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Watchmakers’ new port of call

Watchmakers’ new port of call

Monday, 08 July 2013
By Quentin Simonet
Quentin Simonet

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4 min read

Brands – IWC, Hublot and TAG Heuer among them – have taken to the seas and opened stores on cruise ships.

An ocean-borne giant: close to 1,200 crew for 3,114 passengers, 13,800 gross tonnage, 331 metres long and 43 metres beam, a cruising speed of 22 knots, 13 restaurants, 4 pools and 6 whirlpools. Not forgetting a fitness centre, yoga and tai chi classes, an ice-skating rink, a rock-climbing wall, a mini-golf course and a jogging and in-line skating track. Welcome aboard the Mariner of the Seas, owned and operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. This floating palace is where IWC has opened a new boutique. A first for the Richemont-owned brand. If success is forthcoming, the idea could be extended to other vessels. The 60 square-metre store, which faithfully reflects the identity of the Schaffhausen brand, offers passengers watches from all six IWC families. An “extraordinary shopping experience” in the words of Chief Executive Georges Kern. While sailing between ports, sometimes even continents, customers will have ample opportunity to find the perfect watch for their wrist.

Ocean deep, mountain high

Soon not a single part of the planet will be off limits to Swiss timepieces, as watchmakers put their imagination to the test to bring their products to customers anywhere and everywhere. There is, for example, a watch shop perched at 3,571 metres altitude, on the Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Alps, opened by Jürg Kirchhofer, a specialist retailer in Interlaken. It may not be large, barely 12 square metres, but enough to delight watch-loving tourists.

We have clocks at various locations on the ships and we also sell our products at points of sale onboard.
Marine Lemonnier

Leaving mountains for the sea, IWC is not alone in conquering the waves. Hublot is partner to Seabourn, the luxury cruise liners operated by Carnival. “We have clocks at various locations on the ships and we also sell our products at points of sale onboard,” says Marine Lemonnier, spokesperson for the brand, which is based in Nyon. The event was announced on the giant Reuters screen in New York’s Time Square. “It was even mentioned in The New York Times,” adds Marine Lemonnier. “That gives some idea about how much the Americans adore cruises and anything to do with them.”

A buoyant industry

The cruise industry is riding the waves. Already a longstanding and thriving business in North America, cruises are getting established in Europe. A recently published study states that the cruise sector contributed €37.9bn (CHF 46.6bn) to the European economy in 2012, a 3.1% increase over a year despite tighter budgets and the sinking of the Costa Concordia. While the United States remains the biggest market for cruises, it is also a mature one, and Europe is making inroads into market share.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the number of cruise passengers has doubled over a decade, rising from 11.1 million in 2002 to 20.9 million in 2012. This is an impressive increase in itself, yet over the same period the number of Europeans taking a cruise holiday almost tripled to reach 6.26 million or virtually a third of the world total. Indeed, Europe has never been more attractive to cruise-goers: in 2012, a record 5.7 million passengers embarked on a cruise liner at a European port. This is 2.5% up on the previous year.

Tag Heuer is another to have spotted the trend. Since last year, it has had three stores on what are veritable floating cities, in some cases equipped to welcome up to 7,000 passengers. All potential buyers.

Tapping into the global shopper market

Watchmakers are out to capture the attention of “globe-shopping” tourists, particularly as their number has more than doubled over three years according to Global Blue, a Swiss shopping tourism specialist. They also spend four times more on average per transaction than local clients, meaning they account for over half of luxury purchases worldwide. Watches and jewellery are high on their list – 14% of these global shoppers’ total buys – beaten only by fashion (20%). The biggest transaction recorded between January and May 2013 was by an Indonesian customer in a store in Singapore, who spent in excess of CHF 2 million on watches. Singapore is, incidentally, the most popular destination for this type of purchase among international shoppers.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese are among the biggest spenders when on the move. Over the first five months of 2013, Chinese customers accounted for over 40% of all international transactions recorded by Global Blue. While narrowly favouring fashion and clothing (41% of purchases), at 36% watches and jewellery remain the second most desirable category of product for Chinese tourists.

With land, sea, mountains and air (duty-free sales in planes) now accounted for, space rockets will soon be the only place Swiss timepieces aren’t for sale. Yet. After all, with space tourism planning its first commercial flights, anything is possible. Which begs the question, for which time zone should we set our GMT worldtimer watch?

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