With a population of just over 1.1 billion, India is hot on the heels of China and its 1.33 billion inhabitants. A gap that becomes a chasm when comparing exports of Swiss watches. Figures for 2009 show China in seventh place at CHF 700.2 million ($644.2 million) out of a total CHF 13.2 billion ($12.15 billion). Nor does this include Hong Kong, a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, which at CHF 2.16 billion ($1.98 billion) is the number-one destination for Swiss watch exports, well ahead of the United States (CHF 1.47 billion/$1.35 billion). In comparison, India is trailing in twenty-sixth place, with Swiss brands exporting watches for CHF 74.9 million ($68.7 million) in 2009.
This apparent contradiction hasn’t dampened watch firms’ great hopes for India’s growth potential. Some are also banking on the pulling power of high-profile Indian celebrities to fly their colours. A wise decision, according to the ranking drawn up by IC-Agency, a specialist in online marketing and publisher of the annual World Watch Report which tracks brands’ presence on the world wide web, based on users’ searches. Its ranking of the most searched-for ambassadors, all brands taken together, puts the model and Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in second place, as the epitome of Longine’s credo that elegance is an attitude. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has propelled Audemars Piguet to fourth place while Chopard ranks twelfth thanks to Preity Zinta, also a model and Bollywood actress. The same three personalities head the list of ambassadors for searches in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), joined by the Bollywood actor Abhishek Bachchan, ambassador for Omega.
Hollywood under threat?
Says IC-Agency, “Adding India to the study’s scope took Audemars Piguet and Sachin Tendulkar to the top of the ranking of the most searched-for Fine Watch brand ambassadors. More than one out of two searches (55%) were for the Indian cricketer, pushing the 2008 number-one, the actress Diane Kruger for Jaeger-LeCoultre(13%), from first to second place. It’s highly likely that in the years to come, other brand ambassadors from the BRIC markets will rival Hollywood stars and top athletes.”
Tiger Woods for Tag Heuer, Nicole Kidman for Omega, John Travolta for Breitling, Roger Federer for Rolex or Eva Green for Montblanc are still firm favourites, even though the future seems somewhat compromised for Woods. However, the arrival of this new wave of Indian stars shows that watch exports’ centre of gravity is shifting towards markets whose potential remains intact.