Orthodox Swiss watchmakers embrace technology with new products

By Ashika Rajan, Trainee Reporter
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Swiss Watch
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Luxury Swiss watchmakers will debut a new all-digital Watches & Wonders event to showcase their latest products in the hopes of reviving sales hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

High-end watchmakers still rely on physical stores for sales, but the popularity of online pre-owned watch platforms like WatchBox or Richemont’s Watchfinder has shown that luxury timepieces can be sold online. Last year, pandemic-related factory and store closures harmed Swiss watch revenues, prompting brands to grow their mostly small online businesses and reconsider their digital activities.

The Slim d’Hermès GMT
The Slim d’Hermès GMT

Mr. Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President luxury goods group Hermes, told that one of the reasons Hermes’ watch business outperformed the industry last year was that its customers were already used to shopping on hermes.com.

Hermes, which is renowned for leather products, silk scarves, and perfumes, was one of the first pure-play watchmakers to embrace eCommerce, introducing its transactional website in the US nearly 20 years ago.

Mr. Rene Weber, an analyst at financial services company Vontobel, reported that about 2 percent of sales in value terms in the Swiss watch industry were currently performed online, but that the online share varied depending on the brand.

According to other analysts, the online share of sales is between 7percent and 9 percent.
Most Swiss luxury watch brands, such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, have opted to sell their tens of thousands of dollar watches through traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Patek Philippe Watch
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 18K Yellow Gold Watch 3940

Mr. Thierry Stern President of Patek said that selling online is still not a choice for Patek, as evidenced by a test run with retailers during the first lockdown. “People don’t want to buy a Patek online, the watches are expensive, you lose the beauty, the magic,” Mr. Stern added.

The brand has invested in its digital capabilities by recruiting employees and building a studio to produce high-quality virtual product presentations.

H. Moser & Cie, a small independent brand, also invested in digital technology ahead of the Watches & Wonders fair and expressed satisfaction that the prices were smaller than at physical watch fairs.

The official platform for Watches & Wonders, which describes itself as “the biggest watch event ever to take place online,” will enable media and retailers to view presentations from the 38 participating brands.

Oris Co-Chief Executive Mr. Rolf Studer pointed out that “it would be good if consumers could also participate via the Watches & Wonders platform.”

Mr. Studer said that Oris had found other ways to communicate with its customers during the pandemic, citing an Instagram campaign last year that told the stories of local heroes and a watch launch that was broadcast directly to its online community through Zoom.

Related: Apple may release a rugged smartwatch this year; Reports