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CORDER’S COLUMN: Prepare now for end of lock down

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The global watch business is in a state of suspended animation. 

Nothing is moving. Retailers’ stores are closed and the switch to focusing on ecommerce and concierge services has not generated as much activity as hoped.

In country brand offices and distributors are shut, and so are most warehouses and logistics operations. Since retailers do not want to buy any new watches, there is not much point in brands investing in the time, people and logistics of selling-in and organizing shipments.

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There is some activity among the watchmaking factories of Switzerland, Germany and the Far East, but not much. Rolex, Tudor, Hublot, Breitling, TAG Heuer, Zenith and Patek Philippe are among a slew of brands that mothballed their manufactures during the current crisis. Breitling is thought to have re-opened last week, but there has been no confirmation.

The supply chain of components into the brands’ manufactures, which includes parts from all over the world in many cases, is also paralyzed.

New 2020 collections are not been announced; partly because there is a feeling nobody in the trade or consumer world would be listening and partly because new watches scheduled to be manufactured in the first half of the year cannot be made. Plus, with Baselworld and Watches & Wonders Geneva postponed, there is no global platform to launch them from.

I did a quick total of the number of new watches reported by Hodinkee this year, and there are just 61. Almost half of them are limited editions. From the world’s biggest brands: Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Longines and Patek Philippe, Hodinkee has written about three watches. Bremont, alone, has unveiled more than that.

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Brand Model or Collection Limited
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar China Limited Edition Yes
Audemars Piguet [Re]master01 Selfwinding Chronograph Yes
Breguet Classique 7337 No
Breguet Classique 7137 No
Breguet Marine Tourbillon Équation Marchante 5887 No
Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition Yes
Bremont ALT1-C GRIFFON No
Bremont ALT1-P2 JET No
Bremont Project Possible Limited Edition Yes
Bremont Bremont Rose Yes
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Satin-Polished Steel No
Bulgari Serpenti Seduttori Tourbillon No
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater In Sandblasted Rose Gold No
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Black Sandblast-Polished Ceramic No
Chanel J12 X-Ray, Sapphire On Sapphire Yes
Girard-Perregaux Quasar Light Yes
Grand Seiko Heritage Collection Hi-Beat 36000 Yes
Grand Seiko Heritage Collection Quartz Limited Edition SBGP007 Yes
Grand Seiko Elegance Collection Women’s Automatic Limited Edition STGK015 Yes
Grand Seiko Sport Collection Quartz Limited Edition SBGP015 Yes
Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Professional Diver’s 600M Yes
Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Limited Edition SLGH002 Yes
Grand Seiko  60th Anniversary SBGW263 Limited Edition Yes
Grand Seiko  60th Anniversary SBGW264 Limited Edition Yes
Grand Seiko SBGD205 Masterpiece Collection Spring Drive 8 Days Yes
Greubel Forsey Greubel Forsey QP À Équation Yes
G-Shock KITH x G-Shock GM6900 Rose Gold No
H. Moser & Cie Venturer Vantablack Black Hands No
H.Moser Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic Yes
Hamilton Hamilton PSR No
Hermès Arceau Squelette No
Hublot Big Bang Integral No
Hublot Big Bang MP-11 Red Magic Yes
Ikepod Megapod Automatic No
IWC Portugieser Chronograph with In-House Caliber 69355 No
IWC Laureus Sport for Good’ Portugieser Hand-Wound Monopusher Yes
Jacob & Co. Jacob & Co. X Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon Yes
Longines Hydroconquest In Green No
MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual, In Yellow Gold Yes
MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT Yes
MB&F Horological Machine HM10 ‘Bulldog’ Yes
Montblanc Heritage Automatic No
Montblanc Heritage Monopusher Chronograph In Steel With A Salmon Dial No
Montblanc Heritage Manufacture Pulsograph Limited Edition In Rose Gold No
NOMOS Tetra Symphony No
Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 ‘Ed White’ In Stainless Steel Yes
Omega Constellation Gent’s Yes
Oris Carysfort Reef Limited Edition Yes
Rado Golden Horse 1957 Limited Edition Yes
Seiko 55th Anniversary Dive Watches No
Seiko Prospex Black Series Limited Editions Yes
Swatch Swatch X 007 Collection Yes
TAG Heuer Connected 2 No
TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Silver Limited Edition Yes
TAG Heuer Aquaracer GMT No
Timex Timex M79 Automatic No
Vacheron Constantin Égérie – An Entirely New Ladies Collection No
Vacheron Constantin Égérie Moon Phase Jewelry No
Zenith Elite Classic No
Zenith Elite Moonphase No
Zenith Defy Midnight Collection No
Zenith Defy 21 Land Rover Edition Yes

This frozen market will eventually thaw. News out of Switzerland over the weekend was of a phased roll-back of restrictions. An article in Britain’s The Sunday Times by Tyler Brûlé, editor-in-chief of global current affairs magazine Monocle, and a man who has lived in Switzerland for the past 20 years, notes that “infection rates are dropping, there is plenty of spare capacity in hospitals and everyone is counting the days until the exit strategy is announced”.

Getting Switzerland back to work is only a small part of the global exit strategy for the watch industry. We will only return to a semblance of normality once all showrooms are open and the world is allowed to travel again. There has been a lot of negative comment about brands and retailers relying too much on traveling Chinese customers, but they are likely to provide much of the early momentum and — everybody hopes — pent up demand that will get sales moving again.

An exercise for the business owners today is to visualize how to market to their customers once the worst of the Coronavirus crisis is behind us. Brands need to be poised to mazimize the impact of any new collections they choose to unveil. Will this be digitally, at in-country events, through the traditional media or their own social media?

Will the first target be to sell into retailers, or is the job to help retailers sell-through their current inventories?

At the retailer level, do you re-open with a whimper or a bang? Restrictions on how many people will be able together may still be in place, so a huge party may not be possible, but there are other ways to get customers excited. These need to be planned right now.

Visualizing a future when we are all back at our places of work is good for the mind and soul as well. Make a plan, test it, war game it with your team, refine it to improve its chance of success.

We can all wallow in despair, but there is no mileage in moping.

There is an industry to restart, and we need to know how we are going to use the defibrillators and what their effect will be. A slew of new watches in the summer could be part of the tonic we need.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder