Excerpt from Wristwatch Annual 2013:
If the drumfire of recent economic news is anything to go by, the watch industry should be on its knees begging for mercy and producing timepieces in cases made of recycled bottle caps. After all, who needs a beautiful mechanical watch with hand-beveled parts, diamond-studded lugs, spectacular guilloché dials, and so forth, and such troubled times?
Paradoxically, the industry as a whole is doing better than just well. In Switzerland, watches dominated exports in 2011, in spite of the strong Swiss franc. Figures for the year surpassed pre-crisis levels at nearly $22 billion, way ahead of the country’s nearest exporting competitor, Hong Kong. And so far, the statistics suggest that 2012 will be the same or better. German, French, and U.S. watch exports have also been on the rise.
The boom, so the common wisdom goes, is mainly due to China's evolution as a consumer powerhouse. Not only has the Middle Kingdom become a focus for the industry, with boutiques sprouting up in Chinese cities, but dragons and Chinese ideograms continue to be de rigueur as decorative elements of many new timepieces.
Not all brands have benefited from China's economic development. In fact, as several watchmakers confided to me, Chinese consumers have not yet learned all about watches and are therefore gravitating toward big, recognizable brands. Smaller companies, boutique brands, and independents still have some exploratory and convincing work ahead of them if they want to achieve real success in China. There may be no use rushing. The Chinese market for expensive watches has actually been declining in 2012, while more traditional markets in Italy, France, and the United States have been picking up. Latin America also seems to offer a great deal of potential, in particular Brazil, which has been experiencing an unparalleled economic upswing. The only barrier seems to be high tariffs.
The Look of Time
Flush with fresh cash, many companies have started expanding capacities, retooling, and ensuring their independence in light of the coming transformation of the industry as Swatch-owned ETA begins reducing its deliveries of components, escapements, and mechanical movements. This, in turn, bodes well for the future, since a solid manufacturing base and economic stability do tend to foster creativity. But once again, smaller brands that cannot afford to build their own mechanisms will have to find substitute movements or, as one watchmaker told me, “hoard.” Suffice it to say, movement and component manufacturers like Concepto, Sellita, Soprod, and the relatively unknown ValSwiss stand to gain.
Business is business, however, and watch making is essentially a creative activity. So despite some Cassandran voices speaking of bursting horological bubbles, the show carries on. And this year's Wristwatch Annual reflects the look and feel of the current crop of watches. Still, for example, hasn't lost any of its recession popularity. And while some of the brands are brazenly covering dials, cases, and even lugs with diamonds and other precious stones, other designers have sought a subtler approach to attracting the public eye, like well-placed daubs of color or pretty flinqué drawings on a dial, outstanding complications, or boldly hued straps.
New brands have been introduced this year to illustrate the endless creative potential in the industry. Among the notorious newcomers to these pages are Christophe Claret, the Heritage Watch Manufactory, and Maîtres du Temps, who have all raised the complication to new engineering summits. The young brand ArtyA, founded and run by Yvan Arpa, earned a page in the book thanks to its eclectic and provocative design concept. And fans of pilot’s watches will no doubt welcome the appearance of Aviator and Zeppelin, passing by Bremont. Finally, the presence of several American brands reminds us that the United States was once a major producer of excellent timepieces.
Wristwatch Annual would not be complete without Elizabeth Doerr’s expert peek at what independent watchmakers are doing (p. 12). A few timepieces that stand out but can be pegged to no real category gain exposure in Odd Brands Out (P. 26). This year, Bill Yao, CEO of Mk II, takes a look at the issue of magnetism, modern electronics, and your watch (p. 358). Rob Shayne, for his part, shares some of his insider knowledge of Internet sales )p. 370). Publisher, journalist, editor, and collector Gary Girdvainis informs us how to treat a mechanical watch (p. 374). And at the end of our book, our trusty glossary will help you to better understand industry terms. Finally, Wristwatch Annual is the product of teamwork. My thanks, therefore, go to Peter Braun for his preparation of the German edition. I am also very grateful to the contributors mentioned above whose work represents a genuine enrichment for the volume. Many thanks, too, to Ashley Benning for carefully proofing all the English copy, catching many errors, and keeping perfect order in hundreds of files. Please note that all prices given are subject to change. Any comments or suggestions are welcome, as they will help us improve the book next year. In the meantime, enjoy reading.