After three years of decline in exports, the Swiss watch industry finally saw a silver lining last November. With earnings worth 231.4 million Swiss francs, luxury watch shipments were up 17.6 per cent over 2017. Led by the big five— China, UK, Japan, Hong Kong and the US—the watch business seems to be on the path to recovery. Time to rejoice, you would imagine. Not really.
There are a lot more issues plaguing the industry and the mess is far from being cleared. While the Richemont group has been struggling to put its house in order, with changes in its top management and distribution strategies worldwide, the Swatch group is realigning its communication plans post the split from Baselworld this year. Online is the new buzz word among brands that once mocked the idea of e-commerce. Hoping to hook millennials, they are now redirecting investments and rolling out “affordable luxury” products like never before. Right from web-only editions to exclusive Instagram announcements and influencer marketing, the luxury watch space is brimming with new ideas. However, there is no sure shot formula that can pull the business out of this downturn.
According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the continuing economic and political uncertainties worldwide would keep the brands on tenterhooks. The right approach to 2019 is “cautious optimism”. Though 90 per cent of the luxury watch sales are still done through third-party retailers, most brands now plan to target the end consumer through digital channels or mono brand stores. In fact, the current fragmentation within the industry has led to a flurry of country-specific events and seasonal launches across the globe. The idea is to go deeper into the local markets, with fewer products, showcased at intimate collector-centric events. A recent report by Morgan Stanley describes this new approach to sales as “disruptive and game-changing”. In fact, some forward-thinking brands have even started to question the relevance of watch fairs.
As we prepare ourselves to witness the Swatch Group spectacle ‘Time to Move’—an exclusive presentation of their novelties to select journalists—in Geneva this May, we already know the trends that would shape the market this year. Undeterred by the flux within the industry, watches priced at over 3,000 Swiss francs have been driving the sales for over two years now, and this year would be no different. You will also see a lot of timepieces inspired by the classics, in salmon, ivory, khaki and bronze. For almost every iconic high complication, there is now a much more affordable and pared down version to lure aspirational buyers. Right from the Ulysse Nardin Freak X to Greubel Forsey’s new Balancier Contemporain to Cartier’s chic Santos-Dumont, there is a watch to suit every pocket. To know more about the hottest launches from SIHH, check out our watch report on P. 28.
Nothing sells better than nostalgia and no one knows that better than Swiss watch brands. This year, as Omega celebrates 50 years of the moon-watch with the launch of a commemorative time-piece—Speedmaster Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition—we trace the evolution of the legendary watch that made it to the lunar surface on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin. We take you through this historical journey in “Over the Moon” on P.70.
There are plenty of legends in the industry, but only a few continue to surprise the world with their versatility year after year. Ulysse Nardin shook up the watch world with the launch of its most cutting-edge timepiece, the Freak, in 2001. Since then, we have seen several iterations of the watch, including the Freak Vision, introduced last year. Equipped with the revolutionary Grinder automatic winding system, the Freak Vision brings together the brand’s most innovative inventions in one watch. We bring you an in-depth review of this masterpiece in our story “Super Freak” on P. 106.
Here is to the undying spirit of innovation and exploration that will always keep the Swiss in business. Hopefully!
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