Luxury watch sales may have declined in China in 2013, but that doesn’t mean Chinese consumers have lost interest in them.
Statistics released by Digital Luxury Group for its annual World Watch Report covering watch brands’ online presence shows that mainland Chinese internet searches for the Haute Horlogerie category grew by 58 percent in 2013. This jump places China in the top global position for Haute Horlogerie, comprising 34 percent of all global online searches for these types of timepieces.
This news comes at a time when China’s luxury watch sales are slumping as a result of the country’s ongoing anti-corruption crackdown. As a popular gifting item for officials, luxury watch sales in China have been hit hard as the government continues to oust leaders who give away hints of ill-gotten lavish lifestyles. After growing by 97 percent from 2000 to 2012, Swiss watch exports to China fell for the first time in two and a half years after the initial announcement of the start of the anti-graft campaign, and the value of exports has been on a downward trend ever since.
Chinese net users, however, are still clearly showing an interest in high-end wristwear. The report finds that they also have unique tastes in comparison to the rest of the world. While Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak collection received the highest number of searches in 14 of 20 countries studied, Chinese users were most likely to search for Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas collection. Patek Phillipe dominated brand searches both in China and globally, but was more popular in China. The brand comprised 35 percent of all Chinese searches, compared to 28 percent globally. Below is the list of the top 10 Haute Horlogerie brands searched in mainland China:
Patek Philippe: 35.0%
Vacheron Constantin: 28.2%
Audemars Piguet: 3.6%
A. Lange & Söhne: 2.9%
Franck Muller: 2.9%
Glashütte Original: 2.7%
While tracking internet searches for high-end watches doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone looking up Haute Horlogerie on Baidu can afford to go out and pick up one of these timepieces, the rapidly rising number of searches shows that interest is certainly growing. While many of these searches could be aspirational for now, China’s growing wealthy population may help to stave off some of decline caused by the official gifting crackdown in the coming years.