Upscale Watchmakers Look To Novel Marketing Techniques As Competition In Luxury Watch Market Continues To Rise
High-end watches have a particular resonance in China, stretching back to the end of the 19th century when the exotic foreign timepieces became a “must-have” for the country’s small coterie of political elites. Even throughout the turbulence of the 1949-1979 revolutionary period, where personal property was strictly limited, among the typical wedding gifts for a young couple was a wristwatch. In the 30 years following China’s major economic reforms, major luxury watchmakers have poured into the China market, mainly through Hong Kong, where most had maintained a foothold for years, with Rado holding the distinction of the first foreign company advertised on Chinese television in 1979.
Since the late ’70s, luxury watchmakers have benefited from several unique factors in the China market, from a lack of true domestic competitors to the premium that China’s nouveau riche placed — and continues to place — on foreign high-end goods. In recent years, however, the flood of competitors from around the world looking to expand in the China market has forced major watchmakers to increase their efforts to instill brand loyalty and a more distinctive brand image both in mainland China — where most Chinese buyers come from — and Hong Kong, where a significant number of mainland Chinese actually buy the watches. These marketing efforts have so far relied heavily on celebrity endorsements, with actresses like Zhang Ziyi representing Omega and Kelly Lin appearing in advertisements and at events for Rado. But lately, we’ve seen the trend shifting more towards consumer education, particularly in Hong Kong.
Recently, Swiss watchmaker Blancpain held a VIP event in Hong Kong, in which a group of invited guests were treated to a workshop led by well-known watch critic and expert Jeffrey Kingston and Alain Delamuraz, Marketing Vice President of Blancpain Worldwide. At the event, Kingston and Delamuraz shared insights into “Blancpain in 2010: Building on a Heritage of 275 Years.” As Luxury Insider pointed out this week, the event took place at Blancpain’s boutique in Hong Kong’s swish Central district, and guests were shown a number of watches soon to make their debut in the Greater China market.
The workshop kicked off with a welcoming speech by Sincere Chiu, Vice President of Blancpain Hong Kong, followed by remarks from Alain Delamuraz on the opening of a new Blancpain Boutique at the recently opened Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai and the Blancpain Boutique at Taipei 101 in Taiwan. Delamuraz and Jeffrey Kingston then jointly introduced new watches Blancpain will launch in the remainder of 2010, including the Complete Calendar Carrousel Répétition Minutes Le Brassus, L-evolution Carrousel Saphir, Villeret Complete Calendar 8 Jours and Fifty Fathoms Complete Calendar Flyback Chronograph.
Additional timepieces introduced at the VIP workshop by Messrs. Kingston and Delamuraz included two special wristwatches showcasing Blancpain’s flying one minute carrousel, the Le Brassus Carrousel Répétition Minute and the Carrousel Saphir — the movement plates and bridges of which are fashioned in sapphire — as well as the all-new Villeret Collection. Finally, Kingston and Delamuraz presented the new limited-edition Super Trofeo chronograph, born out of Blancpain’s partnership with Lamborghini in the Super Trofeo racing series, which sports a carbon fiber dial and case lugs.