For watch brands, Christmas is a piece of cake (or should that be pudding?). All it takes is an original watch, but not the kind that comes with a hefty price tag attached. It has to retail under the CHF 5,000 mark, the new psychological price barrier, and there has to be someone sexy fronting the ad campaign (think Charlize Theron headlining Breitling’s glam-tastic squad). It has to be sold in a tony ski resort (where the men take to the slopes while the wives hit the shops), or a major city’s fanciest neighbourhood (the Champs-Élysées, decked out in twinkling lights and trampled by an army of tourists), or in a glamorous duty-free store, such as at Istanbul’s new airport (200 million passengers expected in 2028).
It sits proudly in the window, between a hopelessly unaffordable model and a CHF 50,000 tourbillon (the watch equivalent of the girl next door). It’s surrounded by feel-good merchandising, or is part of an event. At Cartier, for instance, where grooms perch on mountains of gifts when they aren’t conveying armfuls of those famous red and gold bags. Or at the Chaumet pop-up, on the second floor of the Bon Marché department store in Paris, where a wall of fabulous tiaras is a chance to enjoy a vicarious Meghan Markle moment. Otherwise, as worn by Jessica Chastaing, Piaget’s ambassador who switched on the Christmas tree lights at Galeries Lafayette (another Parisian department store), giving the brand unique exposure to the European but also Korean, Chinese and Middle Eastern tourists who form a large part of its clientele.
Santa's on his way...
At this stage, the customer is nicely primed. When he or she steps inside the store, they enter a world this big (picture someone stretching their arms wide open). What comes next is dictated by a set of codes and values which the retailer knows by heart. First off, their X-ray vision tells them who exactly came through the door. An athlete, an art-lover or an adventurer. A traditionalist. Or plain undecided. Now it’s about winning them over. Smell those perfumed candles, filling the air with the scent of wood smoke and cinnamon. Plump down on that Chesterfield sofa, draped with the softest of cashmere blankets. Imagine that iconic watch – a TAG Heuer Carrera, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, a Rolex Oyster, an Omega Speedmaster (which in 2019 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first man on the Moon) – that no-one can resist.
Already, that step up the social ladder, the companion to a successful career, is lighting up the customer’s eyes. Unless it’s nerves. What to do when you had dinner all planned, then one of the guests starts the countdown to new year with his brand-new Zenith chrono? For the retailer, it’s thank you and goodnight. The customer has let down his guard, has reconnected with his inner child (Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You is playing on a loop in his cortex). The retailer, meanwhile, is humming Oh Happy Day as he rings up the purchase and gives thanks for the watch as status symbol, rather than simply a means of telling the time.
He's got some toys for girls and boys...
Of course, a successful sale is linked to the strength of the Swiss watch industry these past 18 months. In 2017, shipments came within a whisker of the CHF 20 billion mark. Praise be to the Chinese who, not content to buy watches at home, also make purchases on their travels. If the watch industry is back in the black after the dry spells of 2015 (-3.3%) and 2016 (-9.9%), it’s thanks to Asia. Glory to the Asian customers who step over a boutique threshold in the next couple of days. During the holiday season, they are the watch industry’s guardian angels, Santa’s helpers, Mother and Father Christmases all rolled into one (the Chinese make 75% of their luxury purchases abroad).
Oh hear the merry sleigh!
For everyone else still desperately seeking their dream watch, here are a few pointers. Do some research online then pay a visit to a store (doing the groundwork online may be the big trend right now, nothing replaces the boutique experience). Let your emotions be your guide (the grail for the Millennial generation). Stop asking your colleague who thinks that replacing the battery in his quartz watch with a penknife makes him an expert. And be prepared for an amazing, incredible Christmas. Even crazier than when you were four, and Santa brought you the unicorn or dinosaur Flik Flak that taught you how to tell the time. And have a ticking, tocking, happy Christmas!