Swatch: plastic relic of the eighties or luxury accessory of the future? On Thursday, the Swatch Group re-launched its 6 billion dollar empire at its remodeled Flagship store in Time Square. DJ Mel Debarge provided the music for guests that included Michelle Trachtenberg and host Kelly Osbourne.
Osbourne introduced Swatch Group CEO Madame Arlette-Elsa Emch (say that five times fast) in a ribbon cutting ceremony. Osbourne called herself “a child of the eighties”, but was dressed like she was straight out of the twenties (minus the tattoos covering her arms). Osbourne brought her puppy (Sid, a Pomeranian) and Dancing with the Stars co-stars Max Chmerkovskiy (who showed up with unidentified leggy blonde) and Louis van Amstel.
When Van Amstel kindly took puppy Sid off of Kelly’s hands for a bit, one eager (and misguided) columnist confused him for Kelly’s publicist. “I am her dance partner,” he responded. Oops! When I asked why he was watch-less, he said he didn’t want to hit Kelly while they were dancing. By the end of the party, someone had persuaded him to sport a chunky silver automatic, but I’m sure he’ll take it off for practice.
Also on hand were artists who have designed special collections for the new Swatch. Billy the Artist (First name: Billy, last name: Artist. “The” is just a nickname.) and his watches looked like they had been plucked from Swatch’s original launch party 25 years. Between interviews for Vogue and Rolling Stone, the East Village based artist has been jet-setting from Madrid to the Hamptons to Athens to paint large scale murals, attend fashion week celebrations and do whatever it is people with the last name Artist do.
Matthew Langille seemed as comfortable posing for the paparazzi as he was checking his own pics on his digital camera. The cartoony kittens and monsters on his watches looked like they were straight out of children’s books, but don’t let that—or the fact that he looks 12—fool you. The prolific young designer has worked for Marc Jacobs and SIGG (the Swiss water-bottle company that has a permanent collection at MOMA).
I had the chance to sit down with Madame Arlette-Elsa Emch, the reserved blonde CEO of Swatch, who also looks happens to look like Swiss royalty. In her new post for less than a year, she has been hard at work overseeing the rebranding operation. She is also the proud owner of over 100 watches. Emch previously ran Swatch prestige brand Léon Hatot and cites Jaquet Droz and Blancpain and Breguet as other Swatch Prestige favorites. She also prefers watches with interesting movement. “For me,” she explained, “it’s not only the outside which is important, but the inside.”
She singled out a Breguet Tourbillon if you’re looking for a classic luxury piece. For those of us who aren’t watchophiles (My name is Tasha and the last watch I owned had a picture of Cinderella on it.), the tourbillon (French for “whirlwind”) was invented at the turn of the 18th century to counter the effects of gravity when a watch is rotated. These days, tourbillon technology is just there to look pretty, like a really old, platinum typewriter, mounted on top of a macbook. That costs $130,000.
Swatch is also debuting a new watch, the Diaphane One Turn 2 Her. Only fifty of the $13,500 limited edition watches will be made. They feature 43 diamonds (1.5 carrots total) and a white alligator leather strap. There is a male version called the Turn 2 Him.
I asked Emch, a former journalist, what question she would like to be asked, and she responded, “Is it [still] hard for women to be on top?” “Yes, yes and yes” the leader of the Forbes Global Fortune 2000 Company continued. “We have a long way to go, the battle is not totally won.” Her eyes lit up as she spoke of efforts throughout her career to bring female colleagues to the top echelons of business with her.
When I asked the authority on time whether she preferred to be fashionably late, on time or early, Emch’s immediately response was “early”. But is it too late for this eighties brand to make a comeback? Only time can tell.