As you read the words on this page, the 2013 edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) would have all but wound to a close in Geneva. And because this is the first major event on the annual world watch calendar, it would have set in motion a thousand debates and discussions:
Are all the Swiss watchmakers making money? Are the Chinese still buying them by the bucketfuls? What are the brands doing about the lack of independent movement suppliers? Are watches getting bigger or smaller? What does all this mean for the world economy? Are we all doomed?
Ok. Maybe that last question is a bit too all-encompassing even for the extra-ordinarily self-absorbed luxury watch industry.
But just four days of exhausting meetings, presentations and power lunches at SIHH can tell you plenty about which way the wind is blowing. The world luxury retailing sector might seem entire galaxies away from the grit and grime of austerity economics, fiscal cliffs and GDP growth rates. But, in fact, global luxury consumption is an excellent barometer of matters financial.
The market for luxury products, such as high-end watches, tends to lead economic developments. Because these products are so discretionary and extravagant, demand for them plunge well before broader economic indicators fall. Later, when the inflexion point is reached, they also recover with great speed.
The well heeled, it seems, have a tremendously acute, and sensitive, sense of economic trends.
Therefore, keeping an eye on who is buying how many watches of what kind and where can tell you more about the state of the world economy than you might expect.
So what does the world of watches have to tell us right now?
Over the next few months, Mint Indulge will publish a special SIHH issue jam-packed with interviews, features, reviews and in-depth articles on the event, the watches and the people. So, for a comprehensive look at the sector, you’ll have to wait just that bit longer.
Thankfully, the sixteen watch companies that feature at SIHH each year like to tease the market with a few pre-SIHH releases. These timepieces, rarely the star launches for the year, help to whet our appetites and prepare us for the main event in Geneva. Nonetheless, these preview pieces are a harbinger of things to come. They give us a tiny little glimpse into the souls of some of the most important watch brands in the world. They tell us what design philosophies are emergent, what technologies are popular and what price points the brands are focusing on.
The preview pieces released so far seem to confirm some broad trends. The Chinese market, the life force for many brands, no longer seems to offer homogenous growth across price points. In recent months, analysts have noted that while growth in top-end brands continues to be strong, entry-level luxury demand is slowing. Instead, value-conscious Chinese seem to be flocking to more sober brands offering traditional, minimal designs. Baume and Mercier’s new Clifton collection is a superb example of this trend.
There also seems to be a sustained attempt at reaching out to younger consumers at accessible price points. IWC’s revamped Ingenieur collection is young, sporty and quite welcoming. This revamp is also just the latest step in IWC’s systematic overhaul of each of the brand’s major product lines. In each case, the brand has created a sexier, more modern version of classic timepieces.
IWC isn’t the only brand committed to a game plan. Cartier continues to strengthen its fine watchmaking portfolio. This year the brand has already unveiled a number of chronographs.
Greubel Forsey, usually the most unrestrained of watchmakers, this year has unveiled a watch that is almost bashful about revealing its complications. Does this mean that minimalism is the new-ism?
Enough with the speculation already. While we prepare a more comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the event, we leave you with our selection of the best preview pieces revealed so far.
They should keep you occupied till the SIHH special is ready.