Lai See

Some Swiss watches have Chinese characteristics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 2:55am

To the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. "The biggest timepiece event in the world", we read on one notice, although we always thought that a similar event held in Basel was bigger. We don't know much about the watch industry.

Clearly watches are about more than telling the time. They are jewellery, they are fashion accessories and, as such, say something about the owner - rich, not rich, sporty, outgoing and so on. There were thousands and thousands of watches on display.

We approached a buyer from the US, who informed us: "One thing you gotta understand - there's a lotta hypocrisy in this business." By which he meant the Swiss premium. The "Made in Switzerland" tag carries a premium, except that these days a lot of Swiss watches have much of their mechanisms made in China. "The Chinese make the best watches in the world," our buyer told us.

We were advised shortly after this encounter that the top 10 Swiss brands account for about half the industry's revenues, which are estimated at US$40 billion. While the luxury end of the market is pretty static in the US and Europe, it is growing at about 10 per cent in China, we are told. Further down the scale the trends are for colourful watches. Fashion watches are another trend, "but they have got to look better than their price".

One thought we came away with was that one of the highest-margin areas of the business - in other words where we get ripped off the most - is branded quartz watches.

"It's just a case with a simple mechanism."

Third time lucky for SFC?

We wrote yesterday about Andrew Mantel, chief executive of Pacific Sun Advisors, in connection with the Securities and Futures Commission's decision to commence criminal proceedings against both him and the company for advertising funds the SFC hadn't approved.

Mantel has written to say that the SFC has tried to deprive him of his licence twice before, only to have it reinstated on both occasions on appeal. We see from newspaper cuttings that former SFC deputy chairman Ermanno Pascutto, speaking on behalf of Mantel at the SFC Appeals Tribunal in 2004, said the SFC was guilty of "reprehensible behaviour" in revoking Mantel's investment licence. "I have never in my 25-year career seen a revocation for such a trivial offence," Pascutto continued. Will it be third time lucky for the SFC?

Fine dining at Dot Cod

For lunch we dined at the recently reopened Dot Cod restaurant in the basement of Prince's Building, Central. The restaurant had been closed to facilitate a facelift, and its new decor seems lighter and a shade more elegant, without getting precious. More interestingly, the restaurant has used the reopening to upgrade its menu.

The food was always good at Dot Cod, but executive chef Jeffrey LeBon, while retaining many of the old favourites, has extended the menu's range and moved into fine dining. We are no Escoffier, and the food is normally secondary to our lunchtime conversation. But we have to say that the food on this occasion caught our attention.

We started with an excellent Australian tuna tartare, followed by scallops with celery root mousse and mushroom duxelle. These were some of the best scallops we've tasted. This was followed by a very tasty fillet of lemon sole. So Dot Cod can now boast a fine-dining option at pretty reasonable prices.

A Blackwater solution

Our suggestion that the policing of illegal parking should be outsourced has received an interesting response. Not from the authorities, alas, who seem completely uninterested in something that we can say with some confidence annoys a lot of people in Hong Kong. One suggestion was that it should be outsourced to US firm Blackwater, the security organisation of choice of the Bush administration in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

"These brutish ex-special forces soldiers from the US, UK and other places will surely intimidate surly drivers, and because the contractors have no families or guanxi needs to fear for in Hong Kong, they would not think twice about enforcing the law." Our reader goes on to say that one of the biggest hindrances to law enforcement in Asia is "the fear of guanxi retribution" and "blind deference to those with money". He may have a point.