The Watch Culture in Rumania (Part II)

January 2004

The observations cited in the previous 'Letter from Rumania' (see Europa Star 4.03) on the perception of Swiss watches and others in Rumania, even if they correspond to the real situation, were not supported by any kind of statistical study. To substantiate the article, we conducted an opinion poll with members of the general public, watch specialists and retailers. Based on a representative sampling in each category, including age, the general public results corresponded overall with our expectations. The general public group that we polled was made up basically of city dwellers, for reasons which are easy to understand. Questionnaires for the three categories involved various and specific issues. The following tells what we found and how we analyzed the results. The numbers speak...

The public's opinions
The general public was divided into two categories based on age: adults, who generally had completed higher studies, and young people less than 18 years old. We subdivided the results also by the sex of the participants.
The first observation was that nearly 95% of the subjects under 18 years old and 100% of the adults considered that “the watch is a necessity” in today's society. A surprising result was that the only ones who considered the watch as a luxury item were young boys.
The mechanical watch was preferred to quartz, but only by a small margin. The 'score' was 58.33% (mechanical) to 41.67% (quartz) for adults and 60% to 40% for the under-18 group. We also observed that there was no clear difference between men's and women's choices. The reasons for the relatively close 'score' are the precision of quartz and its lower prices.
As far as 'return on investment' goes, 66.33% of younger consumers considered the mechanical watch to be a good investment. Of the entire group polled, 57% thought it to be a good investment, and of these, most were male, especially in the younger category.
It should also be noted that some people, convinced of the importance of the mechanical watch, indicated their preference for older pieces made by prestige brands. To round out the poll, a little more than 8% of people questioned were undecided about mechanical timepieces.
From a qualitative rather than quantitative point of view, 95.74% of those polled thought that Swiss watch brands dominated the market, with the remaining few per cent declaring Japan as the leader in advanced watch technology and production. According to 57.44%, Japan holds the second position as a watch producer, followed by Germany and the United States. Other watch producing countries named in the survey were Russia, Great Britain, France, Italy and Austria. In respect to these latter markets, a certain amount of confusion exists between the quantitative and qualitative aspects.

The favourites
The lack of a true watch culture in Rumania became obvious when the subjects were questioned on the name of the most famous manufacturer in the world. The snobbism, reputation and mystery surrounding Rolex propelled this brand to the summit of the timekeeping hierarchy, according to two-thirds of the under-18 age group. Young women especially positioned Rolex at the top. Following brands were Swatch, Mido, TAG Heuer, Raketa, Poljot, Omega, Doxa and Casio. Products from these brands are currently the favourites of secondary school students in Rumania.
Male adults preferred IWC, Seiko, Omega, Doxa, and Citizen and ignored Rolex. With no clear idea, women did not exhibit a preference for one brand over another. High prestige brands such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Girard Perregaux, Audemars Piguet, Piaget, Ulysse Nardin, Breguet, Blancpain, Lange & Söhne, Jaquet Droz, Chopard, Parmigiani, among others, were not listed as choices.
In the realm of materials, more than 95% of those polled in the general public preferred precious metals (gold, platinum, silver) as well as steel. There was no expressed interest in the untraditional materials such as plastic, titanium and special ceramics.
To the question of what is the minimum price for a prestige watch, we got answers ranging from 20 to 25 euros, ranging up to 100,000 euros. While 37.14% of young people indicated a minimum price of 1000 euros, only 20% of the adults shared this view, for a total of 12.47% of the total population surveyed. The adults estimated 5000 euros to be the minimum price for a prestige timekeeper, more in keeping with reality.
The results of this public opinion poll confirm what we said in the last article. While common sense as well as information provided by the media contributed to people giving correct answers to the major questions regarding types of watches, dominant producing countries and types of materials used, the polled population showed less knowledge of the various brands, their products and prices. Women accorded more importance to the shape, design and materials of a timepiece while basically ignoring the aspects of mechanical movements and precision.

