Time may seem to be ticking by slowly for some in the luxury watch industry in America, but for others, it’s moving at a nice pace. Indeed, watch sales – especially on the east and west coasts where sales are also influenced by a steady stream of tourism business – seem to be on the rise.
Indeed, if one looks at Swiss watch exports to the USA, for instance, in what many consider a basically stale month of August of this year, just over CHF 127 million (USD 140 million / EUR 102 million) worth of Swiss watches were shipped here. That number represents a nearly 22 percent increase over the same month in 2010. Of course, no one denies that 2010 was a year in which North America was still embroiled in economic crisis, but this is still an indication of an uptake in business.
“Business is particularly strong in the very high end of watch sales,” says James Seuss, CEO of Tourneau. “We find a real demand for the independent and smaller-production watch brands, such as Hautlence, Richard Mille, Lange & Sohne and similar brands.”
Renewed interest in specialty watches
Tourneau is not alone here. Many of the top retailers across America have noted a renewed interest in the higher-priced, limited edition and specialty watches. This demand could be spurred by the fact that today’s more cautious buyer is looking for timepieces that are a bit more rare and will hold their investment and resale potential.
“Some of the new products from Basel are finally making their way into the States now and some of those are pre-sold, so this helps the retail community,” says Larry Pettinelli, President of Patek Philippe, USA. Pettinelli says the real demand Patek Philippe is currently seeing is for its annual calendars, which retail in the mid USD 30,000 (EUR 25,500 / CHF 32,000) to high USD 40,000 (EUR 37,000 / CHF 45,500) range, and for its high-level grand complications. “We anticipate that if we get our deliveries from Geneva, and if there are no more surprises politically, we expect reasonably strong holiday sales.”
“The collectors are still buying; they’re just being more selective,” says Seuss, who noted that Tourneau expects 2011 to be a strong year. As if to underscore that point, Tourneau recently opened a new Concept Store in New York City and created special signature watches in the USD 1,100 to USD 9,800 (EUR 800 to 7,200 / CHF 1,000 to 8,900) price range for that opening under the TNY Collection name.
A surge of watch boutique openings
Tourneau is not nearly the only one opening new stores. In fact, major cities in the USA have witnessed a surge of watch boutique openings – often accompanied by special product designed for that city. Vacheron Constantin just opened its first North American flagship boutique on New York City’s magnificent Madison Avenue. With the opening of this luxurious boutique, the brand reinforces its international presence, as it is the company’s 28th worldwide boutique. In honor of the New York boutique opening, Vacheron Constantin released three exclusive watches that will only be sold at the store: The Overseas Chronograph Perpetual Calendar Boutique New York, the Historiques American 1921 Boutique New York and the Patrimony Tradionnelle Calibre 2755 Boutique New York.
Also opened this past year in New York was a completely refurbished Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, and all new Breitling Boutique on 57th Street, a new Breguet store and a Blancpain store. Both Hublot and Omega have been rolling out the stores across the country, it seems. Omega (whose flagship store opened on 5th Avenue in New York in 2009) opened nine stores in 2010 and has opened a dozen (at press time) of 14 new stores slated for this year. More are on the drawing board to open in 2012. Indeed, if store openings are any indication of the state of the retail market, certain cities may be looking particularly healthy and well poised for retail sales.
Perhaps the only concern some of the retail jewelers have pertains to product. Ruediger Albers, president of Wempe US says Wempe Jewelers on Fifth Avenue in New York continues to be optimistic about fourth quarter sales. “The biggest challenge we are having is to get enough merchandise,” says Albers. “From Patek Philippe to A. Lange & Sohne, from Rolex to Jaeger le Coultre, we are having gaps in our standard assortment.” If brands can fill those gaps, the hope is that sales will be healthy.