As a category, watches celebrate good times and success — two things that have been rare to come by this year. So how has this industry kept ticking during the pandemic?
The past few months have seen big ticket shows like Baselworld and Watches and Wonders (WW2020) cancel their physical events, whereas in a regular year, nine out of 10 luxury watches would launch at the same time. This year, the launches have been sporadic and opportunistic. Dubai Watch Week 2020 — a private event hosted by the LVMH group — was the only one to have taken place before the global lockdown. WW2020 (erstwhile SIHH) hosted a digital launch in April for the Richemont brands and some independents. Last week, several major Swiss luxury watch brands, including Breitling, Bulgari, De Bethune, Gerald Genta, Girard-Perregaux, H Moser & Cie, MB&F, Ulysse Nardin and Urwerk came together to create Geneva Watch Days (GWD 2020, August 26-29). Carl F Bucherer and Rolex also timed the launch of their novelties around the same time.
So what are the noticeable trends? Quite clearly, nothing. Here is why: a typical product launch by any fine watchmaking brand takes 18 to 24 months, sometimes even longer. Watches that are being launched this year have been in planning since 2018 or earlier. While brands have taken their time to announce the novelties of 2020, they still have no relation to the changing equation in a recessionary world. It is probably coincidence if they get it right.
Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori
However, there is an increasing emphasis on e-commerce. Even Patek Philippe, a company that never allowed their watches to be sold online, temporarily relaxed their rules in April to help their authorised retailers. Others like IWC are collaborating with online partners like Mr Porter, while Grand Seiko and Omega have extended their online offerings to more countries. Watches of Switzerland now have Richemont brands like Vacheron Constantin, Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre on their e-commerce platform. Jean-Christophe Babin, Bulgari’s CEO, says, “We accelerated our e-commerce expansion, opening in seven new countries in just 90 days, including major markets such as Brazil and Russia.” Despite the industry always being tight lipped about the exact figures, there is a definite movement towards consulting and selling online.
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO, Bulgari
- “The key trends must match the clients’ expectations today. They want fresh and original creations, not only vintage copy-paste and inspired watches”
However, the move to online won’t be complete unless the industry eliminates counterfeits and addresses issues of discount negotiations in an online-only model. Since October 31, 2019, Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin, owned by luxury group Kering, has relied on blockchain technology to issue digital certificates of authenticity to track originals. We are also seeing online enquiries being directed offline to sales specialists, as seen with Indian luxury watch retailer, Ethos.
Breitling Endurance Pro
What are customers looking for after during these difficult months? "Highly functional statement pieces that add colour and also some fun to their wrists,” says Carl F Bucherer CEO Sascha Moeri. Their Patravi TravelTec Color Edition celebrates the beauty of the four seasons. Meanwhile, the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31 is presented in a white Rolesor version (combining Oystersteel and 18 carat white gold) and features dials in a variety of shades. Breitling’s Endurance Pro has a range of colours to complement the lightweight body, precision and functionality.
Complications for collectors
Carl F Bucherer’s Tourbillon Double Peripheral, first launched in 2018, is now also available in a limited-edition (88 pieces) of elegant white gold. Girard Perregaux unveiled the Cosmos Infinity Edition, limited to eight pieces, at GWD 2020. The watch features three complications: a lyre-shaped tourbillon cage held in position by their signature Neo Bridge; a terrestrial globe that conveys whether the indicated time is day or night; and a celestial globe that displays Zodiac constellations. Both globes are formed of polished onyx and are hand-painted. The new Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton Automatic from Bulgari combines the single-push chronograph with tourbillon functions and a 3.5 mm movement thickness. This is the brand’s sixth world record in six years for thinness.
Manufacturer icon in new design: Heritage Tourbillon DoublePeripheral in white gold. (KEYSTONE/Carl F. Bucherer)
If the price is right
Rolex is now offering their bestsellers such as the new 41mm Oyster Perpetual in Oystersteel at approximately ₹3.85 lakh, and the colourful ones in 36mm at approximately ₹3.65 lakh. Breitling too has kept the pricing of the Endurance Pro at around ₹2.30 lakh. Whether these few months have permanently changed how luxury watches are marketed or if this will remain as mere posturing by brands till the pandemic lasts, only time will tell.
Sascha Moeri, CEO, Carl F Bucherer
- “Our strong traditional sales platforms will remain important for us. It is all about keeping balance, bearing in mind that the personal experience will remain essential before buying a luxury watch. In the future, the brands that will be most successful are the ones able to orchestrate their on- and offline touch points in the right balance”
Keep it simple
Taking their cue from IWC’s April launch of the Portugieser Automatic 40mm, Girard-Perregaux released a limited 188-piece Laureato Infinity edition. With a 42mm steel case and bracelet, the watch uses a black onyx dial and pink-gold markers. The Oyster Perpetual line from Rolex adds a new larger size of 41mm with a silver sunray-finish dial, giving it a retro touch.
Warranty, the way forward
The world is seeking more, and trust brands that can offer a longer warranty. In April, Panerai offered an unprecedented 70-year warranty to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their bestselling Luminor. Bulgari has extended warranty on all models purchased after September 1, 2020 to three years. On their high-end Octo Finissimo and Gerald Genta models, it is up to five years on registering. IWC has extended theirs to six years from the existing two on registered timepieces.
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