WatchPro is a London-based title, but I travel frequently to Leeds because it is a genuine regional destination for watch enthusiasts, thanks largely to it being the home city of Berry’s Jewellers, which has five stores there once you include Owen & Robinson and John Dysons.
It has one of my favourite city centres for shopping in the country because you can walk easily from its largest mall, Trinity, at the top of the hill, down through the open air pedestrianised district that starts with Albion Street (home to Berry’s flagship store), down Commercial Street where Berry’s has another store, along with Ernest Jones, Beaverbrooks and H. Samuel. Chisholm Hunter opens there next year.
Those retailers have multibrand showrooms and monobrand stores for the likes of Omega, TAG Heuer, Breitling and Longines.
Keep heading down the hill to the East and you hit the main drag of Briggate has all the major chains and department stores, but has been given a lift since Harvey Nichols opened in 1996, taking up around one quarter of the historic Victoria Quarter indoor shopping mall.
You walk through this mall to get to Victoria Gate, the much more modern centre that assaults the senses with sweeping shop frontages of waving glass.
This waving glass is a key architectural feature of the new Rolex store that Prestons opened in Victoria Gate last month. It wraps around the store, which is the very first every shopper will see as they enter the mall. The glass is such a feature that the bones of the store itself appear to be almost suspended inside it like a building inside a snow globe. Rolex’s logo is presented in gold on a black facia and signs above the glass, and again in its green with gold crown inside the glass.
Double glass doors, manned by a security guard, open into the Rolex sanctuary, which immediately blocks out the noise of the mall as you step silently onto its thick beige carpet.
A reception desk is positioned below a striking glass chandelier and in front of a green glass Rolex wall. There is barely a watch in sight, and this is very much the theme of the store. The idea is that the highly trained sales consultant will bring watches to customers rather than have them browse hundreds of watches in cabinets.
The store is laid out around a central space where there are three desks for customer consultations. It is both open and private at the same time because customers would not go uninvited into the space.
There are displays built into wooden walls around the consultation space and the exterior windows, but they are designed to show few watches; a good idea when the most desirable Rolex watches are in such short supply.
Beyond the central space are wooden walls that have secret doors. Prestons managing director Karl Massey — showing me around the store just a week after it opened — prodded at exquisitely crafted wooden walls. Some opened as doors, others would not budge. Behind one door is a private suite with Rolex’s green leather sofas where more intimate meetings can be held completely away from prying eyes. Behind another is the office area that will not be open to the public and where basic watchmaking services like bracelet adjustments can be done.
Inside the wavy windows are fins that stretch up from floor to ceiling. They give a bit of an impression of the crimped edges of a Rolex bezel. Cleverly, each fin slides out so the inside of the windows can be cleaned. It is another sign of the top class carpentry that is seen throughout. Every grain of every wooden panel aligns perfectly with those around it. Customers will not notice this, but they would if things did not line-up.
Luxury watches like Rolex are rarely sold when customers stroll in on a whim, and the store is not designed to encourage this. It is more like a place you come for your allotted appointment to try on watches that have been carefully researched ahead of time. If they are regular repeat customers, they might even find a steel Daytona, GMT or Submariner brought out of the safe.
There is no champagne or coffee bar in the store, although customers will certainly be offered a beverage of their choice from the back office kitchen, and this takes nothing away from the impression that the Rolex store is all about a wrap-around luxury experience.
In fact, wrap-around is an appropriate term. The glass, the carpentry, the layout and the service are all designed to envelop you in a Rolex glow that will magically part a customer from a five-figure sum in return for the watch of their dreams.
It works without you ever knowing how.