Held at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre, the first Watches & Wonders Exhibition, organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, kicked off on Wednesday, September 25 and ran until Saturday, September 28 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Featuring 13 of the Richemont Group’s biggest brands, the event aimed to bring the heritage and tradition of fine Swiss watchmaking to some of their most eager and discerning clients.
Asia is currently the number one market for Swiss watches, with a growing number of buyers making their purchases abroad. In 2012, exports to China from the Swiss watch industry totalled CHF 1.6 billion, while exports to Hong Kong were CHF 4.1 billion. However, of late there has been a slowdown in sales, with drops of 4.7 percent and 3.2 percent in China and Hong Kong respectively. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Industry Report for 2013, this can be attributed to the Chinese government’s anti-extravagance campaign and clampdown on luxury goods as gifts for officials. Coupled with the global economic slowdown and the high cost of luxury products in China compared to buying them overseas, the importance of the success of Watches & Wonders was especially imperative this year.
This was evident in the attendance of the CEOs from all 13 participating brands at the event’s opening gala dinner on Tuesday night. Speaking at the dinner, Fabienne Lupo, Chairwoman and Managing Director of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, said, “Watches & Wonders provides a rare opportunity to meet the creators and craftsmen behind fine timepieces, and a chance to experience first hand the cultural heritage of one of Europe’s most exquisite traditions.”
While there were whispers of concerns amongst Asian journalists that the event would simply be a rehash of novelties presented at SIHH, these worries were unfounded as many of the brands presented new models. Some, like Richard Mille, added “Asian flavor” with a unique RM26-01 Panda Tourbillon in white gold with baguette diamonds, while others, like Audemars Piguet, released a unique piece for women as part of its Haute Joaillerie, a hand-wound calibre 3091 crafted in diamonds. Collector’s favorite Panerai, which launched a special edition Radiomir 1940 in steel with DLC coating, limited to 500 pieces for Paneristi (dedicated fans), announced a waiting list for the piece the day after it launched.
For Roger Dubuis, a relatively young brand started in 1995, the aim of the fair was brand awareness, something Associate Director of Product Marketing Marie Chassot feels the fair gave them the opportunity to do. “Watches & Wonders really gives us the opportunity to meet with a much wider range of journalists. Not everyone can attend SIHH,” Chassot notes.
Like other brands, Roger Dubuis also presented new novelties at the event, a limited-edition men’s watch in full titanium black DLC called Excalibur Quatuor, featuring exceptional technology designed to let the watch accommodate the pull of gravity, as well as a women’s watch from their Velvet collection called Passionate Diva, a high jewellery design featuring 304 diamonds and two deep-red, cushion-cut rubies. “The products we are showcasing at Watches & Wonders are very in line with the brand strategy and DNA,” says Chassot. “The important thing for us is to really make customers and journalists really understand the positioning of the brand. We are not like institutional brands that have existed for years, so we need to make people understand that we are about precision and excellence.” Roger Dubuis currently has three boutiques in Hong Kong with more to open in the near future, as well as three boutiques in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang.
Despite the potential slowdown in purchases, the Economist Intelligence Unit still forecasts that Chinese buyers will continue to drive the global sales of luxury goods from 2013 to 2017, with the number of households with incomes above US$150,000 a year rising from 225,000 in 2012 to almost 1m by 2017. Still a gateway to China, Hong Kong is a popular destination for Chinese tourists and perhaps it was a strategic move to hold the watch fair the weekend before the start of the week-long, Chinese national holiday.
This plays into one of the key differences between Watches & Wonders and the Swiss watch fairs—which is that Watches & Wonders was open to the public (or at least to anyone who could score a ticket). This has given brands more direct access to potential customers in a dedicated setting. “We are finding that really makes a different,” says Roger Dubuis’ Chassot, “We look forward to Saturday, where we expect there will be more visitors and less trade. Even so, this fair has the same spirit of SIHH.”