The July 7 Styles section of The New York Times declared that "Watches are Rediscovered by the Cellphone Generation." As recently as five years ago, pundits were declaring the watch to go the way of the dodo bird. Now, consumers are discovering the joy of mechanical timepieces. What is interesting is that wearing a watch is no longer used to tell time.
Instead, its role is to reflect the wearer's station in life and taste level. According to the article, sales of moderately priced watches (between $150 and $1,000) have increased +15% versus year ago and luxury watches (between $10,000 and $25,000) have posted an astonishing +33% despite the Great Recession.
The Chinese continue their obsession of watches. I was recently in the Cartier store in Wangfujing Plaza in Beijing, where the business was on fire. I noticed one man purchasing six watches, of which three were identical. I asked him who they were for and he said that the three identical watches were for his wife, his daughter and his mistress. The remaining watches were for his personal use.
We recently interviewed mainland Chinese high-net worth watch buyers, and they indicated that they would buy more if manufacturers such as Jager-LeCoultre, Tissot, Titoni offered limited-edition items. Piaget is set to release a set of watches that incorporate traditional Chinese symbols and design elements. According to Jing Daily, the upcoming Piaget Altiplano Dragon and Phoenix wristwatch series, which the company will officially unveil this December, features the dragon and phoenix -- two figures central to Chinese culture and mythology -- along with traditional touches like cloisonné and enameling.
Interestingly, taste in watch styles appears to be global with consumers continuing to gravitate towards jumbo statement pieces with the larger faces, bolder styling and detailing that are preferably mechanical, handmade and one of a kind.
The question is, can manufacturers keep up with the demand. There is a shortage of skilled watch makers and the decision by the Swatch Group, the top supplier of watch movements, to dramatically reduce movement sales to companies outside its group, has caused watch makers to scramble to fill the void. Already, high-end manufacturers such as Rolex are reporting difficulties in supplying forecasted demand.
I'm predicting that 2012 will be The Year of the (Men's) Watch as I find women's watches to be a little "sissy" and look forward to seeing the tsunami of new styles that will be launched in the coming months.