2017 Year In ReviewWritten by Alvin Wong
Horological happenings of the past 12 months.
SILVER LINING AT LAST?
After a prolonged slump for the business – particularly for Swiss luxury watch brands – that stretched all the way back to 2012, tentative signs of recovery are starting to show. According to reports by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, barring a slight dip in February, export figures have climbed steadily for consecutive months.
Observers attribute the rally to a resurgent Chinese market, which ironically contributed to the slump in the first place due to the country’s anti-graft campaign. The rebound is not for all, though. For instance, some key markets like the United States and Japan are still reporting a decline, while closer to home, Singapore retailers are cautiously optimistic after seeing a slight bump in revenue. Nobody is feeling particularly bullish just yet, but storm clouds appear to be clearing up for now.
The question to ask after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in September that the Apple Watch has become the top-selling watch globally isn’t how or why it is so. The dominance of smartwatches, while swift, has been on the cards. The question that watch buffs ought to be asking is: What is the response from the mechanical incumbents?
Not surprisingly, some traditional brands have delivered a like-for-like riposte with their own. TAG Heuer has been particularly successful with its Connected Watch collection, now in its second run, with latest models allowing customisation options and the chance to trade up for mechanical versions. Brands like Montblanc and Louis Vuitton, too, have rolled out their own, positioning their creations as more upscale and exclusive. It remains to be seen, though, if the battle ought be to waged on the digital turf.
The year was marked by a number of high profile CEO departures. The earlier half of the year saw long-serving Richemont Group stalwarts such as Philippe Léopold-Metzger handing over the reins of Piaget, a job he has held since 1999, to Chabi Nouri; and Juan-Carlos Torres, who retired as CEO of Vacheron Constantin, a company he joined as an accountant in 1988, at the age of 25.
But perhaps the biggest surprise departure of all was Georges Kern (above), who unexpectedly resigned from his position as Richemont Group’s head of watchmaking in July. Widely tipped to be a candidate for the CEO’s position at the luxury conglomerate, Kern later emerged to have taken on the job of CEO at Breitling, a brand where he also acquired a minority stake as shareholder.
PAYS TO BE SAFE
In a volatile retail climate that leaves little room for error, watch brands proved that they would rather err on the side of caution when it came to creative output. The tentative market rebound we spoke of earlier can be attributed in no small measure to the fail-safe and trend-friendly collections that dominated 2017’s roll-outs. Retro-inspired reissues, for one, were immensely popular. Top on many collectors’ wish-lists this year include Omega’s 1957 Trilogy collection, TAG Heuer’s Autavia reissue, and Longines’ Heritage 1945.
SIZE ME DOWN
Mark this number: ‘38’. If this year’s newfound favourite case size is anything to go by, the gender-neutral 38mm case is going to be a familiar sight for years to come. Admittedly women appear to be the primary beneficiaries, but there are also a lot of unisex options that fit snugly on men’s wrists. For options that offer lots of his-and-hers mileage, check out Bell & Ross’ vintage-inspired BR V1-92 automatic watch, Blancpain’s newest version of the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscape, and Nomos Glashütte’s casually refined Campus 38 collection.
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.