Time-Tested Time Pieces | A Brief Insight into the Watch Industry

The Swiss are renowned the world over for their watch industry. Swiss watches enjoy a reputation that is unrivalled. This did not occur by happenstance. This accolade was centuries in the making. In 2007, the Swiss watch industry came together to strengthen the criteria of the label that identifies one of its watches as ‘Swiss made’.

The theft of an intellectual property right as well as the problem of counterfeiting remains a key area of concern for luxury brands. According to statistics, the Swiss watch industry only produces 30 million original watches per year, with the ‘fake’ industry believed to be worth an estimated $400 billion a year.

The top three biggest markets for luxury watches in 2021 were: the USA, China and Hong Kong. In a HBR article called Luxury for the Masses, it is noted that America’s middle-market consumers are trading up to higher levels of quality and taste. This consists of some 47 million households. They are willing to pay premiums of 20% to 200% for the kinds of well-designed, well-engineered and well-crafted goods which possess the artisanal touches of traditional luxury goods. This is believed to be a new consumer market.

The Beginnings of Watch Making

The Swiss watch and clock industry appeared in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century. In 1541, Jean Calvin banned the wearing of ornamental objects. This had the effect of forcing goldsmiths and jewellers to turn to a different art: that of watchmaking.

By the end of the century, Geneva had acquired a reputation for watchmaking and in 1601, the Watchmakers Guild of Geneva was established. It was the first of its kind in the world.

For more than four centuries after its inception, the Swiss watch industry maintained its leadership in the world market. The keys to its unrivalled success: tradition, expertise, technology and innovation.

It was and is an industry that was created and built to last.

Wrist Watch for Sale

When I was working at the Great Pineapple, I sold many watches. More than what I can recall and remember. Despite the number of options available in terms of customisations, customers would still buy the same old time-tested designs.

A deep sense of dread used to go through me whenever we had ‘a watch customer’. They would come in and try on a gazillion straps. That was part of the fun. For them, anyway. But in the end, they would mostly pick a classic and walk out of the store.

This got me thinking: how much of this strap selection thing is just something to get people through the door? Also, the functions (or should I say gimmicks) that seem to get people excited. We don’t actually need most of them. But we do seem to get addicted to viewing our workout stats, our heart rate and so on. This goes for any smart watch. We get to know ourselves through these statistics, it seems. We also compare our stats with our friends.

As much as I love all these tech gimmicks, the truth is that anything tech-related is generally not created to last. A few years, tops. Even if the hardware is working, the software updates will render it obsolete. Within a year or two, your model can go from brand-spanking new to legacy. (Someone really should teach people in the tech industry how to use English properly).

Recently, I got to thinking about something I learnt when I was young. The act of buying a luxury watch as an investment. It’s not really that much of an old-school idea. Back in the day, as in really back in the day, before women could own property; they would own jewellery. This is why women zealously guarded their trousseau. It was their inheritance. These jewels and gems were their assets. If they were to befall any calamity, they could liquidate these portable assets and save themselves and their families from any disaster that might befall them.

To them, these luxury goods were not a consumable, but an investment. Can you say the same about your own purchase?

When you buy what you buy, especially when it has a hefty price tag on it; are you thinking of the future? Are you purchasing a heirloom that you will one day be able to pass down–or are you only thinking of yourself?


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