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The Thought Leader Series | Watches: Renewable materials, heightened craftsmanship, and customisation have come to define the luxury watch industry

Digital-meets-brick and mortar formats will dominate the luxury watch retail landscape, even as hyper-personalisation will shape the timepieces of the future.

May 29, 2021 / 06:11 PM IST

Sascha Moeri, CEO, Carl F. Bucherer

Luxury watch brands have used the pandemic to evolve, innovate and challenge themselves. At Carl FBucherer we have adopted sustainable measures, technological advancements, particularly in fields (where) we are global leaders, such as peripheral technology. As a family-owned company, we are flexible, fast, and efficient in adapting to new circumstances.

Sascha Moeri, CEO, Carl F Bucherer. Sascha Moeri, CEO, Carl F Bucherer.

Most watch consumers are no longer obsessed about details such as the size (of the dial) or the material (example, steel or gold) used. They’re more invested in real craftsmanship, true values, a brand’s background, and the sentiment it evokes. They want to buy into meaningful heritage, and they want to know what the company is doing and what it stands for. They want sustainable products that represent lasting value.

Customisation of the watch will gain traction. Consumers want exclusivity in their timepieces. They take pleasure in wearing a watch that reflects individual character. We have been offering customisation over the last few years. Our newly launched Manero Minute Repeater Symphony can be personalised to a large degree.

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Watch consumers are seeking an ‘experience’ while buying a watch, whether the purchase is made online, offline, at a point of sale, or out in the field.

In 2020, we began placing a special emphasis on digital communication to stay in touch with our partners and watch enthusiasts, and that has been a very successful move. Digitalization will accelerate global business and help us to connect with people through smart innovations, such as offering more options for individualisation.

Several watch enthusiasts are more active now than ever, as they pursue their passion. They are spending a lot more time online. So, it’s become considerably more important for us to have a strong online presence. Thankfully, we have already been present in the digital space for many years that substantially contribute to our sales performance.

Watch retail is going to include a hybrid omni channel strategy involving digital as well as brick and mortar. We must keep the balance, bearing in mind that personal experience will remain an essential part of the luxury watch buying process. While a digital outreach is a great first connection with a customer, it needs to translate to a continuously personalised approach.

Sustainability is not a trend anymore; customers expect us to be far more sustainable in our processes. As an industry, we are increasing our collective efforts to achieve sustainability goals. At Carl F. Bucherer, this awareness has resulted in commitments, projects, and timepieces that are exemplars of sustainability. The attempt is to adapt to the changing trends or the demands of the day without changing our DNA or the essence.

For instance, our Patravi ScubaTec Manta watches represent our work with the Manta Trust, a charitable organisation committed to the research and conservation of manta rays. This year, we are funding their floating research station in the Maldives so that they can continue to research the fascinating manta ray species.

Philippe Roten, CEO, Favre Leuba

Much like other luxury segments, sustainability is turning into a defining issue in the luxury watch industry. Affording something luxurious at the expense of the environment will become uncool. Environmental awareness will have a greater impact on luxury than Covid. Sustainability is not a short-term trend. Future generations will take it for granted. If you want to win these future customers, sustainability must not only be a marketing gimmick, but a lived experience.

Philippe Roten, CEO, Favre Leuba. Philippe Roten, CEO, Favre Leuba.

These are the transformations that will change the watch industry: Renewable materials will increasingly be used; the packaging will become more discreet and environmentally conscious; watches from old collections will be reissued; production will become even more centralised and transport routes for production will be avoided; social media and e-commerce will become even more important.

Vintage will remain popular and many brands are courageous enough to use colours in their watches.

The shopping experience will have to see an uptick: A competent and motivated retailer will continue to be successful in the future. But for this to happen, the customer must be offered an even better shopping experience, and the service must be cultivated even better. In the watch industry, e-commerce will not exceed a market share of 15-20% any time soon.

Luxury can mean so many things to so many people. Everything that goes beyond the necessities of life can already be a luxury for individual people. For some, intangible things such as having enough time, is a personal luxury. Luxury makes life more beautiful (and easier) but is not necessary for survival. While Covid will not significantly change our attitude towards luxury, some of us will no longer take health for granted and will value it more as a part of luxury living.

Milvin George, CEO, Lagado Watches

Real luxury will come to mean extreme value creation. Design, craftsmanship, function, distribution and packaging have undoubtedly become crucial features. However, they aren't what will drive ‘Added Luxury Value’. ALV is a precondition that's needed before someone will even consider buying a luxury or premium brand. Lagado is writing a new story in watchmaking by bringing together a legacy of international craftsmanship with the finest of materials.

