There was a sense of considerable relief, and some surprise, in Geneva this year at the speed at which the world watch business has bounced back since the doldrums of 2009 and 2010. In March, data for 2010 showed that Swiss watch exports for the year had jumped by 22.1%, hitting a total value of 16.2 billion Swiss franc (CHF). This is just a shade below the all-time high of CHF 17 billion, achieved in 2008.
All indications are that business in 2011 will be even better.
However, most brands have changed the way they do business. Over the previous two years, brands responded to the slowdown by streamlining production, reducing manpower and weeding out underperforming retail points. To the external world, however, this change is most visible in the form of timepieces.
Several chief executives and product managers told Mint that “bling-bling is finally gone for good”. This is not only because ostentatious watches seem incongruent at a time of economic trouble, but also because shots are now being called by the great markets of the East. China likes small, simple and classic.
Asia accounted for 53% of Swiss watch exports in 2010. And for the first two months of 2011, while SIHH was going on, Hong Kong and China together imported watches worth CHF 700 million. The US on the other hand, imported only one-third as much.
Financial restraints are also reflected in the philosophy behind this year’s novelties. Only a handful of brands have gone for revolutionary products or product launches. Roger Dubuis was one of them. Their La Monegasque range is a refreshing new collection with a strong “casino player” theme, compact design and busy but classic dials. Baume & Mercier has gone in for a complete brand overhaul incorporating a new “Seaside Living” theme for both the men’s and women’s range. While it is a relaxed, casual theme that stood out from the other marquees, it is also a big, risky move.
Baume has gone in for a renovation of the brand when most other companies are looking to connect even more strongly with their pasts. Jaeger-LeCoultre, for instance, showcased the classic Reverso design at the fair. The brand had a slew of new pieces to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the iconic reversible case model.
Most brands have looked to rationalize the number of references in their collections. To this extent most of the new pieces seen this year were extensions of existing lines with minor modifications.
Top 5 trends of SIHH 2011 in summary were:
Heritage and classic models: These timepieces include new classic models and revivals of old classic design from the brand archives. Art Deco designs are very popular.
Rose gold and bimetallic combinations: Largely catering to Asian tastes, several brands had pieces in red or rose gold, and combinations of steel and gold for both cases and bracelets.
GMT and World Timers: Several brands looked to maintain demand for new complicated movements, without inflating case size, by going for clean GMT or World Timer pieces. Customers have a number of superb pieces to choose from, including stunners from Vacheron and Cartier.
Inhouse movements: Montblanc has a beautiful new Nicholas Rieussec piece this year that contains a Montblanc MB R110 handwound calibre. Similarly, other brands are making efforts to highlight, where possible, inhouse movements.
Artistic pieces: Besides design, technology and materials, a handful of brands are also producing watches that are more works of art than timepieces. In particular, several models sported exquisite enamel and guilloche work on the dials.