Time for a change? Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair sees fewer visitors as industry struggles

Traditional luxury brands, hit hard by economic headwinds, give way to mid-range offerings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 10:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 3:13pm

The 35th Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair saw fewer visitors than previous years on its opening day Tuesday as exhibitors reel from economic headwinds and shifting consumer tastes.

The fair, featuring more than 800 exhibitors from 27 countries and over 80 brands of timepieces at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, has drawn a smaller crowd than in past years, participants said.

Kin Chow, assistant sales manage of Prince Jewellery and Watch, said there were “definitely fewer visitors” compared to previous instalments of the annual event. “It used to be a sea of faces even on the first day of the fair,” he said.

Recent industry figures appeared to back up Chow’s observation.

In July, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported a 32.7 per cent drop in Swiss watch imports to the city, and that month Hong Kong’s position as the largest importer of Swiss watches was overtaken by the US – for the first time in almost eight years.

The industry also saw in July its exports lose 14.2 per cent of their value year on year, at HK$12.7 million.

Wayne Leung, an advisory committee member of the fair, described business as “really bad” and falling since Christmas last year. “We will have to wait until the end of 2017 to see if there is any chance of recovery,” he said.

Leung said his OEM business had been taking 30 per cent fewer orders this year. The same challenge plagued Mira Watch International, according to its vice-president Brenda Chow.

“The demand has been down by about 30 per cent,” she said, citing reduced interest from mainland buyers as a reason.

Kin Chow said China’s crackdown on corruption and economic slowdown had cost his company many mainland buyers who had driven his business for a long time.

“Mainland buyers used to account for 90 per cent of our customers,” he explained. “Now that number has fallen to 60 or 70 per cent.” Chow said watch sellers were now investing in other markets to make up for the shortfall.

Sophia Chong, assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, said the industry was shifting from traditional luxury brands “to more mid-range brands and independent brands” to combat the weak global demand for watches.

She said hi-tech wearables and watches were stealing the spotlight from traditional watches at this year’s fair, such as the ring clock, a time-telling device that can be worn as a ring.

The fair runs until Saturday.