OPINION: UK has reasons to be cheerful

“Don’t panic!” as Lance Corporal Jones used to say in beloved British sitcom Dad’s Army.

In the last year it’s struck me that this would be a useful mantra for those working in the watch industry as well. Where once we were all sailing our sturdy vessels on a sea of calm and tranquillity, the boats now look decidedly dilapidated and seemingly heading straight through the squalls. At least, that’s what people have told themselves.

In plain English, the global watch industry is currently edgy, uncertain and afraid of the changes that are unfolding. Smart watches are a reality rather than a looming dot on the horizon, China’s economic growth has slowed dramatically, the Swiss removed its currency peg against the Euro, and the world’s oil price is through the floor. None of these factors are inspiring much by way of optimism.

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But for those of us operating here in the UK, all is not lost. According to data from the Swiss Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the UK has just broken into the top six countries in the world for total sales of Swiss watch exports. It’s breathing down the neck of the only European country above it, Germany, which would have been unthinkable even a year ago.

Retail behemoth Signet Jewelers, which owns Ernest Jones and H. Samuel here in the UK, reported its best Christmas trading results in 12 years, while Aurum Holdings, which owns Mappin & Webb, Watch Of Switzerland, Goldsmiths and Watch Shop (amongst others) has spent tens of millions of pounds in the last couple of years acquiring new businesses, refurbishing current stores and opening new ones, not least the new Watches of Switzerland stores on Regent Street and Oxford Street respectively.

Brands from both the fashion sector and the luxury end of the market have been reporting enviable results too. Casio, arguably the most well-known watch brand in the world, saw its G-Shock, Edifice and Baby-G brands’ sales grow 8.9% last year. At the higher end of the scale, Parmigiani reported a record year in 2015, with its Mount Street boutique in London performing particularly well.

These examples are a microcosm of the bigger picture, and this is before we mention runaway success stories like Michael Kors’ performance over the last few years and smaller retailers like Watchfinder and Rox, whose respective growth shows no sign of abating.

The point here is not to be delusional and try and paint a perfectly rosy picture of what’s going on. Yes, times are harder now than they were a few years ago, especially for Swiss watch brands. Retail space has never been more at a premium for brands, and the ever-increasing role of the internet is a constant challenge for traditional high street jewellers.

But this, along with a myriad of other major challenges facing brands and retailers at the moment, should be confronted and taken head on, not ignored. Those stores that are adapting, innovating and embracing the 21st century are making good money, as are the leading watch brands out there. Try telling relative newcomers like Larsson & Jennings or Elliot Brown that creating a new watch brand for the UK market is impossible. It’s a fallacy.

We’re being told all the time about how many British pubs are closing and what a tragedy this is. To an extent I’d tend to agree, but it’s no surprise that those pubs that have undergone refurbishments, overhauled their menus and refreshed their websites are thriving more than ever.

The watch industry is no different. Those companies that are progressive, have a good product offering and sail confidently through the waves will continue to make good money. Those that sit nervously at the back of the boat at the first sign of some drizzle will struggle.

We must embrace change and innovation, and, at all costs, not feel sorry for ourselves. The UK watch market has so much going for it at the moment, with success stories everywhere you look. It is part of the pleasure of working for WatchPro that I get to hear about so many of these triumphs, and an even greater privilege to remind you all of them from time to time.

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