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Luxury Watches

by SCMP

Luxury Watches

Worried about sales slump in China and Hong Kong, Swiss watch industry bring in the stars in annual show

At the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, H. Moser & Cie and Christophe Claret showcased intriguing new products while other brands returned to the usual gimmick of Hollywood glam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 11:13am

It was a rough 2015 for the luxury Swiss watch industry. Sales in Hong Kong and China, two of its three biggest markets, fell significantly, dragging down global growth figures into negative territory.

Most of the damage happened in Hong Kong, the world’s largest export market for Swiss watches. According to figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, watch sales in the city dropped 23.2 per cent in the period between January and November 2015. Over on the mainland, sales dropped 5.5 per cent. Overall, the global sales fell 3.3 per cent, the biggest slump since 2009.

Unsurprisingly, given the economic conditions, doom and gloom hung over the build-up to the first big trade show of the year, the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry organised Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, Switzerland. Seeking to invigorate proceedings, the organisers surprised everyone by expanding the number of brands on show and injecting some much-needed buzz and enthusiasm.

Traditionally dominated by the Richemont stable of brands, the 26th edition of the show featured the 15 regulars such as Cartier, IWC, Montblanc and Audemars Piguet. In recent years, the show had become predictable and bloated by the ever increasing numbers of attendees, myriad product launches and a race to convince celebrities – any celebrity – to attend.

This year organisers added nine upstart independent brands such as Urwerk, Christophe Claret and MB&F to the mix. Explaining the change, federation president Fabienne Lupo says that the show now “perfectly combines the knowledge of ancestral maisons with new-wave watchmaking”, but reading between the lines it was obvious the organisers were seeking to co-opt the hottest watchmakers in the industry, those who have little trouble garnering press and social media attention.

And the strategy worked. This year’s event, which closed its doors last Friday, certainly got the attention of the watch blogosphere and even a cursory glance at social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram showed that interest and engagement was up on previous editions. MB&F, founded by Max Busser, took the opportunity of the more vaunted stage to debut another of its “horological machines”, the Sherman watch. Encapsulating the brand’s playful and idiosyncratic approach to watchmaking, Sherman, as Busser describes him, is “a cute little robot” that “doesn’t do very

much at all,” aside from telling the time of course.

Limited to 450 pieces, Sherman is an attempt to bring a sense of fun and excitement to what is a highly technical enterprise.

Brands like MB&F, cognisant of the fact that an increasing number of the young wealthy are eschewing mechanical timepieces for smart watches or not wearing watches at all, have sought to attract a new audience with “mechanical art pieces” that also tell the time. Likewise, independent watchmakers like H. Moser & Cie and Christophe Claret are more willing to push the boundaries of what’s possible and acceptable in the industry. At the show, H. Moser & Cie showcased the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Concept watch, an update on a piece that wowed the industry 10 years ago. Presenting a purely minimalist watch, the new Endeavour Concept pushes against the industry obsession with logos and status, yet also marries traditional watchmaking with thoroughly modern movements.

Older, more established brands stuck to their usual gimmicks, flying in Hollywood celebs to lend their star power to product launches. Among the celebrities, Montblanc brought in Hugh Jackman and IWC had a slew of stars including two time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, actress Rosamund Pike and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. Jaeger-LeCoultre went one better bringing star shoemaker Christian Laboutin to present the special edition Reverso he had designed to celebrate the watch’s 85th anniversary.

This reliance on glamour tends to overshadow the products themselves, but there were dozens of highlights from the show, most notably Montblanc’s beautifully rendered Orbus Terrarum travel pocket watch and Cartier’s breathtaking Rotonde de Cartier Astro Mystérieux. Inspired by the Cartier mystery clocks of the early 20th century, the Astro Mystérieux features a movement that seems to “float” on the dial, as well as completely rotate each hour. A dramatic and incredibly complex piece, the Astro Mystérieux, like the Sherman, proved that in the end the products, and not celebrities, are the real stars.