Brand spanking So it's been exactly four months and 20 days since the Apple Watch was launched in Hong Kong and it has already seismically changed the industry. Apologies if I get all "inside baseball" for a moment, but for years the watch industry, centred in Switzerland, has had an easy run of things. The 2000s, in particular, will likely go down as the golden era, when brands could shift any old muck as long as it had a mechanical movement inside and Swiss-made stamp.
Those halcyon days are gone. Instead, the industry now has to contend with a slowdown in its fastest-growing market, China, and Apple stealing its lunch. On top of that, there is rapidly improving competition from better funded and better marketed, although not necessarily better, watches from fashion brands.
It used to be that "fashion watches" were a source of amusement for true watch folk. That's all changed since fashion houses realised that for relatively little effort they could make a pretty penny by upping the quality of their watches.
And so we arrive at the present day, when brands such as Burberry offer Swiss-made mechanical watches that are not terrible. In fact, some of them look pretty sharp: the Britain watch (clearly, they still need to spend more time thinking about names), which was released in 2012, has a number of new iterations including the Icon Check BBY2008 limited edition (above right). First of all, this looks like a serious watch, not a faddy fashion item. Sure, Burberry has managed to incorporate the check motif it's famous for but it's subtle and works well with the skeletonised dial face. The 45mm case is made of DLC titanium, again something that points to Burberry taking-things-seriously, and inside is a Swiss-made movement that the company has bought off the shelf but does the job. Features include a transparent case back and date window and the strap is a wonderful black alligator leather. Limited to 20 pieces, the Icon Check BBY2008 is priced at HK$151,100, which may seem like a lot, but compares favourably with other limited-edition mechanical watches with similar features.
Burberry is still relatively new to watches but Emporio Armani has been around for a few years, and has recently sought to up the quality, and consequently the price, of its timepieces. At Baselworld this year, Emporio Armani launched new lines under its Swiss-Made Collection, a rather shameless attempt at premiumisation, with a men's line titled Bold Motion. The ARS9104 (right) is indeed bold in design, the 44mm steel case housing one of the most classically sporty designs the brand has likely ever come up with. The main feature is the chronograph, with three subdials. There is also a tachymeter scale on the outer ring and a blue canvas strap to reaffirm the sporty credentials of the watch. Inside is the Ronda 5050B, a dependable but not-too-fancy Swiss-made movement. Hong Kong prices for the ARS9104 will be released soon but given the features, design and all-important Swiss movement expect something north of HK$10,000.
Last but not least we have the Gucci Dive (right). Now, the words "Gucci" and "watch" in the same sentence usually bring me out in hives. However, being the magnanimous sort, I will judge each watch on its merits and I actually really like the Dive, principally because the label hasn't not drowned the watch in logos and motifs. No interlocking Gs, no green and red banding. Also as a dive watch, this isn't too shabby, with 200 metres of water resistance, a nice rubber strap, a rotating bezel and luminescent markers and hands and, inside, a Swiss-made ETA quartz movement. The steel case comes in three sizes (32mm, 40mm or 45mm) and the price varies but all are under HK$10,000.