Picture : Appointed this winter as the new Head of Watchmaking, Marketing and Digital, Georges Kern is the new leading figure in the Richemont group, pictured here with his successor Chris Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC as of April 1st, in the company of Adriana Lima and Jessica Kahawaty at the SIHH gala evening.
With attractive new products for the general public and crazy talking pieces for the avid collector, the watch industry is well placed for a potential turnaround this year.
The world’s biggest watchmaking groups both reported good sales for the last two months of 2016 and both are predicting a turnaround this year, an analysis that is shared by Vontobel’s watch industry expert René Weber. But how does the industry plan to turn its confident predictions into the naked figures that represent reality ? Already at the SIHH in January, the mood was far less morose than expected, as the Richemont Group brands adjusted their offerings to the current economic climate. A number of luxury watch brands presented attractively priced collections with universal appeal (take the entire new Baume & Mercier collection, the re-issued Cartier Panther, the IWC Da Vinci collection and Montblanc’s sporty new TimeWalker models as examples), while the heavyweight manufacture brands dazzled us with yet more impressive new talking pieces, such as Vacheron Constantin’s first-ever grande sonnerie wristwatch and the promise of a 50-year warranty from Panerai.
There was a perfect combination of traditional values and innovative new materials and technology that have characterized the watch industry throughout its history. Although there may be a lot less talk about smartwatches at Baselworld this year, watch brands are still producing minute repeaters and tourbillons, and customers are still buying them. At the same time, they do not shy away from incorporating somewhat daring materials into their products. Consider Banka trout skin (Baume & Mercier), Orylag rabbit fur (Hublot) or even used Formula 1 tyres (Roger Dubuis) – and that is just for the straps. We now see carbon fibre being used not just for cases but also as components inside the movement itself. Furthermore, brands such as Ulysse Nardin, who pioneered the use of silicon in movement components over a decade ago, are introducing yet more new ways of working with this promising material in the movement.
Expect the trend to continue at Baselworld, with more new talking pieces, more competition on price and even some new watch brands. You can see some of them in these pages already. For the rest, head over to WorldTempus for daily online coverage during Baselworld.