The global watch industry in general hasn’t been faring too well with Swiss watch exports shrinking 10% to CHF19.4 billion for 2016. That represented a CHF2.13 billion drop in total export value for last year.
The top 15 Swiss watch export destinations suffered declines with the exception of the United Kingdom and South Korea both of which, coincidentally, enjoyed a growth of 3.7%.
Hong Kong, the world’s top destination for Swiss watch exports, experienced the sharpest decline of 25% to CHF2.38 billion in 2016 as compared to the CHF3.18 billion it realised in 2015. The 10.4% decline registered for Singapore, the eighth largest market for Swiss watch exports, to CHF1.01 billion was in line with average global decline.
A rising tide will lift all boats and some boats will continue to sail well even during a low tide. That is the case for ships or rather, watch brands such as Audemars Piguet, IWC, Richard Mille, TAG Heuer and Tudor which have performed rather well in Singapore even when the market is in the doldrums.
“Having a strong product offering, competitive pricing and customer engagement become all the more important when market sentiment is weak,” says Ong Ban, chief executive officer, Sincere Watch Limited, one of the leading specialist watch retailers in Singapore.
TAG Heuer, for example, which at one stage was off the radar screen for many in Singapore, has been performing well in recent times thanks to the magic hand of Jean-Claude Biver, who became chief executive of TAG Heuer in 2014. TAG Heuer has been enjoying brisk sales in Singapore, thanks to its Connected watch scoring well with consumers and price adjustments for certain collections – its Aquaracer and Formula One watches in particular. There is even increased interest in vintage TAG Heuer watches. “They are affordable and the movements are reliable,” explains Eric Ong, founder of Bonfield, which specialises in watch restoration services and pre-owned timepieces.
For Tudor, many collectors in Singapore have warmed up to its Black Bay watch collection. Models that enjoy a healthy demand include the Black Bay Bronze and the Black Bay Black, both of which are equipped in-house movements and more importantly, are reasonably-priced. Customer engagement has been strong with Tudor reaping returns from its investments in pop-up stores and events in partnership with watch retailers here.
Fans of Audemars Piguet continue to warm up to the brand which has tickled their fancy with better designs and the use of materials such as ceramic among other things. What is to be noted: the brand has capped production at 40,000 pieces a year till 2020. “We are focused on quality. Whatever watches you see launched in 2017 will replace certain existing ones,” says Antonio Seward, general manager, Audemars Piguet Southeast Asia.
With limited pieces, the key then is a balanced approach when it comes to the allocation between the retailers and their mono-brand boutiques. Coupled with a well-thought-through boutique strategy and backed by a strengthened after-sales support, Audemars Piguet has been “sailing well in rough seas”. The Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore remain firm favourites and Seward adds that the best sellers were the Royal Oaks that are openworked, qualifying that it was not in terms of units sold but in terms of turnover.
One must also bear in mind that Singapore, with a population size of around 5.6 million, is among the top 10 Swiss watch export markets because much of it is re-exported to the region. Tourism spending plays an important role for watch businesses as well.
Singapore’s tourist arrivals for 2016 was 16.4 million and tourism receipts amounted to SGD21.8 billion or around USD15.5 billion. The main source of visitors are Indonesians but Chinese tourists spent more in Singapore with Chinese tourism receipts of SGD2.81 billion as compared to the SGD1.94 billion spent by the Indonesians.
Interestingly, while Tudor’s Black Bay collection may be in demand in town, it is a different story for the brand at tourist spots such as the gaming resort, Resorts World Sentosa, where Swiss Watch Gallery is located. “Other Tudor models sell better here. For example, Chinese tourists tend to gravitate towards simple three-hand timepieces that are more affordable, generally between the SGD2,000 and SGD4,000 price range. Brands like Omega, Longines and Tudor do well here. For higher-end timepieces, they look for brands such as Vacheron Constantin, Breguet and Blancpain,” says Alfred Koh, store manager at Swiss Watch Gallery.
Throughout the last couple of months when I had the RM033 around, event invites and traveling programs worked out in a manner which I was on the road a lot and consequently meeting lots of new people — largely journalists working from the watch or fashion business, but also watch business insiders. On such occasions, once everybody is beyond the “How was your flight?” Round of petty small talk, matters come to either complimenting the readily identified iconic watch of the individual sitting nearby, or, even if it seems interesting at all, the ever-green silence-breaker question arises: “So, What Watch Are You Wearing? Back in Hong Kong I had been greeted twice with “Ooh, you’re wearing an expensive watch!” Being shouted at me — and in other, more discreet settings, nevertheless everyone with anything to do with the watch industry understood more or less what the opinion was. The Richard Mille Watches For Ladies Replica RM033 is a very different story.Soon after beginning his brand in the early 2000s, Richard Mille understood and with great field followed closely (not-so-)key recipe to luxury watch brand achievement: be daring and instantly recognizable. I mean, just look at any among the very successful luxury watches ever made. Just take the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak as a most fitting example: that the Royal Oak was stupid expensive in 1972, but had an outside unique enough that wealthy people consciously or subconsciously began (and very much continue) to gravitate towards it as they know or at least feel how the Royal Oak, just like no other watch in the time and still few today, exhibits excess wealth. For some fun reading on a related topic, have a look at this article on the way the most iconic watches can be realized just for their hands layouts.
Indeed, it is interesting to note how the various brands relate with end-clients of different nationalities. At the end of the day, watch brands must continue their engagement with customers from different cultural backgrounds even during difficult times and ensure that their “connections” aren’t disrupted.