Australia’s Watch Fans Are Invited to a Fair

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By Margaretd. Regina

Australia doesn’t have much of a homegrown watch industry, and what it does have primarily sells online — facts that spurred Domenic Italiano, founder and designer of Grip Auto Timepieces, to organize what he called the country’s first watch fair.

After all, Mr. Italiano, 37, said, watchmakers there “don’t get an opportunity to have our own space, or people to be able to try on or speak to us or see us.”

Wristwatch Check, a name Mr. Italiano said he chose because it was fun and “recognized globally in the watch community,” is scheduled May 30 at Benzina Stables, a luxury car storage facility in Preston, a suburb northeast of Melbourne. Tickets will be 100 Australian dollars ($65) at the door, but attendees can preregister through the online ticketing site Eventbrite for discounted fees.

Seven watch brands have registered to exhibit, including Bausele, known for including Australian beach sand and tile from Sydney Opera House in its crowns; Ocean to Orbit, which will debut its first collection next month; and Second Hour, a microbrand founded in 2019 that specializes in vintage looks.

A Mandala Burst watch from Second Hour.

Irwin Liaw, a member of the watch enthusiasts club RedBar Melbourne, said he planned to go to Wristwatch Check to see what is “out of the norm.” He collects sporty watches by Rolex, Tudor, Breitling and others, and said he would be looking at the finishes, “the color of the dial, the hands and the small details like the engraving.”

The fair could be the first step for Australian brands to expand beyond the country’s shores, said Thierry Nataf, president and chief executive of the Luxury Consulting Company and a former president and chief executive of Zenith.

“When you start to do a sort of show and highlighting your brands, you start to have a consciousness of your size, your offer,” he said. “You can’t do a show if you only have three brands.”

He acknowledged that Australia’s geographical position presented a challenge for local brands. “Going like that beyond their continent has been always difficult,” he said, although he noted that Aesop, the beauty and skin care line, had been successful.

A Lhotse watch from Ocean to Orbit.

A fair has come at the right time because Australian homegrown brands have been gaining recognition thanks to social media, said Matthew Corbo, a co-owner since 2022 of the Melbourne Watch Company.

In today’s tight economic climate, locals “can’t afford a Rolex,” Mr. Corbo said, “or don’t want to wait three years to buy a Rolex, but they’ll come to a microbrand.” His company, founded in 2013, will be exhibiting at the event.

Mr. Italiano said that he intended to keep the momentum going and that he was planning two more fairs in other Melbourne locations this year and elsewhere in the country next year.

And while he wants to increase the number of exhibitors, he said Wristwatch Check should maintain its focus on microbrands as what he called “a point of difference.”

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