After almost two years of sinking exports for Swiss watches, 2017 sees a positive trend.
November 3 witnessed the opening of Omega’s new factory in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, a state-of-the-art facility designed by Shigeru Ban combining the latest robotics and machine operation with artisanal handwork and rigorous testing. It will now consolidate the assembly of the annual output of an estimated 600,000-700,000 watches under one roof – and with room to grow.
“Our productivity will definitely increase, which is needed,” says Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. “We have a backlog and a strong growth of sales in, for instance, China, driven partly by exceptional new collections, including our most recent Aqua Terra watches. Hong Kong was a challenge, but it is also recovering.”
Indeed it was a challenge. Last year saw a drop of 25 per cent compared to 2015 in Swiss exports to what was its most important single market.
But most brands are doing better; when you look at Hong Kong over this year so far, there is a 13.7 per cent growth, according to statistics from the Fédération de l’industrie Horlogère Suisse (FHS).
“The higher-priced precious metal and steel watches are what is driving the positive development,” says Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the FHS. “But when you look at really exclusive watches above 100,000 Swiss francs [HK$781,700] it still seems to be quite difficult. The same goes for the lower-end watches with an export price less than 200 Swiss francs; they are still dropping.”
“For us Hong Kong has been stable for a few months, so it’s a bit early to say how it is going to evolve – we remain cautious,” says Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe. In both Patek Philippe maisons – the brand’s only distribution points in mainland China – demand has grown in a very positive way in recent months, and globally Stern observes that the “general trend is showing positive signs.” But the brand is planning to keep its production at 58,000 watches for both 2017 and 2018, whether demand catches up or not.
This year, Piaget is celebrating the 60th anniversary of one of its own iconic models. In 1957, the jeweller and watchmaker marked a milestone launching the Altiplano ultrathin timepiece. The limited-edition Altiplano Self-Winding 43mm is equipped with a tourbillon that the original did not have. The sunburst dial in Piaget blue has been seen on the wrist of Chinese actor and singer Hu Ge in a high-profile campaign, demonstrating the brand’s increased focus on the China market.
A post shared by 胡歌 | Hu_Ge | FanClub (@hu_geofficial) on May 29, 2017 at 6:18pm PDT
This large-sized ultrathin watch is housed with the automatic Calibre 1200P featuring a thickness of 2.35mm, launched in 2010 for the 50th anniversary of the legendary Calibre 12P.
To thrive in the social media age, Vacheron Constantin has launched an Instagram account focusing on its heritage. It has also added new models to its Historiques collection.
Reference 4178 is most probably one of the most recognizable vintage chronographs thanks to its slim stepped case and signature faceted lugs giving the watch a sleeky elegant silhouette. ⠀ ⠀ To say that the dial of the present reference 4178 is striking is an understatement. The original champagne dial has turned a visually enchanting exotic two tone mix of champagne and orange that it defies conventional color nomenclature. Note that oxidized dials are popular with collectors.⠀ ⠀ During its production, the reference 4178 housed two different chronograph calibers: V492 and V434 Research shows us that reference 4178 housing cal. 434 was made in very few pieces in yellow gold, and most probably this is the unique example with such a vibrant and harmonious dial patina.⠀ ⠀ Collectors consider @VacheronConstantin ’s reference 4178 as one of the most beautiful and perfectly balanced vintage chronographs, this is a rare opportunity to obtain such an iconic model with such an arresting dial featuring a rare pulsation scale.⠀ ⠀ This reference is being offered to auction by @phillipswatches on the 11-12th September Novembre in Geneva. ⠀ ⠀⠀ Estimate $41,300-72,300⠀ #VintageVacheron ⠀ ____________⠀ #vacheronconstantin #vintagewatches #vintagewatch #instawatches #wotd #vintage #watchesofinstagram #watchfam #watchoftheday #watchnerd #timepiece #watchgeek #horology #watchcollector #wristshot #instawatch #watchaddict #watches
A post shared by The Hour Lounge (@thehourlounge) on Nov 4, 2017 at 9:48am PDT
The Historiques American 1921 model is reinterpreted in a smaller 36.5mm diameter cushion-shaped case in 5N 18ct pink gold. There is also a unique diagonal display with a crown positioned at 1:30. The watch is aimed at asserting the model’s vintage allure by staying true to its original codes.
With the trend in new, vintage-looking watches, it is also interesting to look at the growing popularity of watch auctions. “Hong Kong is going through a transition,” says Aurel Bacs of Phillips Watches, who made a splash on October 27 when he clubbed a record price for a wristwatch with Paul Newman’s Cosmograph Daytona, which sold for US$17.7 million in New York.
Rolex and Patek are playing lead roles at the November 28 Phillips Five auction at the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental. The poster watch is the 1953 Patek Philippe World Time with the system developed by Louis Cottier, which will surely break the estimate of US$1.25-2.5 million. The catalogue, however, showcases several other brands worthy both of collecting and investing in: Omega, TAG Heuer, Vacheron Constantin, Minerva, Blancpain, Piaget, Corum and Ulysse Nardin, not forgetting contemporary watches from Richard Mille, Lange & Söhne, Greubel Forsey, Philippe Dufour and Urwerk.
“Hong Kong [has] a thankful audience to present rare contemporary watches [to]. My personal focus is vintage watches, but contemporary watches are the future … limited edition, complex watches from the best manufacturers,” says Bacs.
Asia is already the most important part of the world market, with 50 per cent of Swiss watch exports going to its different markets. And the positive developments are not only seen in Hong Kong and mainland China, but in places like Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. “For Patek Philippe the overall region is very promising,” Stern says.
Additional reporting by Reggie Ho