2016 has been a bittersweet year for the watchmaking scene, to say the least. Sales figures were subdued. Cost cutting a key theme for the better part of the industry. People sacked. And China spending much less on watches compared to before, thanks to the government's anti-graft campaign. Let's just say the industry has seen better days.
Yet, despite the numerous reasons that could theoratically cause the industy to go under, luxuy watches are still being made and companies are still up and running. Barely, perhaps, but they are here to stay. And it's during difficult time that the industry demonstrates its creativity and wit best. And 2016 has proven to be the perfect testament to that.
With 2016 squarely behind us, we reckon this is a good time to do some stocktaking and recount the key trends that largely defined the year - memorable no matter how you look at it - for the watch industry and more importantly, to look to the future and offer our estimate as to which of these currents are likely to carry over into the 2017.
Let's check them out.
1. There will be Steel
One such examples was the Vacheron Constantin Quai de l'Île in steel (the collection only offered precious metal options prior to that) with its in-house automatic calibre 5100. Modestly priced at less than HKD120,000 by VC standard, the steel Quai de l'Île does not cut corner whatsoever with its components, from the Geneve Seal-qualifying movements (interestingly fitted with a rotor made out of tungsten, an ideal rotor material due to its weight), to the sector-style dial with a an arrow rotating around the date disc, this is one heavy punching "entry-level" (big air quote here) VC that checks a lot of boxes.
Piaget was another major watchmaker that experimented with stainless steel, achieving considerable success with the brand new Polo S collection. The time-only Polo S, for instance, comes with the in-house 1110P movement, an all-steel bracelet and a tastefully treated watch case incorporating an array of finishing techniques such as satin-brushing and mirror polishing. The price? Around HKD80,000, which is super conservative. Does it look somewhat (if not dangerously) like a Patek Aquanaut or a Girard Perregaux Laureato, I can't help but to say yes, a little. But the Polo S carries with it a great case design and feels distinctly more like a Piaget than anything else. So that's great.
What's certain is that stainless steel will continue to dominate the watch scene in 2017 especially when it comes to new releases. And as a consumer it's quite exciting to witness the way traditional watchmakers adopts to the renewed market dynamics seeking higher perceived value in timepieces.
2. Complications Made Interesting (or Accessible)
But here's the thing: almost all technically possible complication for a wristwatch has been created in one way or another, leaving little room for genuinely new complications (or ways of displaying a complication) to be conceived. And complicated watches don't come cheap. Until 2016, that is.
The revamped A.Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Moon Phase, released last December - a conventionally quiet month of the year for new releases - has injected a healthy dose of exhilaration into the watch scene at a time least expected, bringing with it an innovative day/night complication by having a second disc with a gradient of blue hues spinning beneath the moon phase disc to represent the constant switching between day and night and the flow of time. Nobody saw it coming but when Lange decided to do something creative, you simply know it's going to be awesome. Small update, big impact. We expect even more interesting complications to grace the market in 2017.
And when it comes to making high-end complications affordable (without significantly undermining quality), nobody has done it quite right as TAG Heuer with their Heuer-02T. The Heuer-02T is hands down the most affordable Swiss tourbillon wristwatch. Period. Priced around a meagre HKD125,000 (by Swiss tourbillon standard anyways), the Heuer-02T is in a league of its own. The remarkably low price was made possible thanks to an optimized production process (the exact details of which are little known but we believe it involves a certain level of automation and a good deal of process re-engineering). Do we see another sub-HKD150,000 tourbillon coming out in 2017 from other watchmakers? Probably not. But what can be sure is that companies will be racing to manufacture complications in a more efficient way and to price the price down. And whoever manages to do that is poised to win hearts.
(to be continued)