The seismically active country of Iceland is barely one and a half times the size of the city of Geneva in terms of population, yet the island on the fringes of the Arctic circle proudly harbours its own watchmaking brand. JS Watch Co. is just one of around 30 different watch brands dotted around Scandinavia, covering a variety of segments from design to tradition and right up to fine mechanical watchmaking.
After the financial crisis in 2009, the Scandinavian countries all returned to growth last year and are forecast to continue growing above the average of the depressed euro zone through 2013 and into 2014. So the prognosis for the region’s economy is good, even if this region does not necessarily represent the main catchment area for the watch brands’ customers.
Brands such as Bose and Ikea that have become household names have shown that Scandinavian design can have universal appeal and there are a number of Scandinavian watch brands who have carved out a place for themselves in this niche. Much like the furniture you will find in Ikea stores across the world, the emphasis with the design of such watches is on simplicity.
In the case of Denmark’s Obaku, Hong Kong is proving to be a particularly successful market for this type of product. As the brand’s Henriette Arvin explained to Europa Star, “Hong Kong is a fantastic watch-loving-city with multiple City Chain stores on almost every street. And in Hong Kong they also love the clean, simple Danish designs. We are opening more and more shop-in-shop-counters in Chinese department stores and this is giving us a great presence.”
In addition to the new partnership with City Chain, Obaku opened up a number of important new markets last year: China, the Czech Republic, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia and Thailand. The journey is set to continue in 2013 with new distributors in Bahrain, Italy, Oman, Qatar, Spain, the UAE and Vietnam. Clearly, there is a growing interest for the pure lines of Danish design.
Another Danish watch brand, Skagen, also focuses on the minimalist Scandinavian design for its timepieces, which it launches to coincide with the fashion seasons. For Spring/Summer 2013 the brand offers a new ladies’ collection developed together with Japanese industrial designer Hiromichi Konno (who has been working on design collaborations with Skagen since 2011) featuring elegant central lugs and Swarovski elements with a range of bold colours for the bezel. The Skagen Brights collection is the brand’s statement in the field of colour watches, mixing purple, pink, orange, green and blue bezels with a stainless steel case and white leather strap. In the new Aktiv collection for men, the lightness of titanium marries perfectly with that of the minimalist design. The titanium is used for the top ring of the stainless-steel case (in a grey or ion-plated black optic), which comes with a mesh bracelet or titanium link bracelet and is also available with a splash of orange colour on the dial. With all of these new models retailing for under 200 US dollars, Skagen has a highly competitive offer in the fashion watch segment.
Fashion house Gant may be better known for the casual, preppy look associated with American college students, but the head office of the company who bought the name in 1999 is based in Stockholm. Although the company is still based there, it is now owned by Switzerland’s Maus Frères, who made the headlines last year by taking over the French brand Lacoste. As Gant Time’s CEO Christoffer Owers revealed to Europa Star, the brand will be back in Basel this year after a five-year hiatus (Gant exhibited at BaselWorld from 2002-2008). It will part of the portfolio of the new International Luxury Group’s presence at the show, which is split across the stands of its constituent companies, PT Switzerland and TWC from France. “We have a market leading position in Sweden and make 20 per cent more turnover than Omega,” Owers explains. “We are the biggest selling brand in the Swedish market. We also have a strong position in the other Nordic countries and are doing well in Spain, where we are selling better than Armani.” Gant timepieces retail for between €149 and €300 and combine Japanese quartz movements (Miyota and Seiko) with a design that Owers calls “classic with attitude”. In fact, the brand likes to evoke the fine Swiss watchmaking tradition by adding functions to its movements to create a “Swiss feeling of complication”. Gant is also launching a major offensive in the Chinese market, for which it has adopted a new strategy, as Christoffer Owers explains. “We are present in 2,500 points of sale in 16 countries and have opened 150 Gant stores. In China we will do things differently, starting by opening 60 Gant flagship stores, because Chinese customers are very brand loyal. Once we are established, we will then expand into watch retailers.”
In the fashion segment, Axcent of Scandinavia and JetSet are two Scandinavian brands whose timepieces are produced by Paris-based Time and Diamonds SA (TAD) in partnership with Sweden’s Kin Group distributors. Both brands are at the more “fun” end of the fashion segment, as their latest releases illustrate. For BaselWorld, Axcent goes for the retro look with a difference—a classic digital watch called Revelation that only shows the time on demand, using a combination of numbers for the minutes and dots read around the hour markers on the flange for the hours. JetSet plays it safe with its new “Copenhagen” model, which is a classic single-colour round chronograph. TAD will also be launching a new collection under the French NAF NAF label at BaselWorld.
Source: Europa Star April - May 2013 magazine issue