Looking Back: Oslo Watch Fair 2017

Thursday, October 19th, 2017, the first edition of the Oslo Watch Fair was held at the Astrup Fearnley Museum at Tjuvholmen, Oslo. We participated in the event and here is a brief review of our thoughts on what could become the most important watch fair in Norway in the years to come.

This year’s event was the first edition of “Oslo Watch Fair” and the beautiful Astrup Fearnley Museum, located at Tjuvholmen, just a few steps from Aker Brygge was rented as the venue. The mix of contemporary art and watch(art) was probably not chosen by accident, and the premises worked splendidly as a backdrop for the mechanical masterpieces. Aspects regarding capacity and security had also been taken into account, according to Halvor Bjerke, the man in charge, whom we had a nice chat with.

Breitling / Halvor Bjerke

Halvor Bjerke expressed great excitement (and a little bit of pride) for hosting this year’s event. With a total of fourteen different brands represented, there was probably something interesting to look at for the vast majority of attendees. Personally, I’d love to see Cartier and Patek Philippe among the exhibitors, but the companies’ policy, unfortunately, made that impossible.

Bjerke shared intriguing news, for example, that the company’s domestic sales have risen by a solid 34 %, compared to last year. Sales to tourists from all over the world also increased their positivity towards the coming years. Bjerke also noted that young people, especially women, are among the fastest growing customer groups.

During the Thursday opening hours, somewhere between 1000 and 1200 people visited the fair. If I had to point out something negative, it must be that with a time frame of 1 1/2 hours for each group, quite a few visitors probably had to leave the fair long before they actually wanted.

As mentioned earlier, a total of fourteen watch brands were represented at this year’s Oslo Watch Fair. The event is organized by Urmaker Bjerke which is an authorized retailer of all the brands represented at the fair. With Bjerke’s position as the country’s absolute largest retailer of luxury watches, few of the leading brands were missing, but I would love to see brands like A. Lange & Söhne and Audemars Piguet (currently no AD in Norway). Moreover, it would have been great to see Blancpain represented, but logistical challenges prevented their participation in this year’s fair. Since the show is hosted in Norway, we would also love to see Norwegian brands like Bruvik Fine Timepieces, but they are currently not sold by Urmaker Bjerke.

The majority of the exhibitors had set up their own stand that resembles those commonly found in larger international fairs. This setup highlights each brand’s unique design features and works great for presenting the brand’s identity. All brands, with the exception of Rolex, presented a large variety of watches, including very rare and special models, which you could try on your arm and really get a closer look at. Rolex had chosen to bring their “Submariner – The Exhibition” to Oslo but did not include any other models or watches at the fair. The different stands were spread out over two floors, which resulted in some walking distance between the floors. It’s probably difficult (read: impossible) to solve this in any other way in the current building, but a closer placement would probably be beneficial.

At each stand, experts were at hand to answer close to any question the visitors had. The experts were either employees at Bjerke and/or representatives from the brands’ national or international department. It was indeed both interesting and useful to the visitors, as it gave you a chance to get some more in-depth answers directly from the brand experts. The different brands (and Bjerke) also presented a solid collection of watches, including very rare and expensive editions not normally seen at your local retailer. Many of the brands, including Omega and Jaeger-LeCoultre, also brought a lot of newly released watches from this year’s SIHH / Baselworld, so you could get a “hands-on” with these new additions to the collection.

Rolex Submariner – The Exhibition
We have previously written about Rolex’s own exhibition that has been shown several places in the world already. Given their peaking interest in the Rolex steel models, quite a few enthusiasts were likely eagerly anticipating a live look at this exhibition at this year’s fair.

Rolex had built the exhibition with walls shaped like the links on the Submariner Oyster Bracelet, which forms an “S-shaped”-corridor with information boards on each side. They had combined traditional boards with interactive displays, and some models of the Submariner were also available to have a look at, though only through a glass window.

The exhibition was probably smaller than many expected, and the information boards contained a lot of facts already known to most enthusiasts. It was also a disappointment that no watches were available to try on your own wrist. As most retailers report on waiting lists around the country, a hands-on would probably be most welcome by many. All in all, the Rolex exhibition was good enough for those who wanted to get to know Submariner as a model, but we must admit we had far higher expectations. An opportunity to try the actual watches and an opportunity to talk about the Submariner with proper Rolex professionals would have completely changed the experience for the better. The general impression among the visitors seemed to agree with us that the whole Rolex-experience was a bit disappointing.

Watchmaker’s Shop
All the way at the back of the museum, Urmaker Bjerke had set up their own little watchmaker workshop, complete with friendly and professional watchmakers ready to answer any questions from the audience. The opportunity to look at the intricate parts housed in a mechanical watch was a popular part of the event for many visitors. If desired, you could also test your own watch to see if it was running as well as it should or if it was in need of an overhaul.

In the watchmaker’s shop Urmaker Bjerke had also brought a workbench, tools and watch movements from a bygone era, effectively showing some of the historical roots of the watchmaker profession. The watchmakers themselves spent hours and hours answering questions, which was arguably a real gem of the fair.

Finishing thoughts
There have been few watch-related fairs in Norway except the «TID»-fair organized by Protid. Exhibitions like Oslo Watch Fair uniquely allow visitors to interact with other watch aficionados, as well as the brands and their specialists. Being able to try the watches on your arm, get a feel and see the details with your own eyes is truly different from studying pictures. Mixing it all with the social setting, meeting enthusiasts from websites and facebook-groups makes a unique experience.

Halvor Bjerke stated before the show that they hoped the fair would be well received by the visitors, making this a recurring event every few years. According to our information, ticket sales were very good and everyone we talked to seemed extremely pleased with what the fair had been able to offer in its first year. Hopefully, this will be enough for a second edition within a few years time. Halvor Bjerke and the rest of his team deserve a lot of credit for making a watch fair of this size, complexity, and quality here in Norway, and we do look forward to the next one!

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