March 18, 2016
In eight days, Bloomberg’s global luxury editor Chris Rovzar will have enough information about the watch industry to last for the whole year.
As Bloomberg Pursuits covers the Baselworld watch fair, he explains what watchmakers are doing to impress buyers this year and why buying a watch is like buying a car.
Over 1,500 companies from around the watch industry are displaying their wares at the 2016 Baselworld luxury watch fair. Photo: Michele Limina/Bloomberg
Give us an idea of what it’s like to be at Baselworld, especially for someone who’s unfamiliar with it.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a good comparison; Baselworld is very much a trade show. A lot of the major brands from Switzerland go and show all of their wares. It’s gigantic: everyone who goes for the first time is blown away by how big it is. The expo center is built out by the watch companies, so every year, Rolex will build a multi-floor boutique – a whole structure.
The show serves several purposes. It’s a trade show for buyers: people who own boutiques and shops who go to see what wares they want to buy. It’s also for clients: private buyers who love watches. It’s also for journalists, who will cover and analyze what’s coming out for the year.
TAG Heuer’s chief executive Jean-Claude Biver addresses a crowd at 2016 Baselworld luxury watch fair. Photo: Michele Limina/Bloomberg
It’s all tiers: inexpensive watches, expensive watches, jewellery. It’s not just one kind of watch.
Who browses and then buys these high-end luxury timepieces at the fair?
It’s a very wealthy, very international clientele. Increasingly, over the past few years, Chinese watch buyers have become a big part of this segment – obviously a little less lately.
Someone said recently, you can own a superyacht, you can own a Lamborghini. At the end of the day, you have to leave the superyacht in the water, you have to leave the Lamborghini in the garage, but you can take your watch into the boardroom.
How are traditional, mechanical watchmakers being affected by new smart watches?
Smart watches have created a problem for them, but not as big a problem as people had thought. The currency issues and world economy are much more worrying factors for them, but I think they found that people who want an expensive, mechanical watch are not the same people who want a smart watch.
A Mondaine Watch Ltd. luxury smart watch registers on a contactless receiver during a demonstration at 2016 Baselworld luxury watch fair. Photo: Michele Limina/Bloomberg
Some brands released smart watches. What mechanical watch companies are doing well is figuring out what people actually want in a smart watch.
“You can own a superyacht, you can own a Lamborghini. At the end of the day, you have to leave the superyacht in the water, you have to leave the Lamborghini in the garage, but you can take your watch into the boardroom.”
Maybe they don’t want a million different things: maybe they want it to do one thing. Maybe that’s the way forward.
So what are watchmakers at Baselworld going to do to impress buyers?
They’re trying to impress people with new materials, be it carbon fiber or new alloys that are proprietary to each company. You’ll see old watch brands trying to get the skeletonized look – where you can see the watch movement – into a more traditional watch face. Really, they’re trying the same stuff that’s worked for them before.
It’s interesting to see what’s happening with e-commerce and digital marketing in the wider world of fashion: take Burberry’s instafashion. Will the watch industry take a cue from them?
The watch industry is based around the shows: that’s definitely true. People tend to buy watches in person, so it’s a little different than seeing it on the runway and ordering it online.
People have relationships with watch sellers. They want to see what it looks like on the wrist. It’s a serious investment; you’re going to wear it for years and years. It’s similar to why people buy cars in person: you want to see it and you want to have a relationship with the person selling it to you.
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