facilities, attend launch events or gatherings such as Baselworld, but I have to say that yesterday was pretty unique. I'm not going to lie, I'm glad I came out of it with a watch I really like. But if I had just attended to cover the event for this blog, as I had initially planned to, I would have been delighted as well. If you love watches and you love Bienne, yesterday's launch was just a wonderful event to see unfold.
What about you? How did you feel about this launch? Any (respectful) opinion is always more than welcome here, I hope you take a second to pop a comment!