The Australian - Wish Magazine


The global pandemic is forcing the watch industry to evolve, but that might not be a bad thing


Acrisis can often be the catalyst for change. Amid the chaos, we’re forced to rethink the way we do things – often with positive results. World War I, for example, had a radical impact in redefining civil liberties, race relations and women’s rights. It’s still too early to untangle the full impact of the coronaviru­s on the watch industry but there are signs that the seemingly unending set of crises served up by 2020 could push certain brands to reconsider the way they operate.

Before the pandemic, when faced with an increasing­ly digital world, many luxury Swiss watch brands seemed to labour under the impression that they didn’t have to move with the times to stay relevant.

A report last year from the online marketing consultanc­y Digital Luxury Group found that online sales of luxury watches accounted for less than 5 per cent of all sales. Consider also that Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet – ranked first, fifth and seventh for annual sales by Morgan Stanley – only recently conceded the value of having an Instagram account and none of them deign to sell their watches online.

This is a telling attitude. In the decade or so that I have been a part of it, there has been an overriding sense that an industry as archly traditiona­l, as storied and as resilient as watchmakin­g, can play by its own rules. After all it survived the advent of quartz watchmakin­g in the ’70s. It survived the threat of the Apple watch, and smart watches in general. It has even prevailed despite the fact that, between our phones and laptops, no one truly needs a watch to tell the time anymore. So really, what harm could a crisis or three do?

Oh what a difference a pandemic makes. A massive downturn in sales – watch and jewellery sellout in Singapore in April plunged 87.8 per cent, according to the Mercury Project – coupled with the cancellati­on of the world’s two biggest watch fairs has proven to be the smelling salts needed to well and truly wake up the watch industry.

While some brands, namely Rolex, may opt to ride the year out with no new releases (though rumours persist to the contrary), the great majority of brands have had to find a way to push through. Whether that’s at a “virtual watch fair” such as Watches & Wonders, where a website was created for consumers and retailers to discover new releases, or in a “virtual boutique”, an IWC initiative where the cocktails are delivered by snail mail, there has been wave upon wave of innovation. Grand Seiko even worked with Facebook’s Spark AR Studio software to launch a new collection that could be “tried on” using an augmented reality filter.

At Time+Tide we have been part of the change, and it’s resulted in the most exciting six months of our sixyear history. We have had Zoom calls with the top brass of the top brands, created a “late show” format on YouTube for broadcasti­ng watch releases to people in lockdown with more time in their schedule than usual and – most notably – worked with Zenith to globally launch a watch online through a video format. All of this would have been unheard of six months ago. A CEO of a fabled Swiss brand filming himself on his phone walking into a dusty attic to reveal the inspiratio­n for a new release and then allowing that to be publicly broadcast? A prestigiou­s luxury watch brand launching a highly prized limited edition on YouTube and then taking online sales, direct from viewers? It’s a brave new world.

Don’t forget these are little wristworn machines we don’t even need. And they are some of the most desirable objects on the planet. With this giant of an industry now wide awake, wiping the sleep from its eyes and looking for opportunit­ies, nobody should be surprised if it manages to not only survive but thrive during whatever comes next.

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