To some luxury watch aficionados, the UK has been a historically important market and an arbitrator of watch design. Now, however, insiders are wondering if the epicenter is shifting too far East, altering the business models of the finest companies and tampering with longstanding marketing traditions that have proven successful for generations.
While the list of luxury brands – watch and otherwise – catering specifically to China is a mile long, Hublot specifically is being subjected to scrutiny by experts. In June of 2012, in conjunction with Ferrari, they created the Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold Watch China Limited Edition, which was launched in Shanghai. That same year, the brand partnered with Manchester United Football Club, one of the biggest brands in China, using the team’s stars to open a second Shanghai boutique and to participate in showcase collection and catwalk exhibition, also in Shanghai.
Hublot is certainly not alone. Other iconic brands, like Chopard, Piaget, Blancpain, Jaquet Droz, Vacheron Constantin, Breitling and Panerai, have all made serious efforts to tailor their designs and business models to Chinese consumers, either by releasing China-specific timepieces or crafting bespoke marketing campaigns for the Far East.
What concerns experts like Manuel Emch, CEO of Romain Jerome, is the shifting of the market from the traditional bastion of watches: England. “Some brands are maybe a little bit too focused on China and they sometimes forget that Chinese customers are actually also buying European luxury,” he said.
Mark Hearn, the managing director of Patek Philippe UK, expressed similar feelings: “You find a lot of customers in the UK have actually come over from China, because they want that authenticity and extra quality. Those individuals often become customers for life, and they’ll happily come back time and time again, whether it’s to buy a new watch or to service their old one.”
While the amount of revenue generated by the UK market is a pittance compared to that of China – one anonymous insider told WatchPro that the money it takes in one day at one of its flagship boutiques in China is equivalent to the business they’d receive from across the whole of the UK – the UK is a source of tastemaking and tradition.
Because many Chinese consumers want to emulate the timelessness and suavity of British luxury, maintaining a strong UK presence and aesthetic is crucial to business worldwide. “Put in a rudimentary way: if a watch is popular over here, then it stands a good chance of being popular in China, which is where the serious rewards lie,” said Daniel Malins of WatchPro, writing in the UK.
While no one doubts the power or strength of the Chinese market – and surely no one rejects the profits being made there – watch purists will fight a tough fight to ensure that the UK remains an important market.
photo credit: attila mexico