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Luxury Watches

by SCMP

Luxury Watches

Growth in mainland Chinese interest in premium Swiss watches surges

Mainlanders' online interest in high-end timepieces shows the strongest growth in a global study, with the women's segment giving a boost

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 10:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 7:53am

Watch: Watchmakers show their best time-pieces at Baselworld

While the consumption of luxury goods in mainland China fell sharply last year, online interest in upmarket Swiss watches there remained the highest worldwide, a study has found.

WorldWatchReport's latest edition, released the night before the opening of the Baselworld annual industry trade show in Geneva on Thursday, showed mainland China had the highest year-on-year growth in demand for all luxury watch categories last year, at 59.4 per cent, more than 10 times the global average of 5.7 per cent.

The report, published by market-monitoring firm Digital Luxury, analysed the performance of 62 luxury watch brands across 20 markets from more than one billion watch-related search queries typed into major online search engines.

Baidu, the leading Chinese-language online search service provider, found mainland consumers' thirst for luxury watches showed no signs of a slowdown, despite weak sales last year caused by Beijing's crackdown on extravagance among government officials.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported last month that the industry's exports to mainland China fell 12.5 per cent year on year to 1.45 billion Swiss francs (HK$12.7 billion). Worldwide, they rose 1.9 per cent to 21.8 billion francs.

It said mainland China was the world's third-biggest market for Swiss watches, after Hong Kong and the United States.

Liang Zeng, a Baidu vice-president, said there was still plenty of opportunity on the mainland. "Watches are among the fastest-growing luxury segments in [mainland] China right now," Liang said.

Omega, Cartier and Rolex led searches for haute horlogerie - or fine watches with a complicated movement - on the mainland, Baidu data showed.

Richemont, a Swiss luxury goods firm that owns a portfolio of fine watch brands, generated the fastest growth in online interest, at 13 per cent, especially from mainland travellers. Its brands include Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Panerai and Montblanc.

Mobile searches accounted for 39.1 per cent of searches for luxury timepieces on Baidu in the year to December. It said mobile searches grew 120.2 per cent year on year on the mainland.

The number of mainland internet users who accessed the web through mobile phones reached 500 million last year, the government-backed China Internet Network Information Centre reported.

David Sadigh, founder and chief executive of Digital Luxury, said: "Our outlook for the Swiss luxury watch industry remains strong."

He said women's demand for fine watches "represents the largest untapped opportunity, both in Asia and the Americas".

US accounted for more than a quarter of demand for ladies' watches, but the category was booming in mainland China, with a rise of 145.5 per cent from 2012, the report said.

Data from Baidu showed Rolex accounted for 26.5 per cent of interest from women consumers on the mainland. Other brands with strong interest were Omega, Vacheron Constantin and Chopard.

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