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Friday, January 17, 2014

China Slows; Europe, US, Middle East Show Strength as Richemont Brands Prepare for SIHH 2014

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Unique Travel Time

The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, considered by many to be the most luxurious and the most exclusive watch fair in the world, begins Monday. A total of 16 luxury brands, nearly all owned by luxury conglomerate Richemont SA, will be providing the first glimpse of what’s in store for 2014 in the world of high-end watches and, to a lesser extent, jewelry.

For the past few years, China has been the largest and fastest growing market for luxury watches and jewelry. However, there may be a shift in the global economy. The Hurun Report, which covers all things wealthy in China, said overall spending on luxury goods dropped 15 percent in Mainland China during the past year and gift-giving spending dropped 25 percent, possibly due to stronger anti-corruption initiatives. For the first time in five years, watch collecting as a pastime lost out to collecting traditional Chinese ink paintings.

Richemont in its preliminary third quarter earnings report said its total sales increased 3 percent to nearly $4 billion. At constant-exchange rates, growth was at 9 percent. 

Jewelry sales rose 4 percent for the period (10 percent at constant exchange rates) and watch sales rose 3 percent (9 percent at constant exchange rates). Montblanc, which sells luxury writing instruments and leather goods in addition to watches and jewelry, saw its sales slide by 4 percent (1 percent increase at constant exchange rates).

By region, the two strongest markets in terms of growth were the combined Europe and Middle East area, which saw its sales grow by 7 percent (9 percent at constant exchange rates) to 1.08 billion euro ($1.37 billion) followed by the Americas region where growth was pegged at 6 percent (12 percent at constant exchange rates) to 480 million euro ($649 million). 

Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific, led by China, grew by 1 percent (6 percent at constant exchange rates) to 1.13 billion euro ($1.52 billion). 

For SIHH, innovations in this small selection of watches that are listed below seem to be more conservative, perhaps due to the shifting global luxury economy. The use of light-weight and ultra-strong materials are not new but seem to be more prevalent this year and are being used more creatively. The five timepieces below represent a glimpse into what the brands will be presenting this coming week. I expect there will be some surprises once the show begins.

Audemars Piguet
The newest version of the Royal Oak Concept GMT Tourbillon features a white ceramic bezel, crown and push-pieces instead of black, all contained in a titanium case. In addition, the watchmaker incorporated ceramic into the movement itself, replacing the blackened upper bridge of Caliber 2913 with white ceramic. The GMT display provides an instant reading of the time in a second time-zone. It is adjusted using the push-piece at 4 o’clock (one press adjusts the time by one hour). The indication of the second time-zone, based on 12 hours, comprises two superimposed discs. The first, on which the figures are inscribed, completes one turn in 12 hours. The second, just below, completes a turn in 24 hours and has 2 colored areas: a white half for daytime and a black half for night-time. The double-barrel system ensures that the watch will runs for as long as 10 days before it needs to be manually wound.

The Le Sentier-based luxury watch brand’s SIHH introductions include the Duomètre Unique Travel Time (top photo), which the company says is the first world-time watch with a “to-the-minute adjustment” of a second time zone. This enables travelers to accurately set the second time zone on all continents and countries regardless of the time difference. The watch employs a “dual-wing” system that divides the Caliber 383 movement into two distinct mechanisms: the first for displaying the local time and the second showing the correct time in a second time zone. The two mechanisms share the same regulating organ but each has its own independent source of energy, thereby avoiding the losses due to interaction between the mechanisms. Each mechanism has a 50-hour power reserve and the same crown serves to wind both barrels. The timekeeping barrel is wound by a counter-clockwise rotation and the travel-time barrel by a clockwise rotation. 

Two subdials, the first at 2 o’clock displays the hour and minute hand; while the second at 10 o’clock hosts the jumping hour and minutes of the travel time. The globe at 6 o’clock displays a world map surrounded by the time-zone indications and the day/night ring. The single crown is used to adjust the local time in position 2 and the travel time in position 1, and to wind the mainsprings. Once both time zones are synchronized, the traveler can use the push-pieces at 8 and 10 o’clock to adjust the jumping hours in the left subdial according to the destination. For non-standard time zones, the minutes can be adjusted separately using the crown in position 1.

The venerable luxury brand is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its TimeWalker collection with the TimeWalker Extreme Chronograph DLC. The watch is covered in a “diamond-like carbon (DLC)” coating described as “Black 4”, which stands for “very black.” The company says it is nearly impossible to fabricate a darker black. The watch is powered by the automatic mechanical Caliber MB 4810/507 equipped with an integrated chronograph function. The black of the new TimeWalker chronograph´s case continues in different shades on the large planar dial. The three subdials—one that reads seconds and two chronograph’s elapsed-time counters—are positioned at 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. Anthracite-grey ruthenium-colored hands and luminescent Superluminova numerals provide contrast to the dark watch. The finishing touch is a black vulcanized rubber strap. 

Ralph Lauren
The brand will be introducing several timepieces for men and women. Among them is the safari adventure “aged-steel” watch available for the first time in a 39mm size. Powered by the RL300-1 caliber, the ultra-masculine case of the RL67 Chronometer 39mm is created through a treatment that transforms the blackened steel into a patina finish. The rugged aesthetic is enhanced with a matte-varnished anthracite dial with dial two luminescent sword-shaped hands and a shiny orange baton stem. The self-winding wristwatch is worn on an olive-green “weathered” canvas strap that pays tribute to the visual accents of an explorer’s shoulder bag.

Vacheron Constantin 
The oldest and one of the most prestigious Swiss watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, will introduce the latest version of its Malte Tourbillon Collection Excellence Platine. The pure, uncluttered platinum dial with a sandblasted finish is discreetly adorned with the inscription “Pt 950” appearing between 4 and 5 o’clock. along with white gold Roman numerals and hour-markers. The tourbillon bearing the seconds hand is at the 6 o’clock position. The platinum tonneau-shaped case measures 38 x 48.24mm. Platinum is also used for the folding clasp on the dark blue alligator strap. The timepiece is powered by the 169-part mechanical hand-wound caliber 2795 with a power reserve of almost two days. The tourbillon carriage displays the brand’s signature Maltese cross emblem.

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