The Hong Kong Watch and Clock show is as much about selling as BaselWorld is about image. Whereas the buyers in Basel do their business inside the imposing two and three-storey walled gardens erected by the brands, drooling over the various timepieces on offer, those in Hong Kong are encouraged to choose from among vast amounts of SKUs, or stock-keeping units, and enticed with special offers and close-outs. That is if they make it past the hoards of roving employees encouraging visitors to open their wallets at the “Small Order Zone” before they even enter the halls. The minimum quantities of between 100 and 1,000 pieces that constitute a “small” order at this one-stop shop give you an idea of the quantities of watches that are traded at the show.
Switzerland has reclaimed its spot as Hong Kong’s biggest export market for completed watches in the first half of 2013.
Despite the apparent differences in approach to sales, the organisers of the Hong Kong Watch and Clock Show, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), are clearly learning from their annual visits to Basel. Last year’s “Brand Name Gallery” has grown to occupy an entire new hall, where it was this year known as the “Timepiece Extravaganza”, which was subdivided into “Renaissance Moment”, “Chic & Trendy” and “Moment of Luxury” zones to guide the visitor around. This was a welcome contrast to the endless regimental lines of identical stands in Hall 1, which would be familiar to anyone who has visited the Hong Kong pavilion in Basel.
For a journalist, trying to cover the show can be frustrating. Many exhibitors do not allow visitors to take photos (in some cases it’s not clear whether this is because they are worried about people stealing their intellectual property or about people reporting their own violations of other people’s intellectual property) and those that do have something genuinely interesting to show are so focused purely on sales that they have nothing to offer the press. It is with regret, therefore, that we are unable to show you the watch that displays Islamic prayer times, or the one with a case that looks uncannily like the macaroons you find in the best patisseries of Paris and Geneva.
But even a photo could not do justice to one of the oddest new launches seen at the show: a fabric watch strap impregnated with the official smell of Skittles sweets.
With the strong emphasis on sales and commerce, one thing that is easy to come by is statistics. The organisers publish export and import data in abdundance, happy to confirm that Switzerland has reclaimed its spot as Hong Kong’s biggest export market for completed watches in the first half of 2013, relegating the United States to second place, closely followed by Mainland China in third. All three countries account for similar values and export market shares (see chart).
The balance of trade tips in favour of Switzerland and China, however, when the value of imports is considered. Hong Kong imported over 2.7 billion US dollars worth of Swiss timepieces in the period from January to July 2013, giving the Swiss almost half of the market. Even in the current depressed global economy, where growth rates rarely break the double-digit barrier, the Special Administrative Region of Macau continues to exhibit eye-popping growth rates, having nearly doubled in export value from Hong Kong over the past three years. The fact that Macau’s casinos now generate revenues over six times those of the casinos in Las Vegas, largely from high-rolling customers from the Chinese mainland, helps to explain this impressive growth. Despite a resurgence in its economy, Japan’s exports to and imports from Hong Kong both dropped by double digits in the first half of the year, which may be due more to political rather than economic reasons, given the ongoing territorial dispute in the East China Sea and China’s power of persuasion.
A number of new products were on display at the stand of Memorigin, which now boasts 1,000 employees, of which 50 alone work on the brand’s tourbillon models.
Memorigin debuted its first self-winding tourbillon at the show, as well as a limited-edition tourbillon with a tonneau case that ties in with the Superman “Man of Steel” movie. This is the second super-hero themed watch that Memorigin has launched, after its tourbillon tie-in with “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman movie last year. As well as incorporating the Superman logo, which merges with the pattern of Superman’s father’s armour, the distinctive skeletonisation of the movement also hides thesymbols of Superman’s two enemies on either side of the tourbillon at 6 o’clock. But these prestige models were overshadowed by the new jade tourbillon models, which retail for up to three million Hong Kong dollars (380,000 US dollars).
Memorigin’s young CEO William Shun has yet more ambitious plans up his sleeve, including bringing parts of the assembly process to Hong Kong and, ultimately, producing a Hong Kong made tourbillon. “I would like to add manufacturing to Hong Kong’s area of expertise,” he says. “The Chinese customer attaches importance to Hong Kong for quality but customers first look at the design and only then at the brand image and reputation, so we emphasise the quality of our design and invest heavily in research and development.”
- “Man of Steel” tourbillon by Memorigin
- 41mm x 39mm tonneau case , WB0627 one-minute tourbillon movement beating at 28,800 vibrations per hour and offering a 60-hour power reserve, natural sapphire and ruby hour markers, luminous hands and sapphire crystal on both sides; mesh bracelet. Limited edition of 130 pieces.
