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CORDER’S COLUMN: 2021 is a post-apocalypse wasteland waiting for something — anything — to happen

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We are entering the third act for the covid horror story.

Act one was the real terror that a pandemic of unknown power could infect and kill anybody leaving their front door.

Act two is the current fall/winter surge in which we know so much about the virus and, viscerally, we are really only reacting to the memory of our fear back in March.

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Vaccines, which we expect to start reaching us within weeks, will not bring this phase to an end, but we are told this should be the last season when we really have to adapt our behavior to contain any remaining threat.

Act three is a business story about next year and, paradoxically, this is where the watch industry faces tremendous uncertainty again.

It is reasonable to assume that manufacturing and distribution will be fully functioning again in the new year.

We may face one last period of jewelers and watch stores closing in January if covid cases spike again after relaxation of restrictions up to and including Christmas. After that, only serious pessimists (and CDC scientists) would forecast future waves of infections once vaccines are freely available.

Canceling Geneva’s Watches and Wonders show this week is frustrating, disappointing, but inevitable. April is simply too soon to expect spread of covid in the community to have ended, so expecting tens of thousands of people to gather in a trade show is unrealistic. It is better to have the certainty that it will not take place until 2022.

That leaves a wasteland stretching to a distant horizon in which there are no major promotional events planned for the entire watch industry. I do not have a single nailed on date in my calendar for next year. Nil, zip, nothing, nada.

Only the brilliant work of retailers teasing their customers into stores has maintained any momentum this year; they should be given medals by the major Swiss groups they have so tirelessly and loyally served.

Watches and Wonders has already said it will host a digital event, with the 36 brands that would have appeared at its show signed up to take part. That includes Rolex, Patek Philippe and Cartier; three out of the top five biggest Swiss watch brands, and the rest of Richemont’s maisons. A handful of independents along with Kering’s Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin will also participate and Breitling will doubtless continue with its own digital summits.

There is no word from LVMH or Swatch Group, but there is little chance they will opt for physical events this side of summer; at least not in Europe (keep your eye on Asia).

I will say now that every one of these digital events has been awful, and I am sure the brands know it.

Only the brilliant work of retailers teasing their customers into stores has maintained any momentum this year; they should be given medals by the major Swiss groups they have so tirelessly and loyally served.

It looks like production schedules are still being timed around spring watch launches, and that is fine, but these watches need to be seen, felt, weighed and judged in person, and this is where the uncertainty remains.

It could be that 2021 collections are simply launched online and dispatched to retailers. If so, retailers should be allocated the best possible coop marketing support.

I can see the major multiples and independents hosting exceptional events for their best customers over next summer and holiday season, and it would make sense for the Swiss giants to divert the money they once spent in Basel and Geneva on making these marketing events zing without bankrupting the retailers.

I also hope we will see investment in consumer-facing events that are bound to crop up in every significant watch market and hope to see the likes of WatchTime and Wind Up Watch Fair making a return. This would tackle another weakness of the major Swiss shows, which is that they have been closed to the public that actually buys the watches.

As I said, cancelling the Swiss shows now provides welcome clarity. What we need next are plans that will create huge excitement about luxury watches that — lest anybody needs reminding — perform no useful purpose beyond making us all crazy with lust.

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Tags : Corder's Columnwatches and wonders
Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder