Victoria Townsend is a freelance journalist. From the Gulf and Paris, she covered the watch industry in the Middle East for over a decade, before venturing into European and US-based media. Settled in Paris, she has written for Haute Time on-line, GMT Magazine Middle East (in English), FHH Journal on-line, International Watch Review (Editions Jalou), and more recently, Romanian-based Lifetime Watch Magazine. In 2017 she started her Instagram page @victoriainparis.
1. Describe briefly your childhood.
I was born and raised in a small city on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. I loved the four seasons – the rebirth of our garden in the spring, riding my bicycle and going to the beach almost every day during the summer, playing amid the sight, sound and smell of autumn leaves, and skating in our back yard on the rink that our father made for us every winter, with tons of hot chocolate and skating parties with the neighbourhood kids. I loved school, and “accelerated” (3 years condensed into 2) probably thanks to my older sister (we are 3 daughters) who reviewed her classes with me every day when we got home from school. Three years older, she played the teacher, I was the pupil. My second sister, 7 years younger, was like my little baby.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition?
My mother was Catholic and my father Protestant. The agreement was the children go to public schools, but attend catechism lessons, and that’s where I met Sister Vincentia. She was pretty, pure, her face shone, and I wanted to be like her, to be a nun!! Later, I became interested in “old stuff”: paleontology and archeology. I also loved to draw and write stories. But I never had a burning passion to do something in particular later in life. In fact, I was envious of my friends at university who said they’d known from an early age exactly what they wanted to do. I studied English and French literature, simply because I had no idea, even at that age, what I wanted to be or do.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
I can’t determine what would be my FIRST significant memory, so here are four that pop into mind. I remember my first day of school, and my teacher - Mrs. Kaye - pulling my pigtails because I was giving an answer to the girl sitting next to me. In fact, I remember everything about my early school years.
Outside of school, I remember playing hide-and-go-seek on our calm street, and hiding behind a bush in front of a friend’s house. My great aunt, who had had a stroke, was walking past on her way to my house. She saw me, and called me, with her gravelly voice, asking me to help her. I felt angry that I had to leave the game, and embarrassed in front of my friends that I had to walk with her and her cane. I was quite young, but soon was so angry with myself for having had the feelings that I did.
Another memory is of Dr. Wong, my cardiologist who injected penicillin into my left hip on a regular basis for years (weekly at first I think, then monthly) after having determined that I was tired and falling down because I had rheumatic fever! In the early years, he gave me the empty syringe with its cap, telling me I could go home and “take it out on my dollies” :)
And one more – my first memory of real eye contact - I was playing in the back yard, and remember trying to avert my eyes when my father saw that I saw him running from the car to the house trying to hide enormous Easter chocolate bunnies and hens under his coat : )
4. Have you ever had another profession?
I worked in ad agencies, in Bahrain, Jordan, and in France when I first arrived here, not on the creative side, but as account handler, liaising with clients. And I read the English news live on Bahrain TV.
5. What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?
When I left the Middle East to where I had traveled on my own to work after University (via Monaco, but that’s another story), and moved to Paris that I loved having spent a few University-age summer vacations in France, I maintained contact with magazines I knew from the Middle East. I eventually left my ad agency job, to work as an “independent”, representing some of those magazines. One of them, a well-respected Lebanese-based business magazine, asked me to start covering the watch shows. It started with Baselworld, and eventually SIHH, where I interviewed CEOs and regional directors for over a decade. As it was a business magazine, I was mostly interested in market developments, although I did also meet the best technical and creative people...No less than e.g. Kurt Klaus or Christian Selmoni : )
I remember sharing a lunch table (many) years ago at SIHH with Philippe Dufour. Listening to him describe his work, crafting everything by hand, piece by piece, was fascinating. Soon I was invited to manufactures and discovered the reality behind all those beautiful watches.
A few years ago, I decided to start writing on-line. Prior to that, all my articles, for years, had been translated and published in Arabic magazines and were not signed with my name. My on-line presence opened the doors for me to other media, in English, and I followed that up with my Instagram page 2 years ago that is also all about timepieces and the people behind them.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
While a university student, giving English lessons at Berlitz Language School in Montreal 3 evenings a week was great fun, as was the weekend clothes-selling job prior to that. Anything that is in contact with people pleases me. But before THAT, I went 3 evenings a week to the office of a department store where I had to enter codes onto a computer for items sold that day. Yikes!!!! I think I lasted 2 weeks.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
….It was quite hard. I will never overcome it.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you?
(Funnily enough, it’s people I’ve never met who, I can’t really say have influenced me, but whom I admire. Three women with strong characters and unique lives and lifestyles: English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall for her work with primates and concern for animal well-being long before it became a world cause; English writer Virginia Woolf whose books I fell in love with as an adolescent, and whose struggle for life and liberty deeply impressed me; and Danish author and adventurer Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, whose marvellous book Out of Africa begins with this even more marvellous sentence: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills”.
9. What are you most proud of?
This may sound terrible, but I’m not particularly PROUD of anything. I think I’m a pretty decent person, so I guess that would be it.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
I would say follow your heart to wherever it takes you, to whatever it leads you to. But put some sort of order into it! Have confidence, move around at first to gain experience, then try to move up, concretely. Today you need some sort of plan. And save money for rainy days!
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
Buy a house in the south of France for family and friends’ visits.
Learn Polish (or another impossible language ;)
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years.
After consulting my marketing wizard friend about this, we agreed on 2 key words:
luxury (jewelry) and personalization. He thinks technology and miniaturization are moving so fast we will be wearing paper-thin flap-over screens on our arms: all-in-one “information centres” that will comprise TVs, laptops, tablets, telephones AND watches, with technology over aesthetics. Even smart watches as we know them today will disappear. I’m not sure I would go that far, but I do agree with the fact that there will be no added value wearing a watch on your wrist that just counts the time…UNLESS it is to show your wealth and status, your bank account and position. This will favour niche markets, with development of luxury jewelled watches, or good mechanical watches -- not necessarily the most expensive -- that can be personalized. With nevertheless a limited number of enthusiasts who will still enjoy reading the time on a good mechanical watch, just for the pleasure, as for lovers of beautiful fountain pens or luxury sports cars.
There could be takeovers, with cheaper or average-priced brands decreasing or disappearing completely, in particular, those that depend upon current fashion trends which by their very nature are prone themselves to disappear. As for physical stores, there would probably be a necessity for eg the $500 – 5,000 range, for customers who will need to see, touch and listen to the watches “because every penny counts”. For budgets above or below that, everything is already on-line, from personalization to seeing how it looks on your wrist. And for very expensive jewellery watches over $500,000, the customer won’t care about trying it on before ordering it. Or he will call the brand who will fly to meet him/her with a few pieces to choose from.
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