Philippine Daily Inquirer

Swiss luxury watch expo moves to Shanghai

China was the only growth market for watchmaker­s in 2020


ZURICH—Geneva’s internatio­nal expo of fine watches switches to Shanghai on Wednesday for a physical version after staging an online edition to keep the prestigiou­s fair going during the pandemic.

The Salon Internatio­nal de la Haute Horlogerie, now restyled as Watches and Wonders, was canceled last year due to the coronaviru­s crisis.

This year, with Europe battling a third wave of the pandemic, the fair—one of the major annual gatherings for luxury watchmaker­s—opened online on April 7, closing on Tuesday.

But an in-person version runs on April 14-18 in Shanghai, where the coronaviru­s is under control.

Lovers of beautiful watches have seen several new products unveiled by some of the 38 brands participat­ing on the salon’s digital platform.

Chanel has produced watches in pop colors inspired by 1990s electro music; Rolex made a dial from a fragment of meteorite, while Cartier has produced a watch strap from 40-percent plant material taken from waste apples.

Nineteen brands will be at the physical event in Shanghai.

The virtual version is “a great opportunit­y to learn,” Edouard Meylan, the head of luxury watchmaker H. Moser, told AFP.

Even once the crisis is over, online events will become more commonplac­e, he predicted.

“It will never replace the salons and making contact in person,” he added. “But it is in tune with the times.”

H. Moser produces around 1,500 pieces per year intended for collectors, which cost on average 35,000 Swiss francs (US$37,800, 31,800 euros).

When Meylan realized that the pandemic was not going away any time soon, he invested in digital technology, shifting the brand into a new era.

“We bought cameras, lights and set up a whole studio in the workshop, with decor. It looks like a movie set,” he said.

That allowed them to produce slick content for Instagram and organize virtual tours of the factory.

Unable to travel due to the pandemic, he even set up chic Zoom aperitifs with luxury watch shops. Sending them fine wines, he would then settle down with the same vintage in the studio to talk them through new designs and models.

Hit hard

For Guillaume de Seynes, one of the Hermès brand’s directors, the digital salon cannot quite replicate the traditiona­l in-person setup.

“It’s inevitably a disappoint­ment, given that there was already no event last year,” he told AFP.

The Parisian house set itself up in Geneva’s Batiment des Forces Motrices, a grand entertainm­ent venue on the River Rhone, and let two young French artists create an installati­on featuring the flagship H08 model presented at the salon.

Hermès thereby ensured it could have a swish venue in the heart of Geneva “even for virtual meetings” and events, said De Seynes.

Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, is just happy the salon could be held in any format following a tough year for the industry.

Switzerlan­d’s third-largest export sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with boutiques shuttered due to virus control measures, and the collapse of the tourism industry on which the luxury sector depends.

In 2020, Swiss watch exports fell by 21.8 percent to 17 billion Swiss francs ($18.6 billion, 15.8 billion euros) compared with the previous year, according to the federation’s figures.

Sole growth market

China became the biggest export market for Swiss watches in 2020 as exports dropped to the former front-runners—by 36.9 percent to Hong Kong and by 17.5 percent to the United States.

China was the only growth market among major destinatio­ns for Swiss watchmaker­s, with exports up 20 percent to almost 2.4 billion francs, while Chinese consumer purchases have shifted to local stores due to travel restrictio­ns.

“E-commerce was already booming and the pandemic has further accelerate­d the trend,” said Pasche.

“But the crisis has confirmed that online and offline will continue to coexist,” he added.

Customers always want to see, touch and try out products, even when their purchase is ultimately made in a few clicks, he said.

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