Thursday was a nice day in San Francisco, and I was excited about being invited to meet with Mr. Pierre Halimi Lachorlotte at Shapur here in San Francisco. Pierre is the General Manager of DeWitt watches here in America, which is a humble title for President of North American Operations. Another reason I was excited was the opportunity to see Shapur’s new and larger retail location, which just happened to be across the street from its previous location. I recall walking by the high-end watch shop often, gazing longingly into the windows, and always being encountered by a friendly associate upon entering – regardless of my attire.
Shapur’s new space is divided between two floors, and they have now added more brands to their showroom. Adding more soon as I understand. I would suggest that Shapur’s major competitor in San Francisco is Shreve & Co., a fight Shapur is winning in my opinion based upon selection, atmosphere, and employee amicability (though they do carry different brands).
As I walked upstairs that day I was immediately greeted by Pierre. I am not at the point where I can afford a DeWitt watch (in fact I might never be at that point), but that didn’t stop them from treating me like a valued client. My enthusiasm for talking about watches was enough, and for that I was genuinely touched. My typical experience with high end watch dealers consists of them briefly acknowledging me, and faster still dismissing me as a non-sale for the observable future. That day was different, and I wanted to make the most of it.
DeWitt’s tenth anniversary is also marked with the launching of a new advertising campaign addressed to the “brand new emperors”. Among the illustrious forebears of brand founder Jérôme de Witt, including many crowned heads of Europe, is that the Emperor Napoleon the First. DeWitt has been “drawing its rich origins and to projecting towards the present and the future by focusing on the new emperors of today and tomorrow, men and women throughout the world who’ve attained success.” In a nod to its own history, the brand offers a reinterpretation of its ancestor’s famous hand-in-waistcoat gesture via understated and tasteful visuals emerging in both masculine and feminine versions. The “Revolutionary by Tradition” signature accentuates the concept of a watchmaker with a bold vision, that of “creating a different sort of Haute Horlogerie that’s noble and authentic, combining age-old expertise and exceptional technical superiority.” The new visuals feature watches in the Twenty-8-Eight collection. In 2013, it welcomes two new tourbillon models, issued in 99-piece limited series, and two new retrograde seconds versions. The Twenty-8-Eight Tourbillons play contrasts with daring combinations of gold and glacier-toned PVD-coated titaniumpink or pink gold and bronze-toned PVD-coated titanium. The dials associate Art Deco motivated vertical appliques using a beaded circle enclosing the tourbillon carriage. The Twenty-8-Eight Retrograde Seconds models present a grade 5 neotitanium case. Their exceptionally graphic dials offered in two colour variants are distinguished by a raised sunburst motif.
Shapur and DeWitt treated me fondly, as an colleague almost. My time there was precious, and a major reason for my visit was the DeWitt WX-1 Concept watch. The $650,000 timepiece creation that materialized a few months ago. The watch deserves a full length article alone, which you can view here. Suffice to say, I had my time with novel watch, and there is much to say about it. The majority of its charm and intrigue exist on a far deeper level than its Jules Verne inspired spaceship looks.
It may seem odd how I place emphasis on my treatment by the watch retailer and company, but it is important to place it in perspective. We are talking about timepieces which on the low end are roughly $20,000. On the high end… well I already mentioned the price of the WX-1 watch. Compare that with how you are treated at an expensive car dealer. Are you given the time of day? DeWitt has watches that cost an equal amount to a brand new Lamborghini or Ferrari, and not merely the “entry-level” models. It would be no surprise, even expected, for DeWitt to treat any non-potential customer, as so many other pretentious companies do. Though this was not the case as I have mentioned, and this attitude is not the status quo for the industry. I cannot commend them enough for their maturity, and foresight that true public relations is with the entire interest public, and not merely an ultra limited demographic.
I have precious few minutes to spend at the meeting at Shapur due to an appointment back at the office, so I wanted to make the most of it. While Mr. Halimi attended to other guests, I took notice of the other DeWitt watches presented. Chronographs, perpetual calendars, and tourbillons (or combinations thereof), where among the offerings. Also on display were the new DeWitt Tourbillon Force Constant and Night Chronograph in Rose Gold (wonderful for its “propeller” seconds subdial). The 15 or so watches represented a significant portion of the DeWitt watches that come to America each year. The brand typically produces about 1000 examples of its watches annually, most of which are not US bound. This was a rare opportunity to become acquainted with the brand by sampling so much of it.
No other watch brand I know of resembles the unique looks of DeWitt. Frankly, it is hard to copy them, though I am sure many have tried. The construction and time involved in making their watches is intense. As I admire a perpetual calendar model I notice the moon on the moonphase indicator looks like a pearl, underneath a darker pearl layer, set against a lustrous painting meant to resemble stars. The effect is nice, classy, and very difficult to reproduce. Materials on these watches blend well, and the squared alternating material pattern on the bezels (an iconic DeWitt look) is set together so well. Having handled enough watches, I can tell the quality of these watches is more than just the raw materials put into them. A deep sense of craftsman-like affection is apparent in the perfect fit and finish of each watch. Perhaps it is a shame that one must invest this kind of money to get a item that is put together so well, but I am relieved that in this world of mass production and disposable goods, such things still exist that are put together by hand, with skill and knowledge accumulated in over two centuries of practice.
The young associate at Shapur enthusiastically discusses the DeWitt watches, and how they sell. He mentions the fact that many younger buyers are drawn to the DeWitt pieces. This fact does not surprise me, save for the reality that DeWitt watches are hard to come by, and you have to actively look for them. What I means is that most DeWitt buyers learn about them through investigation and discovery. You’d have to be looking at a dedicated watch magazine to know about DeWitt, or be lucky enough to visit one of the rare locations that carry them. Otherwise, the uninitiated consider something like Rolex, when the opportunity presents itself to buy a nice watch. Mr. Halimi of DeWitt is particularly proud of the fact that DeWitt buyers are watch lovers, learning about the brand, and making a conscious decision to acquire a DeWitt after considering the alternatives (at least from a price perspective). This is certainly not how an average business person would respond, and I am comforted by the fact that DeWitt, is not an average business. For it if was, my impression is that the watches would unfortunately not be the same (because quality and profitability are typically not in accord); another reason I am so drawn to the watch industry.
I will go back to Shapur – more often now most likely at their enhanced location. Their new shop is a nice place to look at nice watches, and they are a friendly conglomeration of family and dedicated employees. I am sure I will make an excellent customer once I am able to make the occasional investment in their goods.
You can find DeWitt, among other beautiful watch brands at:
272 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94108