What can you do when your biggest market fails to deliver? That was the question on many lips at this year’s Baselworld trade fair, the watch industry’s most important annual meeting, which happened this April. All eyes were on Greater China, where a slowdown in sales caused by economic uncertainty – along with a stiff luxury tax and a crackdown by president Xi Jinping on official gift giving in mainland China – has seen watch exports fall 12.5 per cent year on year. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported a knock-on effect with global exports increasing just 1.9 per cent in 2013 – as opposed to the 10.9 per cent rise the previous year.
The answer for watchmakers, it seems, is to shift course. “We will see a lower entry-level price point being adopted,” says Bruno Jufer, vice president of marketing and sales at Chinese-owned Swiss maker Eterna. “As the global middle class grows and its purchasing power rises there is a great opportunity for new consumers who identify the value in Swiss watch design.”
While traditionalists remain stoic about the rise of wearable technology – the “smartwatch” – many executives in the mechanical watch industry will be following developments with interest. Nick Hayek, ceo of Swatch Group, the world’s largest watchmaker, has rebutted the option of collaboration on a device with technology firms such as Apple and Samsung. However, as Morten Linde, co-founder of Linde Werdelin, explains, “Analogue is the best way to communicate time; digital is how you assimilate technical details.” That being the case, how long before the two worlds meet with a high-end mechanical hybrid compatible with Android or Apple’s iOS technology?
Baselworld was more in keeping with the momentum for competitive pricing than in previous seasons; it was no longer a case of the bigger and flashier the better when it came to design. At La Montre Hermès, ceo Luc Perramond launched the Faubourg women’s collection using a new silver alloy with discrete 15mm dial. At Zenith, the hero piece was an addition to the El Primero family in the form of the understated Synopsis range. Zenith also revised its entry-level pricing downwards to €3,300. Meanwhile, Rolex brought back the classic Cellini range of dress watches, reinterpreted the Milgauss for the first time since 2007 and launched new dial variations for the annual calendar Sky-Dweller.
Jean-Claude Biver, president of the watches division at lvmh, remains optimistic. “The situation has changed but China’s attractiveness will remain,” he says. “Always be the first and be unique – That’s the key to success!”
Tag Heuer: Carrera Calibre 80 Chronograph
In homage to the world of motor racing, the slim movement and classic displays give it a vintage touch. The new in-house movement offers an impressive 80-hour power reserve.
Rolex:Oyster Perpetual Milgauss
Launched as an antimagnetic watch for engineers and scientists in 1956, the iconic Milgauss has been reworked for the first time since 2007. Green sapphire crystal meets an electric-blue dial and emblematic lightning-bolt seconds hand to striking effect.
Zenith El Primero Synopsis
With an elegant silver-toned dial, a distinctive opening reveals the famous El Primero calibre. This beats to the tune of 36,000 vibrations per hour and is set to become a design classic for the Le Locle-based watchmaker.
Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Gravity
Featuring an all-silicon assortment and domed “glass-box” sapphire crystal, this contemporary piece plays with depth and line with an off-centre hours and minutes dial and small seconds display. Shown in anthracite PVD steel.
Urban Jürgensen & Sønner Montre Émail Observatoire
A refined grand feu enamel dial, hand-painted numerals and delicately shaped hands make this limited-edition P8 Chronometer in platinum a standout piece from the independent manufacturer.