A cloudy economic outlook isn’t fazing luxury watchmakers laser-focused on the American consumer.
It’s why Carl F. Bucherer, a Swiss luxury watch manufacturer, is refocusing towards the U.S. market, particularly given the continued uncertainty in Asia, largely driven by COVID lockdowns in China. Bucherer recently released a line of colorful chronographs that retail for roughly $7,000.
“The U.S. is on fire again,” Ron Stoll, president of Carl F. Bucherer North America, told Yahoo Finance at the WatchTime New York 2022 event. (video above). “The excitement, the enthusiasm — America is driving the watch market from all angles. The U.S. came out of COVID, and watches are back at an all-time high.”
The enthusiasm comes despite stubbornly high inflation and increasing uncertainty surrounding the U.S. economy. High-end watchmakers hoping to make waves in the U.S. market congregated in-person at Watchtime 2022, a champagne-fueled three-day event in New York City that brought in brands including A. Lange & Sohne, Blancpain, Carl F. Bucherer, Oris, Norqain, and Casio.
Watchmakers that focus on high-end consumers, where prices range from $5,000 to $15,000, stated that market and financial uncertainties aren’t affecting demand from affluent consumers.
“All [economic] indicators basically are red: inflation, the economy is slowing down a little bit,” Oris co-CEO Rolf Studer told Yahoo Finance, adding: ““We don’t see any downturn as we did in other difficult times.”
According to Studer, stay-at-home orders enacted during the height of the pandemic are what helped spur interest in mechanical watches, creative a new wave of consumers in the process.
“People had a lot of time to learn about mechanical watches,” he said. “They are ready to spend on mechanical watches because they know more.”
‘It used to be six months … now it’s 18 months’
Manufacturing and supply chain issues still pose a problem for high-end watchmakers hoping to meet strong demand.
“If I want to get a seal for a watch, it used to be six months,” Giles English, co-founder of the UK-based Bremont Watch Company, told Yahoo Finance. “Now it’s 18 months.”
Growing production capacity also poses another problem since training new watchmakers takes time. English stated that Bremont must carefully consider whether rises and falls in market demand are here to stay, but noted selling in U.S. dollars (or in the case of some manufacturers, selling in Swiss Francs that are pegged to the dollar,) provide a natural hedge against economic uncertainty.
Other watchmakers said the U.S. is in a very good position, partially because of growing hype culture around watches and new releases.
“We don’t see nervousness, and in fact, lots of excitement around the watch industry,” Emmanuel Bütler, U.S. brand president of NORQAIN, told Yahoo Finance. His company is releasing a series of mechanical sport watches that include shock-resistant carbon-fiber cases, and will allow users to customize watches with a specially engraved plate mounted on the side of a watch case.
“With launches like this, we can create the excitement,” he added, noting that the U.S. is “a fast-growing market.”
Carl F. Bucherer, which provided watches worn by the titular character in the John Wick series of movies, is standing by hype culture as a key driver of success.
“People still come into the stores asking for the John Wick watch,” Stoll said. “The only thing I wish is that John Wick would’ve worn a $100,000 watch instead of one that’s $5,000.”
Watchmakers remain confident that some demand is still here to stay, especially with the holiday season approaching and other special events throughout the year.
“People still have birthdays and anniversaries [to celebrate],” English said. “My iPhone costs $1,000, and it’s going to be chucked away in a year’s time. You’re buying something here that will last for two hundred years.”
Pras Subramanian contributed to this article.
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