February’s in the books and the dash to Basel has begun. Brands around the world are working fervently to get their novelties ready and their logistical plans in order. It’s a crazy time in the watch industry with the second month of the year being the calm between two storms of activity. So what came out of SIHH that seems likely to stick, and what can we expect from Baselworld 2017 when the lid is lifted later this month?
Wary Times for Companies and Collectors alike
It’s no secret that the last 18 months have been a hellish rollercoaster for the watch industry. The landscape of luxury is changing rapidly and every brand is trying to adjust. There’s been a notable dip in start-ups getting a sure foothold in the market, partly because major maisons with a great deal more financial clout, infrastructure, and, most crucially, established devotees are slashing their entry-level price point in a bid to get more punters through the door.
From an industry-wide perspective this is a good thing in the sense it’s making watchmaking a more accessible hobby to a wider range of people than we’ve seen since the creative navigation of the Quartz Crisis. A new generation of watch lovers is needed to lay foundations for the future. It’s no good pricing out the young fans of the watch industry, because they will one day inherit the Earth. It’s almost the responsibility of big brands to fall on their sword somewhat to make sure they don’t alienate potential purchasers before they’re cleared the first hurdle.
Then again, the watch industry must not stray too deeply into what is clearly dangerous territory. Bigger brands can always subsidise their entry level, because their real money comes from mid-high value watches. Smaller, more creative brands have much higher production costs (relatively speaking) because of the lower volumes they’re working with and the fact that most need to outsource a significant portion of their business. This stifles innovation and hinders revolution. It’s also potentially damaging to the perception of a brand, and, as anyone who has been around watchmaking or any other luxury industry for any amount of time will tell you, reputation is everything.
Look for Established Independents for Guidance
There is a balance to be found, and a route through this seemingly impassable minefield – the established independents already up-to-speed with in-house manufacture. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few very good micro-independents that invest heavily in the quality of their watches rather than massive advertising campaigns that cut into their production budget. This is where value can still be found and, in my opinion, where the future leading lights of the industry reside.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.