There are a lot of reasons why we travel, from exploring new cultures and experiencing new cuisines to the simple pleasures of soaking up the sun on a beach chair in February. For watch lovers, however, travel provides one thing in particular that they can’t get at home: the opportunity to engage with their favourite watch brands at flagship watch stores, and maybe bring home a new addition to their collection.
At their very best, the world’s top watch stores can be akin to cathedrals, designed to inspire awe as much as to facilitate commerce. Such is the case for the Grand Seiko boutique at Paris’ prestigious Place Vendôme, which opened its doors in early 2020. Designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (who also designed the brand’s Shizukuishi workshop) it is the biggest Grand Seiko Boutique in the world and features the largest selection of Grand Seiko watches outside of Japan—including exclusive boutique editions. Outfitted in a precisely curated blend of modern lines, natural materials, and traditional Japanese elements, there’s no better place to experience Japan’s most prestigious watchmaker than this.
While some brands have standalone boutiques in many major cities (and enough production capacity to fill them all with watches) Germany’s Glashütte Original produces just 10,000 timepieces per year, and its retail presence is equally exclusive. While the brand’s watches are available at retailers in Canada, its Vienna flagship offers a unique shopping experience alongside a full range of products. Opened in late 2021 in a historic Viennese building, the 80 square-metre showroom features a massive kinetic light fixture modelled after a Glashutte Calibre 37 watch movement and an inviting lounge area. Should you arrive with your own Glashütte Original piece, the staff here can assist with strap changes and adjustments, while water resistance tests and demagnetization can be carried out directly on site.
Dubai is known as a global destination for luxury goods, making it the perfect locale for the world’s largest IWC boutique, which opened to much fanfare in the spring of 2022. In addition to its size (313 square metres on the ground floor of the famed Dubai Mall), this store is the first of its kind to specialize in a single collection: the Big Pilot. Anyone lucky enough to visit this concept store will find themselves immersed in the history and legacy of IWC’s iconic pilot’s watch, from glassless display cases and interactive displays, to a Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance Formula One car driven by IWC brand ambassador Lewis Hamilton parked inside the store. Visitors can watch F1 races or virtually tour IWC’s Schaffhausen manufacture at the IWC 360° VIP cinema lounge, then head to the Big Pilot Café, which serves light fare alongside IWC’s Big Pilot specialty coffee. For fans of the Swiss watch brand, there’s no better way to experience the world of IWC—aside, perhaps from a cockpit ride-along with a Top Gun pilot—and a fine excuse to plan a trip to Dubai this winter.