Party Like a CEO: A Lesson in Luxury

I wanted a watch, I found an adventure. I wanted to learn a few things about watchmaking, I learned everything about luxury.

Serendipity is when you find something you weren’t looking for. But not just something else. Something amazing, and unexpected. Serendipitous is the best way to describe the adventure I just had.

The Invitation

It all started at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. My grandfather, who had recently passed, left me with a small inheritance, and I planned on putting it to good use: a new watch. With a fresh 2,000€ ($2,300) I strolled into the Galeries.

After trying on several watches, and chatting with countless salesmen, it became painfully clear that, contrary to what I had thought, my budget was rather limited. The prestige of my quest, though dazzling, turned into straight foolishness. I had to leave–as soon as possible.

At the end of the day, what is a watch? It’s a statement. A call to “look at me.”

But before I could get out the door, a man approached me. He introduced himself as Tony. He asked if he could help. Me, in ripped jeans, leather jacket and Air Max said: “No, thank you, this is clearly out of my budget.” But Tony was not flustered. He explained the nuances of different watches, had me try on a few. I wanted to buy a watch from him. I really did. But it was impossible. The cheapest clock was three thousand. After about fifteen minutes he stopped. Looked at me. “Are you free next Tuesday?” I looked at him skeptically. Was this dude trying to ask me out? “I want to invite you to an horology event, in London. VIP. Three days, all paid for. Someone dropped out this morning, and there’s room for one more. What do you think?” I played it cool. Was this guy serious? “Let me check my schedule,” I said. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” I made sure to tell him though, even if I accepted his offer, I still wouldn’t be buying a watch. “No problem at all,” he said, “when you’re ready to buy a watch, you’ll know where to come. This event will help you find that special watch. ” I walked out stupefied.

I talked it over with friends, my family, my psychic, my hair stylist. Their responses were all the same: “Go to London.” So I sent an email to my new friend to cordially accept his invitation.

The Arrival

Three days before I left I received an email from Tony. It was an itinerary of my trip. I found out that I would be riding first class on the Eurostar and staying at a five-star hotel between Mayfair and Soho. I had become a millionaire overnight.

Eurostar_Business_Premium-Free_Weekend_London

All the watch sellers and invitees met at the Gare du Nord around 9 am on the day we were set to leave. I thought everyone would look the same, but they were varied and diverse, like the watches they wore on their wrists. What glued them together was their passion. For them, buying a new watch was a months-long project. Like buying a car, or a house. And every watch became a part of them like the way they spoke or the clothes they wore. For the departure, they all wore their biggest and shiniest bands. I probably don’t have to mention it, that with my 300€ ($350) watch, I didn’t make much of a splash. Either way, I was happy to be there.

Our group-four salesmen and a dozen clients- after a marvelous ride finally arrived at the hotel. It reeked of luxury. A smell that gets exponentially better over time. When I got in my room, I realize that the bathroom was as big as my studio back in Paris. I took a shower and put on my bathrobe and white slippers: like Hugh Hefner on Spa day.

The Main Event

I hardly have any time to relax in my white bathrobe before I have to be at the welcoming dinner. Suit and tie mandatory. There are glasses of champagne, cocktails and small cakes-it is a river of plenty. You’d think the real reason we were here was to eat and drink ourselves to death. Maybe it was. After some lobster and Madagascan chocolates, we flop down in the armchairs by the bar to chat about 20,000€ ($23,000) watches while sipping on 20£ ($25) cocktails. I feel like I’m on a different planet. Is this really me, slowly sipping on this martini, acting like I know what I’m talking about? Oh well, all the world’s a stage. When the bar finally closes around 2 am, this beautiful world goes to sleep, awaiting patiently the main event.

For the first time in a while, I set my alarm early for the next morning. The spa waits for no one. The Olympic size pool, the jacuzzi, the steam room, the sauna: all for myself. It must be nice to be rich. A few relaxing hours later, I am showered, preened and ready to shop.

 

 

We set off through the city, visiting the world’s most renowned watch shops. Like most of my experience, my unfamiliarity with this world of luxury is no inhibitor on my awe. To my surprise, I find that I am lost in this world of watches. When one of the members is considering a purchase, the empathy is palpable. Everyone feels as though they themselves were buying it.

The work of these artisans is so minute that I finally understand what people mean when they say it’s the “work of a goldsmith” and the “precision of a Swiss watch.” But something is off inside my head. Back home, after more cocktails at the bar, I lay down in my bed. The watches are exquisite, I still can’t understand how someone can pay such exorbitant prices for something like that. At the end of the day, what is a watch? It’s a statement. A call to “look at me.” Perhaps pure at one time, it seems to have lost itself to the caprices of vain men. I turn over the velvety pillow beneath my head and rest my cheek on its cool side. Despite my misgivings, I fall immediately to sleep.

Wild for the Night

Besides exchanging business cards, which, though entirely outdated, is still of a relic of this culture, we made a WhatsApp group so we never miss a chance to talk about the latest releases or purchases. I am part of a cult and no one can save me now. Like the Freemasons, all these people share common values and think they own a monopoly on good taste.

The problem with rich people-especially when they’re drunk-is that they can decide to splurge a whole month’s salary in one instant.

The final night of our trip coming to an end, those of us who were now pretty tipsy-many of which were salesmen-proposed a nighttime adventure. I joined the group: six men set on making the night last. One of the guys who lived in London knew it well and brought us to a club in Piccadilly Circus. What with us reeking of a bachelor party, the manager zeroed in on us. He offered us a table in the center of his club for the “competitive price” of 2,000€ ($2,300) euros. To my naive surprise, these guys were actually considering it. I started to panic. Was I the only one who knew what was going on? I resorted to my last defense: my conscience. “Guys, this dude is trying to swindle us. Because we’re all dressed up. On principle, I will not pay 400€ ($466) to sit at his ridiculous table.” I see them hesitate until the big mouth in the group-a 46-year-old salesman-finally agrees with me.

The problem with rich people-especially when they’re drunk-is that they can decide to splurge a whole month’s salary in one instant. It’s the age-old game of “who can spend the most money.” The rest of the night is spent under the tacit spell of relief. We behave, we drink, we return to the hotel.
The next morning, after another lavish breakfast, it was time to go home.

The Result

The result is positive but disillusioning. Not a euro spent, a CEO’s life lived for three days, but with absolute relief that I live in a crummy studio in Paris, writing articles for little money, and living a modest life. There is something refreshing in this reality. In this perception. No doubt though: this will forever be like a summer love that you remember with a bittersweet smile, knowing that it will never happen again.

Julien Giacalone As far as Julien can remember he always wanted to be a gangster. Unlike Henry Hill, he mostly became a writer. But a strong part of him is still anti-establishment. Which part? Only the good half.
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