Monday. 10/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / GENEVIEVE BATES

Tangible assets

On one level the tide seems to be turning for retail: the pandemic has accelerated consumers’ willingness to purchase online, even in luxury markets, where digital showrooms are becoming jazzier and the buying experience more personalised thanks to video consultations. However, a number of key luxury brands – Chanel, Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe among them – have so far refused to join the world of e-commerce. So which camp is smarter, the e-commerce joiners or the bricks-and-mortar stalwarts?

Let’s look to the apex of luxury markets: the watch trade. Multi-brand seller Watches of Switzerland’s e-commerce sales rose during lockdown, so it’s now launching a full e-commerce site for North America and, for the first time, has added Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai pieces to its existing online offering. Omega has extended the geographic reach of its site and Hublot and Ulysse Nardin both started selling some of their less expensive models directly to consumers from their websites during the pandemic.

All of this, however, is still dwarfed by Rolex, which accounts for more than half of the Watches of Switzerland group’s overall sales – all via traditional shops. Although no one was able to buy a Rolex during lockdown, the brand is stronger for it as the need to visit a Rolex or Chanel stockist adds a layer of exclusivity that can’t be matched online. It’s this limit on supply that explains the “Rolex bubble” that results in higher prices being achieved for products in auctions and secondary markets than when sold new. So whether you’re after a €150,000 watch, a Chanel bag or even a paperback book, might we suggest that you will make a more considered purchase – and value the object more – if you’ve made the journey to assess the options in a bricks-and-mortar shop.

Defence / USA & GERMANY

Diplomatic omission

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (pictured) is heading to Europe this week with stops scheduled in Slovenia, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic. On Pompeo's agenda: Russian and Chinese influence, Huawei and, following the Pentagon's announcement that the US will be pulling 12,000 troops from Germany, how the US plans to redistribute its forces in Europe. The Pentagon says that the redeployment – to Belgium, Italy, Poland and possibly the Baltic states – is strategic but Donald Trump has blamed Germany's insufficient defence spending for the pullout. Given that discrepancy, it is notable that Pompeo is not visiting Berlin to smooth relations. While presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to review the withdrawal if he's elected in November, mending ties with Germany might not be so simple. Just last month, German foreign minister Heiko Maas told reporters, "[Whatever] the outcome of the election, the US will no longer be available as a security partner in the same capacity as they were in the past."

Technology / US & CHINA

Home alone

As US firms weigh the financial fallout of President Trump’s latest attack on Chinese technology giants, companies from other countries might be eyeing up a world of possibility in China. Last week, Trump invoked the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act to ban US residents from doing business with Chinese-owned video-sharing platforms TikTok and WeChat. The latter is widely used for communications but also as a payment platform by Chinese consumers. That means that brands based outside the US will be at an advantage, according to Reda Farran, analyst at financial literacy platform Finimize. “The WeChat ban could put US businesses at a disadvantage when it comes to engaging with their Chinese customers, relative to European businesses who aren’t subject to the ban,” he says. In other words, without allies joining the ban, expect the move to undermine the operations of US firms more than the Chinese themselves.

Society / USA

America’s other big vote

The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the world's largest annual live television spectacles. It was first broadcast in 1956 and conceived as a gentler but no-less-potent part of the peace-building process in Europe after the Second World War. Now, in a time of discord in the US and with a bruising presidential election battle in full swing, it could be about to take on the unity mantle once again. The European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of broadcasters that stages the event, has signed a deal to create a US iteration of the contest, featuring one song from each of the 50 states. The debut for The American Song Contest is scheduled for late 2021 and it's a canny manoeuvre: there's something to be said for bringing the US's disparate corners together under one roof. Eurovision's foray into the US is a move that gets douze points from us. For more, listen to today's episode of Monocle 24's The Briefing

Culture / Scotland

Acts of faith

Edinburgh's International Festival has been bringing together the brightest talent from the worlds of music, theatre, opera and dance since 1947. This year it has commissioned a series of new films and performances for a special online series that opened over the weekend and runs until 31 August. Performances, which can be accessed via the festival's website, include a programme of works by the Scottish Ballet (pictured), the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 2 and a new play created for the National Theatre of Scotland by writer and director Hope Dickson Leach. "Everyone is desperate to get back to work, whether that's as an actor, dancer, musician or someone behind the scenes," executive director Francesca Hegyi tells Monocle. "This year's edition provided work for some 500 people both on stage and behind the scenes. We wanted to show that the creative energy is still there, just in a different form." And that's why keeping festivals like this one going, with or without a live audience, is a laudable goal.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Mary Lou McDonald

In this special episode, Andrew Mueller speaks to the president of Sinn Féin about the Irish party’s historic result in last February’s general election, how she manages the party’s historic link with the IRA, and the future she envisages for her country.

Monocle Films / Global

Copenhagen: healthy city growth

The concept of kolonihave, a blissful combination of an allotment and a summer house, has shaped Danish cities since the late 17th century. Today avid growers convene in these colonies to find a peaceful place to commune with nature – and a community of diverse characters.

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