Milvin George, CEO, Lagado Watches. Milvin George, CEO, Lagado Watches.

Competing watch brands, even retailers, are joining hands to create e-commerce platforms to support and reach their customers, wherever they are. Traditional watch brands that were avoiding going digital have suffered the most during the pandemic and are playing a catch-up game. Digital-first is a new reality.

The travel retail business has been impacted badly and in my opinion, it will recover by end of 2022 or even, the beginning of 2023. Wise duty-free operators should gear up towards launching e-boutiques for luxury goods such as watches, and allow customers to book the items before they travel. At the airport, they can just pick up their products, while heading to their departure gates to catch their flights. People want to spend less time in the airports and are looking to shorten the entire travel journey to avoid crowds.

The consumer will be placed at the centre of the retail ecosystem, and will be surrounded by various touchpoints: e-retailers, brand e-commerce platforms, quintessential brick and mortar stores, brand mono shops and boutiques, as well as events and digital marketing (social media and online advertising). For example, a customer might explore Lagado watches online after being exposed to a paid ad and end up buying the watch in a physical store, or vice versa.

Gaurav Mehta, Founder & CEO, Jaipur Watch Company

The pandemic offered all watchmakers time to introspect, research and innovate. It helped us think up unique, out-of-the-box ideas that will eventually lead to unique products.

Luxury brands will have to get more innovative and are going to base their business model on consumer convenience. The sector is going to move from ‘brand-centric’ to ‘customer-centric’. The era of unobtainable, snotty brands is over; instead, brands will have to rework their vision and values to become more transparent and engage their consumers better. Never before have we experienced so many brands writing to their clients as during the pandemic, to stay in touch or remain visible. This new beginning will see us moving from e-mailers at the moment, to real-life interactive events as we open.

Gaurav Mehta, founder and CEO, Jaipur Watch Company. Gaurav Mehta, founder and CEO, Jaipur Watch Company.

While the price tag will continue to define luxury, what will eventually matter is if your customer “feels good, feels complete,” after buying the watch or any luxury product.

What we know and believe does not hold value anymore. Luxury, like all industries, has taken a 360° turn. The pandemic has changed consumer perspectives and behaviour patterns. The trends that I foresee:

  • Luxury is about experiencing the product before buying it. With the pandemic pushing the world further into the ‘digital’ space, luxury watch brands are reinventing themselves to create unique online experiences for their customers, using tools such as AI.

  • With everyone bearing the brunt of the economic hit, ‘luxury on rent’ is a trend that will catch up. Given that unsold luxury inventory, which is dumped into the trash, is estimated at $500 billion, renting rather than buying luxury will appeal to new-age Gen Z customers.

  • Digital experiences are the future, but physical stores can’t be ruled out as true luxury is an on-ground experience involving touch and feel. Having said that, luxury watch brands will need to rework digital experiences so that they are far superior to what they currently are.

Customers expect high levels of safety and hygiene, whether they are travelling or interacting with a brand. They are ready to invest in premium products but they are looking for options that add value to their lives, while creating a better environment for the world.

Pratik Dalmia, Founder, Regalia Luxury Retail

The tastes and preferences of consumers are evolving. They are willing to spend on products that do not adhere to seasons, products such as watches and accessories that are timeless. Already, certain categories such as watches and men's accessories have done well.

Pratik Dalmia, founder, Regalia Luxury Retail. Pratik Dalmia, founder, Regalia Luxury Retail.

More consumers are today investing in luxury brands, in lieu of the true value that they deliver. This is particularly true since people are not travelling, or willing to travel. The one way to pamper yourself is to indulge in buying luxury products from the safety of their homes, thanks to specialised concierge services provided by brands.

Digital platforms and social media are important arsenals in our sales kitty. Brands are emphasising the need for communication through digital mediums.

Exhibition and retail of watches have changed: On the B2B end, there is a definite shift towards digital events that witness new launches and annual exhibitions. On the direct retailing end, customers are not averse to transacting online or making decisions through digital communication tools, such as WhatsApp, and are, of course, influenced and driven by social media.

More luxury watch brands are introducing recycled and sustainable materials in their supply chains. While this will not become widely commonplace, I believe all brands will have certain products that appeal to a more environmentally conscious audience through their choice of materials.



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Deepali Nandwani is a journalist who keeps a close watch on the world of luxury.
first published: May 29, 2021 05:10 pm
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