“Hong Kong is a good place to start a brand and the new Timepiece Extravaganza hall here at the show is a step up from last year.” Adrien Choux, The Chinese Timekeeper
Just around the corner, Adrien Choux continued to surprise as the European who is selling Chinese culture in horological form to the Chinese and the world beyond through his brand The Chinese Timekeeper. His latest venture is a partnership with 17 year-old Hong Kong racing driver Matthew Solomon and to mark this new association, Mr Choux set up two motor-racing simulators on his stand, challenging visitors to “Beat the fastest man in Hong Kong”. The lucky winner was rewarded with one of The Chinese Timekeeper’s timepieces. Although this does not necessarily fit with the brand’s rather traditional timepieces, as Mr Choux told Europa Star, “if it helps me to collect business cards and sell one or two watches, then that’s no bad thing”.
- The motor racing simulator at The Chinese Timekeeper stand proved very popular among visitors
The idea of a Westerner selling Chinese culture to the Chinese has taken some time to be accepted, according to Choux. ”Three years ago people laughed at me, but now they take me seriously,” he says. “I exhibited in Qingdao recently and sold eight watches at the fair. The Chinese customer is evolving, he is not as brand-oriented as he was, but I still need to go knocking on doors to get the brand known. I spent three weeks in the USA over the summer and the watches were well received. They are not for Chinese tourists, however, who are looking for something more ostentatious. Maybe they will be interested in the brand in a few years but I need to keep up the differentiation because there are others coming.”
Despite the intense competition for retail space in Hong Kong, as well as its rising cost, Adrien Choux is happy to have started his brand there. “Hong Kong is a good place to start a brand and the new Timepiece Extravaganza hall here at the show is a step up from last year,” he says. “But even so, it’s a tough task for me to sell the brand to someone who has been selling Rolex for over 20 years. You have watch stores on every street corner here in Hong Kong but they all carry the same brands. Very few stock independent brands. It may seem quite surprising that not a single store has been willing to take on my brand, but that is because they don’t know how to sell the watches. They don’t really sell watches at all, in fact, they are just order takers.”
The Chinese Timekeeper showcased two new pieces at the fair, one with a snake dial (for the Chinese Year of the Snake) and one with white jade hour markers. Look out for a new ladies’ collection coming in the future, which will feature a smaller, 39mm case and red jade.
- Above: CTK 17 - Bottom: CTK 18 – White Jade Automatic by The Chinese Timekeeper
- CTK 17: This limited edition of 18 pieces celebrates the Chinese Year of the Snake with a snake enveloping the entire watch, from front to back, crossing over the dial and covering all four parts of the case structure. The strap is made of a taupe-coloured snake skin.
CTK 18 – White Jade Automatic: The rarer form of white jade, rather than the more common green variety, is used as the hour markers on this limited edition of 18 pieces. The 44mm case consists of four rings of stainless steel with a black PVD treatment, inside which beats a CTK 6300 calibre self-winding movement, produced by the Hangzhou Watch Company, that offers 36 hours of power reserve.
Vishal Tolani, Director of local company Solar Time, has a fine knack for storytelling. Since all of Solar Time’s in-house brands are engineered for a specific retail channel, each requires its own individual story. Last year, the company launched the Earnshaw brand, targeted at TV shopping channels with a ready-made story about the watchmaker. The brand has since grown and entered duty-free and general retail stores. “We are creating a stable of in-house brands to feed every different platform,” explains Mr Tolani, “and we change our offering to adapt to the market situation.”
Mr Tolani has turned his attention this year to an interesting project that has created yet another story: the development of CCCP, the lesser-known brand of Alexander Shorokhoff. “We met a few years ago,” Tolani explains, “and he explained that CCCP was his ‘diffusion’ range but that he didn’t have the time he needed to dedicate to it. We had some new old stock Slava movements, so it made a compelling story to have a Soviet-era brand with genuine Soviet-era movements.”
“We are creating a stable of in-house brands to feed every different platform and we change our offering to adapt to the market situation.” Vishal Tolani, Solar Time
The Slava 2427 self-winding movement features in the new CCCP Sputnik model, which commemorates the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957 and thus the start of the space race. The elegant design of this piece, which exposes its unusual movement both on the front and back, has elongated hour markers and spoke-like lines radiating out from the centre that recall the distinctive design of the Sputnik space probe. CCCP also offers models inspired by the legendary Soviet Delta and Shchuka submarines, using more commonplace Swiss and Japanese movements.
