Turmoil and Innovation in the Air: the Designer and Luxury Watch Market


Fashion is an interesting business because although considered to be trivial by many, it never ceases to completely disappear and actually manages to grow in size, dispersing all around the world, even into the lesser developed and profitable markets. Accessories business is a major player in the game of fashion and lots of designers are making huge bucks with their items that accompany clothing. For women, a trip to the shopping mall always includes a desire to get a new pair of earrings or a brand new necklace whereas for men, luxury spending on accessories means getting a flashy pair of sunglasses or a brand new luxury watch. In the digital age of things, new products such as TicWatches are also preferred by a lot of people thanks to a variety different functions they provide to their users. Designer watches are still quite popular items in this sense because they are stylish, utile and most importantly, are great sources of attraction for men and women alike. Several European nations have been known to be quite versatile with their watch making, producing several important brands in the recent past, while currently almost every designer brand produces watches to be sold in global markets, proving the existence of high demand for quality timepieces. As the market for watches expands into new regions, prices are also dropping to reasonable levels, making it possible for lots of people to be able to afford a designer watch, for functionality or style. Naturally, the watchmakers and the media are in contact with one another and several media outlets run frequent advertorials and infomercials to promote certain brands and their newly released models. Keeping a close eye on the media therefore might be a good idea for people who are interested in buying designer watches because this way such potential customers can learn about the new models, campaigns or stores to get the best deals for the best items.

Much like any other sector, the designer watches sector also requires dedication, talent and intelligence. Marjorie Hope Rothstein for The Huffington Post reports on the contemporary trend, ‘Scandinavian Design,’ and how, among many important companies it has produced in the past few decades, such as Bang & Olufsen, Hay, Muuto and Stelton, a new one is currently breaking ground: Nordgreen. Beginning with the 1950s, the Scandinavians began to bring in simplicity and intellect into design for numerous products on the market and recently, Nordgreen watches are attracting a lot of attention and success thanks to their innovative, simple yet powerful design. Jakob Wagner, the designer for the watches, claims that his products will take the world by storm soon because they are so simple yet so well built, “mimicking the Scandinavian lifestyle.” In addition, Nordgreen also has a ‘Giving Back Programme’ which is designed to donate and contribute to various causes and charities. Nordgreen customers therefore “can enter their watch’s serial number and identification number on their Giving Back Programme page” to “learn about the three causes that they contribute to” such as “saving 200 ft² of rainforest in Latin America” or “providing one month of clean water to a person in the Central African Republic.” In this sense, the company is a leader in the popularization of Scandinavian Corporate Social Responsibility focused watches, as the trend is gaining steam with more thought leaders becoming conscious of sustainable development through economic, social and environmental benefits for every Scandinavian and world citizen. This is why Scandinavian businesses have developed a global perspective to help such a spirit of collaboration become mainstream through initiatives and incentives only available to the corporate world. The company is currently investing into 14 new markets in 14 new countries to establish “a unique cross-border e-commerce approach” based on affiliate marketing with a globalist emphasis. Getting ready to enter the American, Chinese and Japanese markets, Nordgreen is slowly but surely becoming a global fashion statement. The company’s designers and management are not too worried about the digital revolution either because they believe “everything old is new again,” and that “the nostalgia of an era of old-fashioned finely crafted watches are having a comeback.” According to the company philosophy, as long as simplicity meets quality and the prices are kept at reasonable levels, which is something that Nordgreen is quite famous for, the customers will always exist and the company will take pride in enhancing their lives by appeasing their tastes for classy timepieces.

