The temperature has dropped, Christmas shoppers are in and New Year festivities are just round the corner, but before we say goodbye 2012 Rachael Taylor looks back on what been a year of change for the industry.
1. Bringing Watchmaking Back to Britain
As the Olympics landed in London and the Diamond Jubilee effect was exported the world over, it felt good to be British in 2012 and there has been much emphasis on the UK and its wares. Watches have a key role in this and there has been much debate in the industry about how to bring more manufacturing processes to the UK. The watch industry originated here in Blighty but as we all know Switzerland soon became the doyenne of the trade. But moves are being made to bring it back. Bremont opens its new HQ in Henley this month, which has created 10 new jobs and will help it do more in the UK. The general infrastructure is still not quite there in the UK but it’s a start, and many other watch companies are showing an interest, not to mention the tens of watch brands that have launched in the past few years describing themselves as British watch brands.
2. Fashion Watches Open Up New Types of Doors
After years being opressed by a young generation’s obsession with mobile phones, and resulting lack of requirement for wrist-based time telling machines, watches are firmly back in vogue. There is a wealth of brands, such as Bering offering affordable fashion-led timepieces that have enjoyed a purple patch in 2012 as shoppers buy multiple watches to mix and match with different clothing. This boom in interest and sales has led jewellers that previously had just stuck to jewels to take on watch brands, with an emphasis on fashion-forward keenly priced models. One such retailer is Fabulous in Bath. In September it moved to a larger store and set up a dedicated watch area. It is now doing a roaring trade and is taking on even more new brands.
3. The Watchmaking Skills Gap
When quartz movements revolutionised the watch industry the need for traditional watchmaking skills lessened, and so the number of young people being trained up to move into the trade dwindled. Now with the resurgence of mechanical watches, those skills are very much in demand to fill roles for servicing, repairs and, as Britain claws back more manufacturing, watchmaking. A renewed government drive for apprentices will hopefully help, as will organisations such as the British School of Watchmaking that is working hard to bring more young people into the trade.
4. Online Is a Growth Area for Watch Retail
When Zenith partnered with Watches of Switzerland (below) to sell its timepieces online to the UK for the first time in March it was a signal of changing times. This year has seen an increasing number of brands setting up e-tail sites and working with a booming number of dedicated watch e-tailers. Web specialists such as The Watch Gallery has said that shoppers are as comfortable buying luxury watches online as fashion, and now retailers are developing multichannel strategies such as Steffans and WatchWarehouse introducing iPads to stores to blend online and offline.
5. Go High, Go Low, Beware of the Middle
Back in May we ran a special report in WatchPro about the strength of the lower end of the watch market, watches priced at £500 or less. The report was inspired by sales data compiled by GfK and we married this with the opinions of watch retailers across the country. While the bottom was strong, they said, so was the top, with luxury brands such as Rolex (below) continuing to pull in sales despite the recession. The middle, they said, was a much trickier field to play in. This fits well with other retail sectors we’ve seen throughout the recession, with nearly all feeling a hit in the mid market.
6. Watch Shoppers Have a Passion for Fashion
Watches are not just a method of telling time, if they were there would be one single functional design that we would all wear; they are a fashion accessory. Licensed fashion brand watch lines have enjoyed a strong year in 2012. Fossil Group in particular has had a stellar year in this department. Following up on the huge worlwide success of its collaboration with US designer Michael Kors, it has signed new agreements this year with Burberry to make a line of automatic watches called the Britain – it had previously only worked with the British fashion stalwart on quartz models – and, most recently, Chanel artistic director and general fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld (below).
7. Watch Auctions Are Having a Moment
Most WatchPro daily news alerts carry a story about a watch auction, be that a preview of a sale coming up or the result of an exceptional watch just gone by. The world of watch auctions is a fascinating one and a sector of the market that is growing, according to auctioneers such as Fellows (left). The watch auction has been transformed with the advancement of the digital age, but this has benefitted sales; while there might be less bums on seats in the sale room, the web has opened up each lot to collectors all over the world.
8. Watch Thieves Are Going Direct to Source
Crime in the world of watch retail is a given, and we have witnessed some abhorrent smash and grabs at stores this year, but it would seem that thieves are also deciding to go straight to source. Last month Seiko has £200,000 of watches stolen as it packed up after a successful show at Salon QP, including pricey Grand Seiko and Seiko Astron models. And earlier in the year Bremont had 14 watches stolen at a launch party for its Victory model at Swiss trade show BaselWorld.
9. It’s Time to Get In on Pre-Owned
There has been much discussion this year about how watches should be more like cars, be that through education about regular servicing to making it acceptable, and even more desirable, to purchase a quality pre-owned watch. In the recession sales of pre-owned watches have jumped up as shoppers look to buy into quality for less. This has led to a raft of retailers moving into selling pre-owned watches for the first time. Luckily for them there are a few companies out there making it an easy transition, such as BQW (below) selling pre-owned watches in a wholesale fashion and pre-owned e-tailer Watchfinder providing not just a sourcing service but a two-minute price check online tool that can turn any Saturday sales assistant into a vintage timepiece expert.
10. Making Watches Without the Swatch Group
Swatch Group has been the focus of much debate this year as it has very clearly signalled intent to reduce access to its movements. Swatch Group has dominated the parts market in Switzerland and by reducing access it has initiated a shake-up of the industry. Larger brands have set up their own manufactures, groups have bought out smaller independent factories and independent watch repairers have expressed worries about the future of their jobs if they can’t get parts to fix watches with. It also poses an issue for mid-market Swiss brands who can’t afford to set up manufactures and have too-high production levels for independents – will they move production elsewhere, say to Japan, and so lose their Swiss Made label? Watch this space, as we expect this issue to continue to dominate in 2013.
This feature was taken from the December issue of WatchPro. To read the magazine online, click here.