Dazzle, bling, shine, glitz and above all class and high quality at the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair (HKW&CF), the world’s largest timepiece fair which opened on 7th September for a week of displaying its best for the world to see. Serious testimony to the importance of this fair in world markets is the appearance of High Horology brands from the major Swiss stables. Participating brands included A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Chopard, Franck Muller, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Panerai, Piaget and Vacheron Constantin.
Hong Kong is the world’s second-largest watch and clock exporter and growing demand from the Chinese mainland is expected to further expand the HK market. The city is also the top import market for Swiss watch products, with January to June 2011 imports from Switzerland totalling USD 2 billion, a 45% increase over the same period last year. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the fair, Hong Kong Trade Development Council Deputy Executive Director Benjamin Chau announced Hong Kong’s timepiece exports rose 25%, year-on-year, to USD 4 billion in the first half of 2011. These are indeed very substantial growth figures and there was a strong feeling of optimism pervading buyers and sellers at the fair.
A safe haven in financial turmoils
Not unrelated was the news from Switzerland which Richemont released in Geneva on 7th September: “sales for the five months ended 31 August 2011 increased by 29% at actual exchange rates. At constant exchange rates, sales increased by 35%.” It is clear that sovereign default worries in Europe or the USA and global financial crises are of little consequence to the fraternity of watch and clock buyers around the world. Given that high-end watches never seem to sell for less than their original price, this probably signals that they have a ‘safe haven’ status in times of financial turmoil.
Nearly 17,000 buyers attended the Fair, with emerging market visitors up more than 12% over last year. The Middle East was up 46%, Indonesia up 40%, Malaysia up 34%, India up 29% and the Chinese mainland up 11%. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council conducted a survey and researchers gathered opinions from 408 exhibitors and 705 buyers. This survey showed that industry players are cautiously optimistic about the coming year, believing that the Chinese mainland market will be bright. More than 80% of exhibitors interviewed received orders, or were negotiating orders, during the fair.
A promotional platform
The HKW&CF is a very serious promotional platform into China and this accounts for the growing Swiss recognition of the primary targets of the fair in penetrating China’s voracious markets for European branded luxury products. So this biggest fair of all for watches and clocks opened for a warm sunny week in the spacious Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre looking out over Hong Kong’s lovely Victoria Harbour. Centrepiece of the Swiss was a dazzling watch from Vacheron Constantin with no fewer than 186 emerald-cut diamonds weighing about 160ct and priced at about six million pounds. But side-by-side with the diamonds was the world’s first clamshell cell phone with an integrated tourbillon watch, LeDIX by Celsius X VI II – and all to be found in the exclusive World Brand Piazza zone of the Brands Gallery which featured more than 110 brands.
Beijing Watch Factory has produced a superb unique piece entitled “Peace of Athena.” This is a reference to the closing lines of The Odyssey, an epic tale by Homer, about the adventures of the Greek hero, Odysseus, written about 700BC. The Goddess Athena can take human form and she contrives, in ways which would sorely test today’s pragmatic beliefs, to bring the tale to a peaceful end. Empathetic inspiration engaged the goldsmiths at Beijing Watch to produce this repoussé 18kt gold representation of this exquisitely realised tranquil scene of a Goddess in womanly form. Beijing Watch also exhibited the FU LU SHOU XI series from an original theme of well-known ancient Chinese paintings: the “Bat and the Pine,” “Paradise Flycatcher” and others, present scenes of peace and tranquillity. The enamel colours have been beautifully coordinated with a soft iridescence reminiscent of the ancient Chinese painting style
In the technical department, Beijing Watch has produced their magnificent TAIJI double axis three dimension tourbillon. Beijing Watch describes it as a tourbillon rotating separately around two mutually perpendicular axes. Its main axis is just like the traditional tourbillon which is rotating 1 r/min around the Z axis. The auxiliary motion rotates in 7.5 minutes around the X axis. At the same time, both of the horizontal and vertical tourbillons are running around the two mutually perpendicular axes. Certainly this raises the bar in the interesting and never-ending unspoken competition to attain the greatest possible complication of the original 1795 invention by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Tianjin Sea-Gull produces a quarter of the world’s mechanical watch movements, and has been manufacturing watches and movements since 1955. Sea Gull, active with its R&D and ever watchful of R&D in Switzerland, is now introducing silicon components and this year is making a most elegant flying tourbillon using a Chinese-made silicon hairspring.
Sea Gull also produced a rather more traditional watch movement with an integrated music mechanism which will play for about 20 seconds. But their most appealing piece is a wristwatch with flying tourbillon which incorporates a full sapphire crystal movement construction. There is nowhere to hide in this watch – it can all be seen
Big strides in R&D
Yantai Polaris is celebrating 90 years under their trademark “Polaris” and its products have been exported to more than one hundred countries since the 1930s. Polaris has an astonishing range of clocks from traditional longcase through elegant slender longcase models and exquisite polished and gilded brass table clocks under glass. At the fair this year, Polaris had additions to their range of table clocks which, in keeping with industry preoccupations across the world, include tourbillons to create observer interest
In terms of fineness of finish and decoration the Swiss are on their own. Nevertheless the Chinese have made very big strides in R&D and penetration of the collectors market. Each year there are big advances. There is no comparison of watches produced in China today with those of ten years ago. The Chinese are clever but the Swiss are artful and will always be a step ahead of the Chinese. What is clear however is that the Swiss already need to share some of the rewards of this market and it is only a question of how much to share.
Announcement of the winners of the 28th annual Hong Kong Watch and Clock Design Competition was timed to allow the winners to get valuable exposure at the fair. Themes for the design competition were “Classic Reunion,” in the Open Category and “Dream Team” in the Student Category. Winners were selected from more than 210 entries. A pocket watch that can also wrap around your wrist and a wristwatch that uses a world map to help keep track of two time zones have earned top honours. The champions are Wincy Horological Ltd’s “10.2” in the Open Group, and “Globe Watch,” by Fok Yiu Chor, a student at the School for Higher and Professional Education (SHAPE), in the Student Group.
Wincy Horological Ltd’s designer said watches can be made with classic design, and “classic for me is something that never ends, beauty that lasts.” The designer said the 10.2 includes a hand-winding mechanism, creating a combination modern watch and pocket watch which avoids “sacrificing the core spirit of a pocket watch and allows its classic nature to stand out.”
Student Group champion Fok Yiu Chor observed that Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) helps divide the world into different time zones: “many existing watch designs do not provide a user-friendly interface for GMT.” The world map dial in his design helps the wearer visually connect two different places with two different time zones.