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.
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.
(article continues below the table)
|Brand||Model or Collection||Limited|
|Audemars Piguet||Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar China Limited Edition||Yes|
|Audemars Piguet||[Re]master01 Selfwinding Chronograph||Yes|
|Breguet||Marine Tourbillon Équation Marchante 5887||No|
|Breitling||AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition||Yes|
|Bremont||Project Possible Limited Edition||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|
|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|
|Hublot||Big Bang Integral||No|
|Hublot||Big Bang MP-11 Red Magic||Yes|
|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 Monopusher Chronograph In Steel With A Salmon Dial||No|
|Montblanc||Heritage Manufacture Pulsograph Limited Edition In Rose Gold||No|
|Omega||Speedmaster Caliber 321 ‘Ed White’ In Stainless Steel||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||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.