Stephen Pulvirent is managing editor of online specialist watch magazine Hodinkee
It's no secret that 2016 was a rough year for the luxury watch industry
. Sales were down in nearly every global market after an already soft 2015, and watchmakers have been reducing production and laying off staff -- from watchmakers to executives -- to find solutions.
This week, the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) -- an exclusive trade show for watch retailers and press, hosted by the Richemont
conglomerate -- was held in Geneva.
Featuring Richemont's own portfolio of brands, as well as a number of independent watchmakers, SIHH is where many of the world's most important watch brands set their agendas and unveil their newest products. It's also our first opportunity to gauge where the industry will be heading in 2017.
1/15 – Calendar Watch Prize
The Legacy Machine Perpetual by MB&F took out the Calendar Watch Prize for 2016 for its in-house perpetual calendar. Designed in conjunction with Irish watchmaker Stephen McDonnell, the platinum watch sells for around $181,000, and is limited to just 25 editions. Credit: Grand Prix d'Hologerie
The world's most dedicated and passionate collectors are still buying, and watchmakers are doing their best to keep them happy, interested, and engaged. Two trends emerged immediately upon walking the show's brightly lit halls.
The first was a turn toward the affordable. (All terms are relative of course, but at the SIHH it's unusual when many of the show's highlights have four- rather than five-figure price tags.)
focused on affordable pieces like the Master Control collection
, which includes a time-and-date model, a chronograph, and a travel-time watch.
has made strong moves in watchmaking over the last few years, and has redesigned its best-selling Timewalker collection
as a mix of well-priced chronographs inspired by vintage racing.
also relaunched its famed Panthère de Cartier collection
of women's watches, which start under $5,000, in stainless steel.
These are timepieces that can sell at volume and bring new customers into the world of luxury watches. It's a bet on the future and on cultivating collectors for the long-term.
Keeping top-tier collectors happy and interested is always important for luxury brands, but even more so when those lucrative sales are being relied upon to buoy tougher overall results.
Watchmakers responded strongly by creating halo pieces at prices that, while still stratospheric, are competitive in relation to what else is on offer.
The 23-complication Celestia
from Vacheron Constantin
is the company's most complicated wristwatch to date, and -- to those in the know -- feels like a complete bargain at approximately $1 million.
Why a luxury watch is like a fine automobile
Likewise, German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne's Tourbograph Pour le Mérite
offers a dizzying mix of a tourbillion with a fusée-and-chain mechanism (a tiny chain, similar to a bike chain, helps drive the watch from inside,) plus a split-seconds chronograph and a perpetual calendar for the sum of 480,000 euros ($511,000).
The watch industry appears to have gotten the message loud and clear from consumers: products need to offer something unique and interesting at a prices that entice rather than intimidate.
So, whether it's at the entry point or the pinnacle, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of value for watch buyers.