The Watch Pages: Xavier Dietlin puts the play in display.
The ex-professional soccer player shaking up the way we view watches.
By Sophie Furley
I remember the first time I heard the name Xavier Dietlin. It was on the lips of Jean-Claude Biver at the Hublot stand at Baselworld. The year was 2005 and Biver was proudly showing off his latest state-of-the-art showcase that was completely open; there wasn’t a pane of glass in sight. You could literally touch the watch if you wanted to. I say literally because the minute your hand approached the watch, it would disappear into its base, faster than a mouse darting back into its hole. This mind-blowing invention was called the Raptor and was the brainchild of Xavier Dietlin, an ex-professional footballer who had stumbled into the world of watch display design quite by chance.
After playing soccer internationally on the Swiss national team, Dietlin’s sporting career came to an abrupt end after a knee injury, forcing him to look for a new job. His family had a metalwork business; which had been founded in 1854 by his great, great grandfather; also called Xavier Dietlin, and had employed successive generations of the family.
The idea of joining the family business didn’t exactly thrill him. “I didn’t want to work in the building trade, I didn’t find it fun at all,” he explains. “But purely by chance, Cartier happened to be holding a contest to design a watch display case and my father said to me, ‘Why don’t you take care of the contest?’. I entered the competition and lost miserably. When I think back to what I had created, it was absolute rubbish, but I found the process fascinating and this was the beginning of a new direction.”
Today, the company employs 15 people, including his brother and sister, and they make watch display cases for over 25 leading watch brands. Not only specialists in building cases out of a variety different materials, the company is best known for its love of innovation and technology. A tour of a gallery above the workshops reveals a large selection of watch display cases that are currently on loan from their clients for a special show this September.
The gallery is like a fairground for watch lovers with a whole range of display cases. Some appear to suspend watches in thin air, while others make timepieces appear and disappear like a magic trick. There are animations galore with moving parts and video screens, and even a sculpture made from iPads where watches and video combine to form what can only be called a work of multimedia art.
iPads and interactive screens are prominent in many of the showcases and Dietlin explains how the iPad has become a game changer for watch display. “IPads can bring a pedagogical element to display, we can put a watch in front, and I can explain each element of the watch by physically moving around it…there are numerous didactic elements that we can play with and everyone knows how it works as it is so intuitive.”
Back downstairs is where Dietlin’s visions are brought to life and where a small group of artisans are currently putting together a series of tables to display the contenders for the upcoming GPHG. In the middle of the space is a separate glass room called “The Lab”. This secret workshop contains all the latest inventions that will surely make their way into watch boutiques in the years to come. Interactivity is at the forefront of design, with a series of innovative display cases that require input from the viewer, inviting him or her to play with the watch in different ways. There are rotating iPad animations, scanners, optical illusions, and loupes controlled by connected screens that draw the attention to the watch like never before.
This selection of inventions has been assembled for a show called Secret Weeks. Dietlin recently decided to invite his clients and other leading watch brands (hopefully future clients) to visit his workshops in Romanel-sur-Lausanne to discover what he has been up to. It is important to note that although it is a charming location in the Swiss countryside, you have to be determined to get there, which makes the fact that he has over 32 top watch brands and their teams booked into his agenda all the more impressive.
As watch brands search for ways to capture the attention of the next generation of watch buyers, it is certain that eye-catching watch displays can help make watch boutiques become more fun and entertaining. When you compare a traditional watch boutique with its rows of watches behind glass like a museum, with the experience in an Apple store, for example, they are worlds apart. With his inventions, Dietlin wants to bring the watch boutique into the modern day and he is making great strides. “The watch world is a pretty serious place; it is rarely fun and there isn’t much laughter. It is changing a bit now, but I think we can have fun and we can certainly play,” he says. So Dietlin may have left the football pitch, but his spirit for play has definitely not left him.
We wish him all the best for his Secret Weeks show, but something tells us that things won’t stay secret for very long.
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