However, not everyone who has considered the issue is so optimistic and according to Ariel Adams reporting for Forbes magazine, “despite consumer demand, the luxury watch industry will have to shrink before it recovers.” The author begins his article with a statistical finding that shows how the luxury watches industry has hit its weakest position in 2017 since 1980s when “the prevalence of inexpensive quartz movement-powered watches produced in Asia versus Europe almost completely decimated the mechanical watch industry.” Adams continues by referring to how the watch industry is making illogical and unrealistic decisions, which are weakening the industry as a whole, creating serious vulnerabilities. The author, who also works as a consultant for the industry, is quite angry about the situation because currently there exists a strong consumer demand for watches, thanks to the internet and the digital opportunities for marketing and sales. Online retailing holds a huge potential for this business with several household names investing millions of dollars into it, while the marketplace is unfortunately quite confusing for the regular customer. Although many companies directly sell their watches through their own online systems, they are almost immediately challenged by competition from unauthorized dealers who can sell at cheaper prices.  There are also second-hand sellers selling their products, which makes it harder for producers to sell new watches and quite confusing for the customer to find the right product at the right price through the right system. Adams then refers to the issue of mismanagement for luxury watch brands because they are managed as mere financial corporations, reducing their capabilities to take risks or be creative. As a result, the products and the campaigns become repetitive, leading to losses in customer interest and market share. Similarly, the author takes note of how “growth in the luxury business can often be a contradiction” meaning that a lot of luxury brands have managed to destroy themselves after entering their growth stages. Luxury brands are expected to be exclusive entities and therefore making their products accessible to a larger audience takes away from their charm and appeal. Therefore, as corporate owners wish to extract value out of such companies, they are actually destroying them in the long-run, which Adams refers to as the primary reason for the mentioned recent market bust. Either way, if luxury/designer watch producers wish to remain competitive in the market and continue their profitable operations, they will have to come to terms with the author’s observations and develop more efficient sales channels and pay more attention to their brand values and prestige.     

Regardless of companies and businesses existing in them or their strategies, markets behave and function according to their own rationale which has led Zoe Wood of The Guardian to take notice of a rather strange yet utile practice by the Swiss watchmaker Richemont. The company famous for its Cartier and Montblanc brands, has recently destroyed “more than £400m of watches in two years.” The reason is simple: to stop other agents from selling its products at knockdown prices. Only last year the company bought back its unsold watches of €203 million worth, prior to which the same operation costed yet another €278 million in 2016. Given the high price tags associated with the watches, ranging from £1,000 to more than £20,000, the situation makes mathematical sense. According to the company’s CEO, Richard Lepeu, who started the practice in 2016, the market realities demanded such an exceptional measure because there were heavy risks being imposed on the company’s business by other sales agents and dealers. The main issue that pulled the last straw was when it became a trend in China for luxury goods to be “dished out as lavish gifts to curry favor with officials,” leading to a huge buildup off stock for the products in the country. Fearing that the unsold watches would be sold at extremely low prices eventually, the company called back all of its watches from the Chinese dealers. Following the Chinese market, the company also carried out a similar operation in the European markets where brands such as Piaget, IWC and Vacheron Constantin have been known to face a similar fate. After Richemont receives such products, the company’s teams dismantle and recycle them to be used for future production. As a result, company’s profits rose by 5%, reaching €1.8 billion in 2018, while the investors were dissatisfied, fearing a possible breakdown, and sold large quantities of Richemont shares, resulting in a loss of 5% share value. Analysts like Jon Cox are speculating that the real damage to the underlying businesses will be revealed in the finale quarter of the year, presumably signaling long-term complications for the company. When combined with the recent crisis that hit the luxury watch market, is seen that “companies such as Richemont are under pressure to exploit digital sales channels and rekindle demand for traditional watches among younger consumers.” Although company officials are still stating that the move was a necessity and not an option, it is understood that the lack of investor support will eventually have its toll on the company’s future actions and strategies.

