China has become one of the biggest markets for luxury watches in recent years, and the pandemic has only intensified the effect this is having on the industry, ranging from the ways watch brands market themselves in the country, to the new products being developed. The value of Swiss watch exports to China increased by 44.9 per cent year on year to August, reaching 211.6 million Swiss francs (more than US$232 million), according to the latest data available from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. It is the only country to report a growth in demand for the month and now the third month in a row that it has led the world in Swiss watch exports. Rolex vs Patek Philippe: 6 differences between the two most iconic watch brands There are a few reasons for this growth. The first is China’s relatively speedy recovery from a virus that is still affecting much of the world. The second is an increase in domestic purchases as Chinese consumers remain broadly unable to travel overseas because of the global pandemic. “The Chinese consumer, like the rest of the world, is unable to travel”, says Reginald Brack, industry analyst for watches and luxury at market research firm The NPD Group in New York. “[They are] normally a big percentage of luxury spending. Chinese consumers are forced to make their purchases at home.” Coronavirus has sped up what was already an eastward shift in the balance of the world order in interest in Swiss watches, and the industry isn’t waiting for the coronavirus to end to meet this demand. Luxury watch brands, which had already made inroads into the growing China market, are now hurrying to increase their presence. In September, Patek Philippe , a brand known for its wariness when it comes to digital promotions, published its first WeChat post elaborating on the maison’s history and culture, after two years registered on the platform. It’s the brand’s second active social media channel after Instagram. Another outward sign of this is the creation of two watch fairs by the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), which promotes Swiss watchmaking around the world. Watches & Wonders Shanghai, held between September 9 and 13, brought the Swiss watch experience to the West Bund Art Center where lovers of high horology attended product launches, panel discussions and workbench demonstrations. It included a complementary digital platform on Alibaba Group’s Tmall luxury pavilion. Why vintage-inspired watches are trending – and how brands are keeping up This was followed by a month-long event in the resort city of Sanya, which ran until October 31. The exhibitors at both events were dominated by Richemont brands and included A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin . Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, said the independently owned luxury brand has been increasing its physical and digital presence while partnering with popular Chinese celebrities. 5 trends behind China’s untapped demand for gold and diamond jewellery “We are planning on opening new stores in strategically important locations but will remain selective as our production capacity is voluntarily limited ,” Scheufele says. This includes a new boutique concept introduced in Guangzhou at the Taikoo Hui shopping centre and a second store recently opened in Chengdu city at the IFS shopping centre. Chopard also enlarged its e-commerce footprint with the recent opening of a flagship boutique on the Tmall luxury pavilion. China’s impact on watch design has been evident for a number of years. It’s most obvious in the Lunar New Year creations and the demand for smaller cases, but there are other ways these consumers have influenced the overall market, too. “I do think the trend towards round watches is influenced by the Asian market. China is a big, big part of the global market and they like round watches,” says Brian Duffy, CEO of Watches of Switzerland, a luxury watch retailer with more than 140 stores in the UK and US. Scheufele says the Chinese market has influenced its decision to produce smaller versions of its newest watches for men and women. Its newest steel sports watch, Alpine Eagle, is available in a 36mm “unisex” size. Meanwhile, its Happy Sport collection offers a 30mm option. Why owning luxury goods can change the way people see you “This trend may have started in China but has taken effect globally, with clients all over the world requesting smaller case options,” Scheufele says. Cartier launched a red, for-China limited edition of its Ballon Bleu de Cartier in 2018 in celebration of the Lunar New Year, and invited a range of Chinese celebrities to interpret the timepiece. Nevertheless, there are some who feel this trend toward smaller watches has reached its peak, believing that Chinese consumers are equally influenced by entrenched Western preferences in watches. “Generally, Asians were buying smaller watches and more classic watches but that is moving quite significantly toward more Western trends such as sports watches and bigger watches,” Duffy says. Chunky watches like Richard Mille ’s RM011 are becoming more and more visible on the wrists of Chinese celebrities and business elites. Why is Rolex the world’s most-coveted watch brand? Carson Chan, chief adviser to FHH, says trends regularly change. “The trend was a big case size and now it is becoming smaller. It’s a very natural course. This smaller case size is suitable for some Chinese clients but I am sure there are still some who prefer larger cases.” Duffy adds that “watch trends are converging. Gender trends are converging and regional trends are now global. The distinction between Asian and European markets is becoming less important”. Why are all these billionaires wearing watches that even you can afford? Chan does note that where China has distinguished itself is through the growth of women as serious watch collectors. “The clearest (trend) is the collectability of women’s watches; China is leading this trend globally. And because of the purchasing power from China, brands are more eager to cater to this segment; you will see many brands making Chinese zodiac watches and other China-themed pieces.” Chinese consumers have indeed embraced Swiss watches and their influence is here to stay. However, the global pandemic will end someday and when it does, will China’s market dominance continue? “This is a difficult question, not because I have doubts about Chinese collectors, but because it is 2020,” Chan says. “Covid-19 really disrupted the industry and China shone because it was probably the only country that had economic growth. As a whole, I do believe China will continue to expand in the watch collectors’ world. Their eagerness to learn the deeper intricacy of watches makes this a unique market.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .