Rolex to Hublot: Indians find more time for Swiss luxury

In December alone, Indians snapped up Swiss watches worth  ₹179.74 crore. (Photo: Bloomberg)
In December alone, Indians snapped up Swiss watches worth 179.74 crore. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Summary

  • Imports touched 2,093 crore during the year, up from the previous year’s 1,500 crore

NEW DELHI : Swiss watch imports swelled 16% to cross a record 2,000 crore in 2023 as more aspirational Indians snapped up luxury timepieces, led by a sharp rise in December.

Imports touched 2,093 crore during the year, up from the previous year’s 1,500 crore, data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Association showed. With this, India has become the world’s 22nd largest Swiss watch importer, moving up one place from last year’s position.

“The year 2023 performed very well for the watch market, especially luxury," said Pushpa Bector, senior executive director of DLF Retail, the retail arm of the real estate development company. “People are aspiring to buy luxury, and in 2024, there will be more exclusive brand outlets coming up for luxury brands. This is because some of these brands are very successful in multi-brand outlet formats, and they now want to have an exclusive presence for customers. One such example is Rolex. There will also be newer luxury brands that will come into the country in 2024," Bector said.

Shopping for wedding trousseaus kept up demand across categories, Bector said; however, watches in the mid-market to premium category did not perform as well as those at the higher end.

In December alone, Indians snapped up Swiss watches worth 179.74 crore, up 31% from 135.26 crore a year earlier (at current exchange rates), becoming the world’s No. 17 buyer of these timepieces. However, India still trails richer countries like the US, the No. 1 importer of Swiss watches at 4.16 billion Swiss francs ( 39,193 crore) in 2023.

Virtually all good brands grew in imports, said Ashok Goel, founder of Delhi-based Luxury Time Pvt. Ltd, which distributes brands including Hublot, Tag Heuer and Zenith. Goel said the top five brands in Swiss watches maintained their positions vis-a-vis high imports. The overall market saw much higher supplies to retailers, and that also meant that sales to end customers improved, especially in the higher-end luxury products.

“But affordable luxury and straight-line watches at the lower-end were negative last year. This year, 2024, could be a bit of a question mark. The reason is simple, there is now just too much supply chasing customers who are happy spending money on the ’experience’ of buying rather than the acquisition itself. Therefore, growth could come from more affordable luxury brands," he said.

Viraal Rajan, who runs a dedicated boutique in Mumbai for Rolex and 16 other luxury watch brands including exclusive brands such as Alchemists, HYT, Konstanti Chaykin, L’EPEE 1839, Purnell, Reuge, Manufacture Royal said the trend of luxury consumption has strengthened across categories, and not just watches.

“From an aspirational standpoint, we all know India’s growth story and that just 0.5% of India is buying luxury, but even within that niche, we are now seeing tremendous growth. In fact, we have found it much easier to retail watches that are upwards of 10-15 lakh rather than those in the 3-5 lakh category. That shows the evolution of the customer as well," he said. But Rajan, too, agreed that while there will be growth in 2024, it may not be at the same level as in 2023.

Worldwide, sales of watches made of two metals rose 21.8% in value and 28.5% in volume in December, data showed. Sales value of watches made of precious metals such as gold grew 8.9% during the month. The ‘other materials’ category saw an increase of 6.1%. Overall sales of Swiss watches rose by 7.2%, or over one million items, to touch 17.9 million.

The trend is reflected in numbers reported by Swatch Group AG, which makes Omega, Swatch, Tissot and Longines watches. The company, which clocked double-digit growth in Asian watch sales in 2023, had stated that despite a challenging currency environment and deliberate increases in marketing investments, the segment maintained the strong operating margin of 17.2% as in the previous year.

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