The watch industry remains upbeat about the months ahead, as younger shoppers dive into the watch-collecting game, e-commerce within the sector continues to mature and client relations become a renewed priority.
Executives at the Geneva Watch Days convention earlier this month, which hosted its second annual event, spoke to consumer trends that are driving sales. Among them are a new appetite for colored dials, a heightened interest in niche watchmakers and overall sportier styles.
“I guess we are all quite optimistic about what could happen for the market,” said Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive officer of Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, remarking on higher-than-expected attendance levels at the event, which guests could attend in-person or remotely. “The industry is resilient, it’s been around forever and will still be around for some time. Even during a crisis time, the industry is used to adapting and bouncing back,” he added.
According to smaller watchmaking companies, a new appetite for niche brands is driving record sales. Edouard Meylan, CEO and owner of H. Moser & Cie attributed this to a new generation of collecting culture. “Our sales are expanding a lot. Small independent brands are coming on the radar of more and more people. Supply is very limited so it’s becoming a craze. It’s definitely driven by the U.S. and a younger collector. Maybe it’s someone who collected sneakers or baseball cards or NFTs and now they are coming to watches. It’s crazy, we cannot cope with demand and we think it’s here to stay because even the secondary market is going up,” he said.
“More and more people talk on social media and make other people aware of watches, that it may be a good investment. Right now China hasn’t really started [for us] so if that kicks in, I don’t know where the ceiling would be,” said Meylan. When he took over the company in 2013, H. Moser was producing 500 watches per year and has since scaled that number to around 1,500 watches. The aim is to reach 2,000 watches produced in 2021.
Parmigiani Fleurier is also seeing the effects of this young collector movement toward niche watchmakers. “For me, it’s a moment in luxury that’s extremely interesting. We accelerated a lot this year in momentum. Niche brands are really booming and I think it’s linked to how luxury has become such a big business reaching more and more people willing to spend. We are for someone looking for personal pleasure not in a mainstream approach. Niche brands are pushing the boundaries in terms of craft and style and reaching a select few,” said CEO Guido Terreni.
The executive went as far as to say that “our client is very much an insider. Our products are something you buy for yourself, it’s not an ostentatious expression. We are looking to build on this style that we call ‘rich minimalism.’ The idea is very simple, very pure and very rich execution. A refinement in the art of watchmaking with an almost sartorial approach.”
At Perregaux and Nardin, the company’s focus on components produced in-house is an added bonus. “We largely produce our own movements and that is appreciated by a client who desires a certain kind of product,” said Pruniaux. “There is room and appetite for brands that are more specialized. We can see consumers went to some of the bigger brands, but now they want to discover new brands. There is a willingness to find more things.”
For bigger companies, it was e-commerce and an acceleration of pre-pandemic strategies that saw them through difficult times. As Bulgari’s group CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said: “COVID-19 has not fundamentally changed consumer preferences. But there has been an evolution — like the acceleration of e-commerce, which forced many companies to make a giant step.”
He said Bulgari had e-commerce in eight markets at the start of COVID-19 and quickly brought that number up to 18 by July 2020. “E-commerce is good for luxury, it increases visibility and impulse buying. We do not have opening or closing hours, so that is one benefit of this time despite the tragedy,” Babin said.
The executive added that Bulgari also put new emphasis on local clientele, bringing the company back “to the 19th century, like when the Bulgari family was going to clients then. Whatever the price point we had the same selling and clienteling approach. We had taken advantage of tourism for so long and didn’t do as much as we should have with local clients. So we reconnected with the clients that we had been leaving behind,” he said.
Breitling also saw digital as a way through the storm. “We accelerated our shift to digital, which didn’t stop any of our activities or launches like many other brands. We pulled through with a dense program of new launches and invented a web showcase format to reinforce our digital presence,” said Tim Sayler, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Colorful watches have been standout sellers for the company during this period. “We are inspired by elements of positivity and color and I think this strategy gained even more relevance during the pandemic. Colorful watches is a big trend — the color of 2020 was green. Even conservative brands you now see going for color. We just had a summer capsule collection called Pastel Paradise for women with five cool pastel watches and another collection inspired by the colors of classic American muscle cars,” said Sayler.
The same is true at Bulgari, where the company has been strategically working with colors that hold significant meaning in certain global markets. “Colors are resonating globally, especially red with Chinese consumers and green with Arabic clients. So we are doing a lot with jewelry watches in malachite with diamonds. Whether it’s jade, malachite or emerald, green is highly appreciated as the color of Islam and resonates emotionally for Chinese consumers too. So we are matching taste and tradition and paying tribute to these cultures, which is a big advantage for Bulgari,” said Babin.