CORDER’S COLUMN: British watch shops welcome some sanity from Swiss watchmakers

WatchPro managing editor Rob Corder.WatchPro managing editor Rob Corder.

British retailers returning from Baselworld have given the world’s biggest brands a glowing review for creating some of the most commercial watch collections in years.

WatchPro spoke to head buyers from major multiples and smaller independent stores about their first impressions of the exhibition, and all of them praised the tier 1 luxury watchmakers for designing watches that are certain to sell whatever the economic and political challenges they may face this year.

Creating watch collections for the biggest manufacturers is a bit like building skyscrapers for property developers.

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Real estate moguls tend to start planning incredible landmarks in booming economic times — pouring money into making them the tallest, boldest, most unforgettable megastructures in the most expensive plots in the world.

Five years later, as economic boom turns to bust, these developers can be left with 50 storeys of unsold apartments and their financiers breathing down their necks. It happened in Manhattan as the Roaring 20s turned into the Great Depression; and more recently it happened in Dubai in 2009.

Luxury watchmakers have fallen in the past for believing in their own hype and the illusion that good times will roll forever.

With the economies of emerging markets in Asia on fire five years ago, highly complicated watch collections in precious metals and stones were hungrily dreamt up in Swiss design departments.

They landed in China and Hong Kong on about the same date that growth in the region started to stumble and the authorities ordered freshly minted millionaires to stop flashing their new wealth in people’s faces. Exports to the area have been in reverse every since.

Thankfully, there are signs of recovery, particularly in China and Hong Kong, which have seen exports rise significantly in March for the first time in 20 months.

Ironically, just as these vital markets start to recover, the production pendulum of luxury Swiss watchmaking has swung back to less extravagant, more commercial models that are designed to underpin profits in tougher times.

Ultimately, it is for retailers to decide what is right for their customers, and they are able to react far more quickly than watch manufacturers.

The UK economy could slow this year, so the affordable luxury watches being launched by Switzerland’s biggest brands are exactly what British businesses want to sell, according to the buyers speaking to WatchPro.

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