- Sputnik by CCCP
Another local company, Acestar, also had an interesting story to tell thanks to an agreement with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam that gives it the rights to use any one of around a thousand paintings from the Dutch master for its watch collections. For its “Van Gogh” timepiece brand, the company has contented itself with the most famous works, such as the Sunflowers and Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait, which are painted on the semi-transparent case back and, in some cases, on the dial. The watches are available in steel or 18-carat gold with quartz and automatic movements. As Esther Wong, President of Acestar, explained to Europa Star, they are primarily destined for the domestic market. ”We have signed an agreement with a TV shopping channel and we will be putting the watches into stores by December in Hong Kong and China,” she says. “We will then look to expand in Europe.”
- Van Gogh by Acestar
A Van Gogh exhibition was held in Hong Kong earlier in the year in celebration of the painter’s 160th anniversary. During this exhibition, reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings sold for 250,000 Hong Kong dollars (approximately 30,000 Swiss francs) and Acestar sold 70 per cent of its watch stock at the event.
Continuing the art theme, and that of famous painters in particular, odm (slogan: “Never too late”) launched a collection featuring designs by pop artist Keith Haring some 28 years after Swatch first did so. The collection features three different dial designs with the artist’s unmistakable dancing characters. After presenting a touch-sensitive digital watch not totally dissimilar to another Swatch offering at last year’s show, the brand continued its focus on analogue displays this year with its new Cubic and Swing models, the former highlighting the figures 2,3,5 and 9 in a three-dimensional style on the dial (23:59 also features in the brand’s tagline), while the latter is a respectable imitation of a mechanical watch, complete with rotating gears and blue hands and screws.
- Swing by ODM
The emphasis at new brand AddInc was on neither analogue nor digital but on new technology. While the watch world is abuzz with “wearable computing”, as everyone eagerly awaits Apple’s answer to the numerous other interactive watches already available on the market, such as the Cookoo, Pebble and, most recently, the Samsung Gear, AddInc seems to have opened up a whole new niche that could be called “wearable social media”.
Using 2.4GHz near-field communication (NFC), the Android-compatible “AddMe” watch allows the wearer to share his or her profile with anyone wearing a similar watch simply by bringing the two timepieces close together.
One second is all it takes to exchange the information, without the need to pair the two devices. The obligatory application tied in with the watch allows the wearer to choose from one of 10 different high-resolution watch dials and screensavers, while the promise of a staggering 365 different straps will ensure that the young and trendy consumers that the watch is targeted at will literally be able to wear a different watch every day. It will be interesting to see how the AddMe shapes up against the numerous competing “connected” watches when it launches globally on 30th November 2013.
- A model shows off the new AddMe watch
Making up barely more than one per cent of the total exhibitors (only eight out of the 755 exhibitors at the show were from the spiritual homeland of watchmaking), the few Swiss exhibitors present fitted in well with the low to mid-range offerings seen at the majority of exhibitors at the show. Having gradually mutated from a sales-based operation to an assembly and production facility that works for other brands, Swiss Watch Trading, based in Biel, showcased its new brand Taller as the company’s first in-house brand and was exhibiting for the first time in Hong Kong. Taller, which has taken two years to develop as a brand, takes its name from the “Thaler”, the ancient coin used throughout Europe for hundreds of years (and the root of the word “dollar”). Its first markets for distribution are Russia and the CIS countries, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Poland.
According to Mr Jean-Claude Racine, President of the Board, the brand will then expand “according to opportunities”. Taller offers quartz and mechanical watches in a price range from 300-2,000 Swiss francs, with the average price hovering around 450 Swiss francs and the collection split equally between ladies’ and gents’ watches.
Swiss exhibitors make up barely one per cent of the total.
Inspiration for the new collection presented by Blauling at the show came from a visit to the Papillorama butterfly park near Neuchâtel (Bläuling is the German name for a genus of gossamer-winged butterfly). Neuchâtel-based Faithtex, the company behind the brand, first presented this concept at BaselWorld in 2011 but it is now available as a collection of some 100 references that retail between 270 and 500 US dollars. Butterflies, as well as other wildlife and plants, feature heavily as decorations on the elegant mother-of-pearl dials of the watches. The Swiss Made Blauling timepieces use Ronda quartz movements and have bezels and dials set with cubic zirconia and Swarovski crystals. The latest models presented in Hong Kong have small-seconds or off-centre time indications that free up more room for the delicate dials, which use relief and 3D effects to highlight their decorative nature. Blauling promises to launch 20 new references each year and is targeting the markets of the Middle East, Russia and Asia, where the brand plans to open eight points of sale in China this year.
