The luxury watch industry has just completed one of the best years in the recent past. Having recorded robust growth in almost all the key markets, Swiss watches are planning to push the envelope even further in 2023. The first watch week just wrapped up in Singapore, and I was lucky to see and review up-close the first launches of the year from Bulgari, TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot, and also get an insight into brand strategies.
If 2022 was all about sizing down and adopting colours, this year will be about breaking the rules and finding individuality. And the confidence to be daring is evident among brands who have seen sales shooting in key markets like the US (27.7% growth January-November over 2021), Singapore (26.4%), the UK (21.7%), Japan (19.4%) and even a 23rd ranked India (23.6%). The watch industry seems to have found a way to not only survive but grow. So, here is what to watch out for this year:
Continued investment in material
The big story of metallurgy and colours continues. Hublot played up the material game with the new Big Bang Tourbillon in Neon Yellow SAXEM. Reproducing a translucent case in a bright, fluorescent shade of neon yellow is incredibly complex to achieve, and Hublot brought in a solution from satellite technology, SAXEM (Sapphire Aluminium oXide and rare Earth Mineral) — an alloy of aluminium oxide, sapphire, rare earth elements like holmium, thulium and even chromium. The result is evident: an ultra-resistant material with a brilliance brighter than sapphire that the brand has mastered already. The watch comes with a matching neon yellow textured rubber strap. Excitedly terming the new watch as the novelty of LVMH Watch Week, Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe says, “This is a world first in this luminescent neon yellow in sapphire, a material we have a strong story going for years now.”
Limitation is the way forward
Just like the Hublot SAXEM watch is limited to 50 pieces, other brands have launched their special collections in limited series too. Zenith continues to defy the conventional and push the boundaries of traditional watchmaking with the DEFY Extreme Glacier, the second edition after the Desert launched in 2021. Like the previous model, the DEFY Extreme integrates natural stones with a 1/100 th of a second chronograph.
The case is in titanium while the dodecagonal bezel and the pushers are crafted from the crystalline semi-translucent stone with pale blue hues, chalcedony. Cut and polished by hand, each stone is different, making the 50 pieces of the watch, practically unique. Commenting on the DEFY Extreme Glacier, Zenith CEO, Julien Tornare says, “Chalcedony has never been used in any watch before, so we are naturally excited.”
Back to the roots
One of the big stories from TAG Heuer has been the limited edition 60th anniversary Carrera Chronograph. Celebrating six decades of the iconic Carrera, launched in 1963, TAG Heuer launched a 600-piece limited edition with a panda dial adding to its reputation of making classic, elegant, ultra-legible clean dials. In this reinterpretation of the Heuer Carrera 2447 SN, the similarities go down to the black stripes below the central hands, the hour markers, the double stops at 12 and even the vintage Heuer logo with Carrera above it on a silver sunray-brushed dial.
In another big lookback at history, the brand returns with a Monza Flyback Chronometer — a modern interpretation of a timeless classic that forms an indelible link between TAG Heuer and competitive motor sport. Made of ultra-lightweight and resistant 42 mm carbon case, the watch offers functions essential for racing: a chronograph, a tachymeter that indicates average speed and even a pulsometer that helps determine the heartrate per minute. The watch is powered by in-house COSC-certified Calibre Heuer02 Flyback, the intricacies of the beautiful movement can be appreciated through the skeletonized dial. The watch is TAG Heuer CEO, Frederic Arnault’s favourite too. On being asked to choose from the impressive line up of new watches the brand launched at the Watch Week, he termed his personal favourite, the Monza watch as a faithful re-edition that brought the particular shape to modernity. He added, “We realised the final product with the forged carbon case, sapphire sub-counters, innovation with the flyback movement. So, it’s a great modern watch rooted in our heritage.”
Even a forward-looking brand like Hublot brings back the Classic Fusion Originals in 33mm, 38mm and 42mm as a tribute to the refined yet sporty watch from 1980 that shook the world with its unconventional offering of precious gold strapped on simple rubber straps. Now available in yellow gold, titanium and ceramic in three sizes, in limited numbers of 500 only, the watches have perfectly mastered the past to shape the future.
Innovation is key
Who is not a fan of the mesmerising Serpenti watches from Bulgari, a model the Maison from Rome had introduced way back in 1948? Going through numerous iterations in the use of precious metals and gemstones and number of twirls that have gone up to a seven a few years ago to settle down to a more manageable five now, Bulgari Serpenti has had quite a journey. In 2019, the brand had introduced a more easy-to-wear Serpenti Seduttori, inspired by the iconic Tubogas. The model went on to become a roaring success, and now holds its own position within the Serpenti family. But the big innovation this year has been the introduction of the Serpenti Tubogas Infinity.
At the first look, its aesthetic strikes you, that of a serpentine silhouette that continues from the watch all the way to the bracelet. This was achieved as Bulgari introduced a new modular construction of the bracelet where the rings are moulded-each in unique reducing dimension — before being polished, gem-set and assembled on a titanium blade. An incredible innovation, that opens up a whole new world of creativity in the world of Serpenti by Bulgari. The creative director of Bulgari, Fabrizio Buonamassa-Stigliani says, “We are changing the aesthetics of the tubogas for the first time ever, now it is possible to set stones on the bracelet and that’s the big story. The new bracelet construction allows us flexibility and this is another chapter in the tubogas saga” .
But innovation was also in play in the latest golf edition from TAG Heuer Connected. Available in a new smaller size of 42mm, also the lightest by TAG Heuer, the watch is fitted with Full Shot Tracking function, a useful algorithm introduced this year by the brand that helps any golfer track his/her score without even touching the watch even once during the game.