However, times of crisis are also times of opportunity, as the saying goes, and according to a report for Bloomberg by Justine Mastine-Frost, there exist certain innovative designer watchmakers that are investing into a better and more secure future for themselves and the market. The author refers to how “the world of luxury watchmaking is filled with brands of all shapes and sizes” with “the big players, such as Rolex, Omega, and Patek Phillipe, live at one end” and “the independents, often a two- or three-person operation fueled by passion for the craft and a desire to create” on the other. Mastine-Frost believes that the independent competition is important because it adds innovation and artistry to raise quality, referring to companies such as “Grönefeld, Voutilainen, and Vortic,” which utilize “new materials, forms, ideas, and technology to improve and evolve the art of timekeeping.” The author believe that it is always a privilege to wear and innovative and creative watch and therefore congratulates such watchmakers for their courage and passion. In his article, Mastine-Frost refers to quite a few independent producers of such intentions and capabilities among which three stand out as essentially worth noting:  Christophe Claret, Fiona Krüger and MB&F. Claret creations are always entertaining and creative, making it a hobby rather than a necessity to check time or their owners. The article displays the X-TREM1 model that uses “magnetic fields instead of a mechanical link to display hours and minutes in retrograde on either side of the watch” as a great example of such a creative and innovative approach. Fiona Krüger, according to the author’s research, is an artist that has developed an interest in watch design and production but she “certainly knows how to execute properly” as exemplified in her utilization of “skilled artisans and watchmakers” to turn “her vision of a skull watch (a long-running, oft-derided theme in timekeeping) into a reality.” Finding controversial and attractive themes and subject matters, the currently Parisian designer surely manages to impress her clients and as the numbers reveal, she is getting closer to becoming a household name among designer watch circles in Europe. MB&F stands for ‘Maximilian Brüsser and Friends’ but it is mainly the designer’s own merit and impressive resume that brings in the business to his feet. Brüsser started his career working with Jaeger LeCoultre, following his college graduation, which was followed by him becoming the “director of Harry Winston’s Rare Timepieces division at the young age of 31.” After learning first-hand knowledge and gaining experience in designing and selling watches, Brüsser founded MB&F in 2005 to begin producing creations that combine “surprising, inventive concepts in movement design” earning him a respected name and position in the sector. Mastine-Frost’s article does a great job of reminding his reader of the fact that the human factor is very important in the designer watch business and that not everything is lost. As more designers continue to pay attention to market realities and come up with innovative and creative products, the current state of crisis will surely come to an end, leading to higher sales for companies and better products for the customers.

Speaking of innovation, Keith W. Strandberg’s article for Wired magazine is definitely worth paying attention to, as the author refers to micromechanics as a new source of innovation that is “creating a new breed of impossibly thing watches.” According to the author, the ‘thin timepiece genre’ is attracting significant competition from watch companies, which are “introducing record-breaking models at one show only to be outdone at the next.” The problem with the given process is that when slighter parts are used in production, there is a higher chance of failure which means that expertise is a dire necessity. This is precisely why, Strandberg believes, only a handful of watchmakers are capable of producing such ultra-thin products, referring to Piaget and Bulgari, which the author believes “are leading the way when it comes to wafer-thin watches.” The article includes the opinions of Jean-Christophe Babin, the current CEO and President of Bulgari, who states that it was only five years ago that the company decide to produce such watches to be able to “provide gentlemen with the ultimate elegance, like [they] do with ladies’ jewels.” In this pursuit, the company initiated the Finissimo project to “craft watches [they] have never seen before, with the Octo shape, and to be the thinnest possible.” For the series, the company released several models which would win design and watchmaking prizes and break three world records, namely the world’s thinnest automatic watch, the world’s thinnest automatic tourbillon and the world’s thinnest tourbillon.” Similarly, Piaget’s current CEO Chabi Nouri speaks on behalf of his company to state that they will be pushing boundaries as they always did in their 144 years long history, referring to the company’s Altiplano Ultimate. The project’s research and development took four years, involving a team of three engineers working in collaboration with the company’s watchmakers and designers but the result was a 2mm thing watch, which is impressive to say the least. So far, the company was issued five different patents for its micromechanics and related technical solutions and will continue to invest into the field in the years to come, Nouri states.  Although physical limits and constraints surely do exist, both companies are proving to the world and themselves that it is possible to innovate even in the hardest times of crisis, but more importantly that the global luxury/designer watch customers still do value innovation and functionality and are ever ready to purchase good products, regardless of their price tags.


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