There aren’t many trade shows I’d say I get excited about, but the energy at last week’s Windup Watch Fair, an event hosted by Worn & Wound, couldn’t be ignored. Held in San Francisco, the Windup featured more than 60 vendors selling everything from luxury British timepieces to leather boots. It’s the type of event that can convince you that even people only nominally interested in timepieces can both enjoy and get a lot of value out of going to a watch trade show.
At its core, the Windup Watch Fair is meant to make watch hobbyists feel at home.
“The Windup Watch Fair was built from day one to be an approachable alternative to the typical watch buying experience,” Kyle Snarr, head of partnerships at Worn & Wound, tells me. “We celebrate all kinds of watch and product enthusiasm in an inclusive, down-to-earth way that’s free of charge and come as you are.”
Windup is designed to break down the barrier to entry of watch ownership. The world of watches can sometimes come off as a bit exclusive to the average consumer, with big mythology around luxury brands that carry even bigger price tags. Instead, what I witnessed in San Francisco was a bustling three-day event that included live music, food trucks, and crowds of people willingly and unapologetically nerding out on everything from fountain pen nibs to watch straps.
Whether it’s Windup or another exhibition, there’s a lot of value to be had for watch wearers or anyone interested in getting a little deeper than the dollar store timepiece. You just need to know how to approach it right.
The Value of Attending a Watch Show
Watch shows, no matter the pedigree, are a great way to begin to understand the market and what you’re getting for your money. Online, it’s often hard to tell the quality of any luxury item, and watches that run into the thousands of dollars are no exception. By being at a show, you can appreciate the products and see how it fits your own expectations. At the SF Windup, I was surprised by how bulky some watches were, and was able to better gauge whether the tick-tick-ticking on a watch would be distracting for daily use. Buying the right watch for you comes down to the subtleties of the timepiece itself, which can only be seen in person.
To that point, you also get to see a lot of watches at once. A show is a great way for beginners to compare and contrast a wider swath of watch types to really know what you like. Maybe you love a quartz watch. Or maybe 38mm just isn’t big enough for your wrist. You won’t know until you get out and look at, and compare, a variety of watches from different brands. A tradeshow, with its concentration of options, makes the research process that much more efficient.
Getting To Know the Local Market
Watch shows follow a similar pattern to other trade shows. Vendors range in scope and size (and price point) at nearly any show, but a show in, say, Switzerland isn’t necessarily going to look like a show in Pittsburgh.
Along those lines, vendors often know their markets and understand the selling points. Trade shows aren’t cheap for a vendor to show at and, because of this, many are only willing to invest in markets that they know will be profitable for them. Second-tier cities may not have a brand like Rolex in attendance, but a smaller third-party retailer at the show may still carry some models from the top brands.
Shows that are close to home are worth attending even if the biggest names don’t make an appearance. Seeing the vendors will give you a better grasp of who’s-who in your local market and what’s available, as well as lead to some connections that can come in handy if you have any questions in the future.
Go For More Than Just Watches
While watches are naturally the center of any watch trade show, there are often watch-adjacent vendors as well. At Windup, I attended as a vendor representing the company I work for as my full-time job in the pen industry. The Venn diagram between pens and watches has a lot of crossover, making it a great way to introduce a new product to a new demographic that I would otherwise never have a chance to meet. For the consumer, it means the opportunity to complete a full look. Think of it like going to a supermarket where you can get everything with one stop versus going to six different stores to fulfill your shopping list.
At a watch show, you may find vendors in the EDC category, such as pocket knives and pens, but also apparel. Watches are an accessory, so it’s safe to say that if you care about what’s on your wrist, you likely want to make sure what’s in your pocket is just as thoughtfully purchased.
How Much You Should Expect To Spend
While large luxury-focused watch shows may make you want to flex a little, the pressure to purchase is low. Most vendors I spoke with at Windup were more interested in being advocates for their brand, giving recommendations, and talking with like-minded enthusiasts versus actually selling. It’s a long term play for many of the brands and stores that attend. Learning about a company first-hand means you’re more likely to keep them in mind when the time comes for a purchase. As a show like Windup, you’re not going to feel too pressured to put down your card—unless you really want to, of course.
With that said, watch shows do sometimes have exclusives that are being released just for the show, or are being revealed for the first time. Because of this, you may be apt to spend a little upfront for something you like so you have it before your peers online.
Pricing at a show is about as easy to answer as “How long is a piece of string?” It’s entirely dependent on the type of show (again, are we talking Switzerland or Pittsburgh?), but also the type of watch you like. Not everyone is going to want or has a need for a Cartier Tank, and that’s perfectly okay. A G-Shock or Timex does the trick and may suit your lifestyle better. Going to a watch trade show and seeing the price points and models first-hand makes it that much easier to know the best fit for you.
Lead photo credit: Camille Hein/Worn & Wound