By Brecken Branstrator
Longines was the official timekeeper of the recent World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, with its Record collection serving as the event’s official watch. (Photo credit: Scott Sitkiewitz)
A few weeks ago, I traveled to North Carolina, and for the first time, it wasn’t to visit my family.

I went to the Tar Heel State to attend the World Equestrian Games with Longines. The quadrennial event is billed as the Olympics of equestrian sports, combining eight World Championship-level events.

This year, it took place from Sept. 11 to 23 at the new Tryon International Equestrian Center, a 1,600-acre space in Tryon, North Carolina, about 90 miles west of Charlotte.

Over two days, we got to watch a number of events, including dressage, driving dressage, vaulting and of course, jumping. I don’t know much about equestrian sports, but I was surprised at how invested in the events I became, most especially team jumping, where we got to watch the U.S. take home gold.

We also got to wander the grounds, look at watches—especially the Record collection, the official watch of the Games—and speak with the Longines team, including a chat with Vice President and Head of International Marketing Juan-Carlos Capelli.

Here are a few interesting observations and tidbits I picked up while I was there.

1. If you want elegance, equestrian sporting is the way to go.

This probably isn’t a shock to anyone, especially those who have been to races, but it’s an incredibly stylish sport.

When you go to the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness or Belmont Stakes, it’s just as much about observing the attendees and their fashion—especially hat—choices as it is about watching the horses.

But it occurred to me even more this time around, because rather than watching the crowd, we were watching the athletes. The jumpers were in full blazers, some in ties and ascots. When it came to driving dressage, the drivers were wearing top hats. (I admired them even more given they were wearing all of this in North Carolina in September.)

In fact, it’s the all-around elegance of the sport that has contributed in part to Longines’ long-time partnership with it, Capelli said, as it is in keeping with the brand image they’ve created.

2. Equestrian sports represent a unique mix.

In equestrian sports, unlike many other athletic competitions, men and women compete at the same time, together and against each other.

This was an important part of Longines’ choice of partnership as well, Capelli told us, since it parallels the consumer purchasing breakdown of its watches, with sales split 50-50 among men and women.

3. It’s all about the timing, and this is where Longines feels it shines.

Longines has been aligned with timekeeping since 1878, when it produced a simple chronograph movement, the 20H caliber, the first mechanism manufactured by the company that could be used for precise timing.

Now, the brand is not only the official watch of the WEG but also the official timekeeper. Longines hires dozens of people for the event who are in charge of not only recording the finishes but also instantly calculating standings, rankings and points.

Additionally, last year, the company rebooted the Conquest V.H.P. (Very High Precision), a line of quartz watches first introduced in the 1980s, which Capelli said is the “most precise watch in the world” (at +/-5 seconds/year).

4. Longines has no plans to enter the smartwatch arena.

A number of Swiss watch brands have launched smartwatches and had success with them, including TAG Heuer.

But when Capelli was asked about a Longines smartwatches, he demurred.

“We don’t know computers. We know watches, so we’ll keep doing that. We want to have the best products for our customers,” he said.

5. The brand is optimistic about the future.

Capelli said the U.S. market is doing very well for Longines right now, and he thinks that the watch market also is developing well, as they are seeing more consumers choosing to buy watches. (Though this is the opposite of what some are saying about the current Swiss watch market. According to the latest numbers from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, exports were down in September, with their value nearly 7 percent lower than year-earlier period.)

6. We’ll say it again: Pop-ups are a good idea.

The Tryon International Equestrian Center is massive, almost its own self-sustaining town. Outside of the event arenas there were many restaurants, a small market for grocery-type items, standalone cabins and soon there will also be a hotel.

Not surprisingly, Longines had a small pop-up shop at the venue. It was in the center of it all, perfect for capturing foot traffic, but there was also so much activity all around us, I wondered how well it did.

Capelli said that the brand’s pop-up stores “do very well at these types of events,” allowing consumers to discover Longines and what it means, and bringing the kind of fun retail experiences that are doing so well in the market right now.

TAGS:   Watches
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