The jointly-owned L’Duchen & Steinmeyer brands were present at the show for the first time, although “more to be present than to sell, so that we can awake the interest of the Asian customers so that they come to Basel,” according to Phillipe Barro, Export Manager for the brand. The L’Duchen brand stands for the “simplest expression of a Swiss watch”, while the Steinmeyer brand is a lower priced, sportier offering that is intended to provide an alternative to private label production. Steinmeyer presented new football, basketball, ice skating and automobile-themed lines at the show.
For Mr Barro, the emphasis is on offering genuine value for money. “Look at BaselWorld, there are not so many brands offering traditional watches at a reasonable price,” he says. “In Hall 2 you have brands with complications or technical designs with, for example a technical bezel that adds to the price. Brands do this to add value so that they can charge a higher price. We want to offer a traditional watch with value for money.”
Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips may not be a household name (neither is it a name that trips off the tongue, if you will forgive the pun), but if this racing driver had not imported the first go-karts into Germany from Sebring in the USA and built his own racing circuit, a certain Mr Schumacher might never have become his assistant and his son may never have taken up motor racing and become a seven-times Formula 1 world champion. Graf Berghe von Trips lends his name posthumously to one of the collections of German brand Elysee, as does Jochen Mass, another German motor racing legend. Numerous other motorsport allusions are found both in the brand’s communications and the design of its models (with the exception of a few classical pieces and some ladies’ watches), which sell for between €150 (quartz) and €1,998 (Valjoux 7750). The watches are made in Düsseldorf, primarily for export to 25 countries, including Russia, USA, South Africa, Hong Kong and the Middle East. “It would be cheaper to do Swiss Made,” admits Managing Director Rainer Seume, “but then we would just be one of hundreds of other brands.”
Danish brand Obaku, for which Hong Kong is the biggest market, had a suitably luxurious stand to showcase its minimalist designs. The brand’s emphasis at the show this year was on two new ladies’ models with elegantly integrated mesh bracelets. In both cases, the purity of the round case and its dial is disturbed only by the Swarovski crystals used as hour markers, as well as the Obaku logo. Available in steel and yellow or rose-gold plated versions, both models are the height of understatement, with the V162 model pushing the minimalism to its logical conclusion by hiding the crown of the watch to leave the perfect circle.
Hong Kong is the biggest market for Danish brand Obaku.
There was a cloud of uncertainty hanging over this year’s Hong Kong Watch & Clock show that had been precipitated by various factors. The fact that the dates of the show coincided with the Jewish New Year festival led to a noticeable absence of American Jews, an important buying group.
Worries about China’s anti-corruption drive may not contribute directly to buyers staying away from the Hong Kong show, but may certainly account for a lull in trade, even though an article in Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper The Standard, published during the Fair, claimed that “the political class in China is so awash with dirty money that a genuine cleansing is effectively impossible.” Although one observer at the show claimed that “you can’t stop people going into a shop to buy a watch,” the drop in trade between China and Japan after some posturing over the disputed Senkaku islands (Diaoyu to the Chinese) shows just how much China’s political clout can affect trade.
There are rumours that the Hong Kong Show may be split into two to better differentiate between OEM/ODM suppliers and brands.
The show itself also faced competition this year from the eagerly anticipated first “Watches & Wonders” exhibition organised by Switzerland’s Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, primarily for the Richemont Group brands. There were even rumours that the Hong Kong Show may be split into two to better differentiate between OEM/ODM suppliers and brands. Continued improvements to add a greater touch of luxury to the show, like those seen this year, would undoubtedly help it to evolve. Like the “wine cellar” at the show that neither stocked nor sold wine, however, Hong Kong needs to be careful about delivering on its promises, especially when it boasts that it is “the world’s biggest watch fair”.
The annual Hong Kong Watch & Clock design competition once again proved that there is no end to the fantasy of students freed from any technical watchmaking constraints and pre-conceptions. Here are this year’s best designs in the student category.
STUDENT CATEGORY Winning design: “Shuttle”, by Cheung Sui Cheung of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education This bangle design consists of two tracks, each with its own independent watch dial that can move on sliders (one for the time, one for the chronograph).
2ND RUNNER-UP: “CHASING” by Wong Lai Ching of the Hong Kong Design Institute Inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, this piece encourages the wearer to chase their dream. Icarus’s dream may have ended tragically, but now as then, the future will always be an unknown.
1ST RUNNER-UP: “SQUARE” by Au Ka Kin of the School for Higher and Professional Education (SHAPE) in collaboration with Birmingham City University The mystical dial of this piece mingles elements of “Bagua”, which represent the fundamental principles of reality in Taoist cosmology, with constellations to represent the universe. The snake tail hands are the symbol of Fuxi, a figure from Chinese mythology.
Source: Europa Star October - November 2013 Magazine Issue