Luxury brands are in a delicate balancing act, toeing the line between maintaining their heritage while keeping up with the need to innovate and surprise. 'It makes perfect sense that our collections remain steeped in tradition. We are not stuck in history; rather, we bring tradition and aesthetics to life,' says Martin Ganz, Breguet's vice-president for Greater China. 'It is similar to a piece of music. There are a multiple number of ways to interpret Haydn, for example. You can play the original instruments for which it was intended or take the spirit of it and adjust it to modern times. That is, in many ways, what we are doing in watchmaking.' Though Breguet, with a history of 235 years, has kept the aesthetics traditional, featuring its renowned hands and dials, and distinctive, simple-to-read numerals that combine function with elegance, significant progress has also been made in technical innovation. Over the past decade, the company has applied for more than 58 patents, Ganz says, adding that some are more minor than others, but all are significant. Some include the Breguet overcoil silicon balance spring, patent for the moon phase mechanism in the Reine De Naples watch (HK$257,600 to HK$4,920,000) and two in Le Reveil Du Tsar, the alarm watch (HK$299,800 to $308,400), which includes a column wheel mechanism to lock or activate the alarm, and a device to co-ordinate the alarm with local time. 'Our customers and connoisseurs expect us to remain at the forefront of innovation. They would not be satisfied if we only made changes in the superficial sense,' Ganz says. The 255-year-old Vacheron Constantin's key values of tradition, quest for excellence, creativity, passion, and openness to the world have underscored some of its most unique pieces such as watches in the Quai de I'Ile collection. Launched in 2008, the collection allows clients to personalise their own watches from a choice of three metals, dials and movements, in more than 400 possible combinations. At Jaeger-LeCoultre, founded in 1833, the commitment to heritage is illustrated in its Reverso Classique watch (HK$42,000). Invented in 1931, it has retained its individuality by keeping its swivel case, high watchmaking mechanism and art deco style. 'Aside from prestige, watch wearers today are looking for heritage, patrimony, savoir-faire and style. The combination is embodied in the Reverso that will celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, and is produced today with the highest technical requirements of the 21st century,' the company says. The brand has also drawn on aspects of its traditional designs to invent new models. One is Jaeger-LeCoultre's minimalist ultra-thin range, which pays tribute to the brand's roots. Its Master Grande Ultra Thin Watch (HK$98,000) was inspired by LeCoultre 145, the 1.38mm thick watch, that resulted in the brand's formation 73 years ago. 'The ultra-thin collection is one of the most successful and has been redesigned, including a new automatic mechanism,' the company adds. Swiss watchmaker Ulysse Nardin, meanwhile, has remained faithful to some of its earliest designs. Its Maxi Marine Chronometer (HK$179,600 with leather strap), for example, still uses the case of the original marine chronometer, though the dial design has been upgraded. Despite intense market competition, the growth of luxury brands has highlighted the strength of traditional and established products, yet also pushed them beyond their comfort zone. 'There has been more development in the high-end watch market over the last decade than in the last 50 years,' says David von Gunten, CEO of Audemars Piguet in Hong Kong and China. 'Many new players have brought modern ways of producing high-end movements to the market, and this has been especially beneficial for established brands because it has pushed people to rethink watch movements and designs.' Ganz agrees that, regardless of preferences for styles and no matter how outlandish or bold new designs may be, they are nonetheless interesting. 'It keeps people buying watches and that's a good thing for the industry,' Ganz adds. Though the proliferation of new brands has made the market ever more competitive, existing manufacturers remain confident. Established brands not only have a head start on research and development, and marketing, but can also provide customers with assurance. 'Traditional brands with histories give consumers the assurance that an expensive acquisition can be serviced also by future generations in all corners of the world. This may not always be the case for newcomers which can disappear after a few years, or have no service facilities in foreign markets,' says Rolf Schnyder, president of 164-year-old brand Ulysse Nardin.