Hong Kong eyes on struggling Swiss watchmakers at Geneva luxury fair SIHH
As the 27th SIHH watch fair opens next week in Geneva, luxury brands such as Cartier and Piaget are under pressure to excite consumers and give long-suffering Hong Kong retailers a shot in the arm
An upcoming showcase of Swiss watchmaking expertise will be a key barometer for a luxury sector which has lost its lustre.
Last year was the worst for Swiss watch exports since 1988, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), the record keepers for the world’s biggest watchmaking country. Latest figures show the current market slump, which began in 2015, continued for the first 11 months of last year, not helped by China’s slowing economy and luxury retail woes in Hong Kong – the biggest export market for Swiss watches.
December’s figures are likely to show the downward trend continuing and will be released as the 27th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – the first big watch fair of the year – opens in Geneva next week .
The depressing sales and export figures will pile pressure on manufacturers to present exciting products at the event, which runs from January 16-20. And this year’s fair is set against a backdrop of upheaval at the dominant exhibitor, the Richemont Group.
Despite the inclusion of Kering-owned Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, as well as 13 smaller independents, SIHH is still overwhelmingly a Richemont event. The luxury conglomerate, which owns fashion brands Shanghai Tang, Chloe and Dunhill and watch icons Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget and IWC, saw a 51 per cent fall in profit and a 13 per cent drop in sales for the six months ending in September 2016. The company axed its CEO position and installed Montblanc’s Jerome Lambert as head of operations and IWC’s Georges Kern as head of watchmaking, marketing and digital.
A telling sign of the difficulties in the luxury watch space is the continued absence of Ralph Lauren Watches from SIHH. A 50:50 joint venture between Ralph Lauren and Richemont struck at the height of the boom, Ralph Lauren Watches opted out of last year’s fair and will also sit out this year’s. The brand, which combines Ralph Lauren design with Richemont’s watchmaking knowledge and production infrastructure, has failed to find favour with consumers deterred by high prices, and recently Ralph Lauren Watches began to source cheaper, non-Richemont movements for its pieces to make the collections more accessible.
Last year’s SIHH included independent brands such as Christophe Claret, Urwerk and MB&F and, building on this theme of being more accessible to a new generation, Fabienne Lupo, president of the Fondation de la Haute Horologerie (FHH), the body that stages SIHH, told SCMP.com in October that this year’s exhibition would have a “public day” for the first time.
Among the early standouts for this year is Montblanc’s 1858 collection, which will feature its first watches made of bronze, one of the hottest trends in watchmaking.
A Lange & Sohne is also getting critical praise for its Lange 1 Moonphase, which has an integrated day/night indicator that can show the night sky.