Daz­zling Times

Watches & Won­ders opened its doors for the third time in Hong Kong and wel­comed a surge in visi­tors, all ea­ger to dis­cover—and buy—the lat­est time­pieces and jew­ellery from the 12 ex­hibit­ing brands. Sean Li takes a closer look. Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Char

Hong Kong Tatler - - Style -

A cer­tain malaise has been ev­i­dent in the Asian watch mar­ket in re­cent months. Most brands re­port mixed num­bers, with the de­clines vary­ing be­tween coun­tries. Long gone is the hey­day of dou­ble-digit growth when it seemed watch­mak­ers could do no wrong, and the more com­pli­cated and ex­pen­sive the watch, the bet­ter. The cur­rent state of the mar­ket was some months in the making, how­ever, and brands have an­tic­i­pated the new land­scape by fo­cus­ing on price­sen­si­tive seg­ments, with col­lec­tions no longer chas­ing the crown of the high­est com­pli­ca­tions, but the ones that ap­peal to the im­pulse buyer.

This mar­ket re­align­ment was the back­drop as 12 of the world’s top lux­ury watch brands were preparing for the third it­er­a­tion of Watches & Won­ders, which took place, once again, in Hong Kong from Septem­ber 30 to Oc­to­ber 3. The first two shows were af­fected by ex­ter­nal fac­tors: in 2013, a ty­phoon caused frayed nerves at the Hong Kong Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre and de­layed flights; in 2014, the early days of Oc­cupy Cen­tral caused trans­port headaches around the venue and led to the can­cel­la­tion of some re­lated events, though at­ten­dance matched the pre­vi­ous year.

On open­ing day this year, the 12 ex­hibit­ing brands—a. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-lecoul­tre, Mont­blanc, Of­ficine Panerai, Pi­aget, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Con­stantin and Van Cleef & Ar­pels—were more than ready to greet the visi­tors, trade and press. It was clear that any trep­i­da­tion about at­ten­dance was un­founded; it was as if peo­ple wanted to make up for lost time from the pre­vi­ous years. The en­ergy lev­els were pal­pa­ble in the con­ven­tion cen­tre and on­line, with a con­tin­u­ous feed on so­cial me­dia that es­tab­lished Watches & Won­ders as the place to be in the watch world for those four days.

Most visi­tors were al­ready aware of what had been in­tro­duced in pre­vi­ous months, start­ing with the Salon In­ter­na­tional de

la Haute Hor­logerie (SIHH) in Geneva in Jan­uary, so a new ex­hi­bi­tion meant there was a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pec­ta­tion for new time­pieces to be un­veiled. A num­ber of brands not only took the wraps off their lat­est of­fer­ings, but the pieces were also avail­able im­me­di­ately in bou­tiques. The strat­egy proved highly suc­cess­ful, so­cial me­dia buzzing with clients ea­ger to show they were among the first in the world to ac­quire the new watches.

Watches & Won­ders in­cor­po­rated more knowl­edge-build­ing con­tent than ever, with a cul­tural ex­hi­bi­tion or­gan­ised in con­junc­tion with the Geneva Univer­sity of Art and De­sign, which dis­played mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ever-so-swiss cuckoo clock cre­ated by a num­ber of its stu­dents. Watch­mak­ing and

métiers d’art work­shops were again of­fered by the Fon­da­tion de la Haute Hor­logerie (FHH) and a few of the brands, and proved very pop­u­lar. New ad­di­tions were guest speak­ers, in­clud­ing yours truly, with lec­tures de­liv­ered ev­ery few hours on top­ics rang­ing from the history of watch­mak­ing to tech­ni­cal ex­pla­na­tions of var­i­ous com­pli­ca­tions.

There was also a rare op­por­tu­nity to see, shortly af­ter its of­fi­cial un­veil­ing just two weeks ear­lier, the Vacheron Con­stantin Ref­er­ence 57260—the most com­plex me­chan­i­cal watch ever made, with 57 com­pli­ca­tions and more than 2,800 com­po­nents. Be­fore he takes de­liv­ery of the watch later this year, the pri­vate col­lec­tor who com­mis­sioned the piece has al­lowed the brand to show off the re­sults of eight years of full­time work by three of its best watch­mak­ers.

When the doors closed on Watches & Won­ders, the FHH an­nounced that some 20,000 visi­tors had at­tended the fair, a wel­come in­crease of 25 per cent on the pre­vi­ous year. It has cer­tainly given the brands’ man­age­ments and watch­mak­ers much to think about, even as they all now turn their at­ten­tion to SIHH 2016. It would cer­tainly seem that the ex­hi­bi­tion was a bet­ter re­flec­tion of the world­wide state of the watch mar­ket—that is, a con­tin­ued level of in­ter­est and a healthy de­mand—than what many ob­ser­va­tions would lead you to be­lieve.

The fact is that with the right prod­uct mix and watches that are more af­ford­able (they’re still ex­pen­sive, but not out of reach), clients con­tinue to be very in­ter­ested and will­ing to buy. The next few months will de­ter­mine whether Watches & Won­ders will re­turn in 2016; it’s not a triv­ial ex­er­cise to pre­pare for it, and the brands have to face the re­al­ity that the days of an­nual dou­ble-digit growth are un­likely to re­turn any time soon. But the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm at this year’s Watches & Won­ders, not only from Asia but glob­ally, shows that there’s plenty of life in the mar­ket and that the in­ter­est in fine watch­mak­ing is cer­tainly as strong as ever.

On the fol­low­ing pages are high­lights from this year’s Watches & Won­ders.

BUSI­NESS AS USUAL Watch­mak­ing demon­stra­tions, meet­ings and cre­ative vis­ual dis­plays at Watches & Won­ders 2015

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