The specialists' viewpoint
By specialists, we mean those who currently repair watches. Most of these people work in old, or some less old, workshops dealing primarily with mechanical timepieces. A few (especially those who have worked in this domain for decades) buy, recondition and then resell more or less famous brand name watches. They are, in a way, real restorers. There are also those who work for Swiss brands to maintain their after-sales service in Rumania.
As might be expected, 100% of specialists questioned considered the watch a necessity and the mechanical timepiece to be superior over quartz. They even talked about the advantages of each category of watches.
In continuous contact with watches, they were able to be more precise in explaining the main problems of the mechanical timepiece. About 75% considered that it is not sufficiently resistant to shocks and that it is less accurate than a quartz movement. According to these experts, the balance staff is the most delicate part and the least resistant to damage. They also expressed the opinion that replacement parts are not easily available, especially for older models.
The term complication is generally associated with problem. After a brief explanation, the experts stated that chronographic and date functions are the main complications of a mechanical timekeeper. Half of the subjects questioned believe that the mechanical watch has undergone overall improvement, while 25% think that these improvements are only related to precision. The other 25% don't share these opinions about the mechanical watch.
They all largely agreed that Switzerland is the market leader in the prestige segment, followed by Japan as the 'vice leader'. The most important aspect for them was quality. Among other producers they cited were Germany and Russia. On the other hand, they ignored France, Great Britain and Italy, countries that have certainly marked the evolution of the watch industry.
As might be expected, all these people were convinced that the mechanical watch not only is a good time measuring instrument, a sort of cult object transmitted from one generation to the next, but that it also represents a solid investment.
As a tribute to the past, when only a few brands were present on the Rumanian market, some specialists considered products by Doxa and Atlantic to be the best. Rolexes were also popular while only one person thought Patek Philippe timepieces were the most prestigious in the world. On the other hand, there was complete silence when it came to products from other well known watch producers around the world.
For specialists, in general, other than the watches already cited as the most prestigious, their dream pieces are made by IWC, Vacheron Constantin and Omega. About 75% of those polled already own one or more Swiss watches, principally from the brands Longines, Omega and Universal Genève.
Precious metals, stainless steel and titanium were the materials the most evoked for watches, as is expected. Although well-versed in this domain, 75% of the specialists polled indicated, very surprisingly, that100 euros was the price division between prestige and other watches, while 25% placed the demarcation at 1000 euros, somewhat closer to the actual situation.
In conclusion, while professionals had clear ideas on the functional and practical aspects of watches, often showing ingenuity in solving technical problems, people working in the sector are not necessarily up-to-date on the subtleties of the offer, and are largely ignorant of the prestige watch sector.

What retailers think
Claiming confidentiality to the extreme, several retailers would not answer the questionnaire. The only retailer to express concern proved the fact that this category knows the watch world quite well, and thus can contribute to educating the public.
Again as can be expected, retailers considered the watch a necessity, but one that can become a luxury or cult object when made by a well known prestige brand or when it displays innovative design and precious materials.
Both categories of watches are purchased in large numbers, but for different reasons. The consumer who is interested in mechanical and ecological watches always receives more information from the salesperson that the consumer who buys a quartz piece.
Swiss producers demand that adequate after-sales service be provided at each of their retailers, and in these cases, the workshop is incorporated within the store. In a country that is growing economically, watch sales are doing well. The public increasingly appreciates quality products and the prestige timekeeper has earned its place in the Rumanian market. A wise and consistent policy should ensure the prosperity of the retailer in this nation.
When it comes to choosing brands that enrich a store's product line-up, retailers think first of Patek Philippe and Rolex. Products from companies such as Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux and Blancpain were not in the strategic planning by those retailers polled.
Each category of watch has its place in the overall Rumanian offer and their buyers come from all segments of society. Women remain interested in design and materials, while men are attracted to performance and watch complications. Gold is sovereign, but avant-garde materials are gaining in popularity with younger consumers. When quality matters (read: Swiss brands), price is no object.

The Watch Culture in Rumania (Part 1)