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Watchmaking’s new decade

As we enter the Twenties, Dubai Watch Week asks which themes will shape the next 10 years in watchmaking


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By Dubai Watch Week

12 Jan, 2020

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Ten years is a long time in the watch industry. At the 2010 watch fairs, watches were still big and covered in black DLC. Cartier was just introducing its debut in-house automatic calibre, Tudor’s Heritage Chronograph was a first hint of what was to come and Hermès had yet to make a watch anyone really cared about. Pebble was still two years away. And the industry was waiting with baited breath to see what impact the global financial crisis would have on the business of making and selling watches.

A decade on and there is much to reflect on. But what is to come? Where does fine watchmaking go next? Crystal ball time – here are five predictions for watchmaking in the Twenties.

Sustainability will become more important but it won’t dominate

We’re already seeing watches sold against their eco credentials as luxury brands experiment with straps made of recycled plastic. Panerai added a case made of recycled titanium this year and promised to make a fully recycled watch inside five years. But in 10 years time we won’t all be buying recycled watches. Why? Partly because lots of brands insist on being first and won’t want to follow what Panerai, Carl F Bucherer, Oris and a few others have already done. But two bigger factors will come into play. First is that many already consider a mechanical watch to be a sustainable product because it’s designed to last a lifetime. And second is that luxury and recycling have an uneasy relationship. Many customers won’t want to pay thousands of dollars for a new watch that’s on its second life. Instead, expect sustainability to affect manufacturing processes and how the brands run their operations.

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Concentration will continue

The biggest have got bigger over the last decade. Rolex is more powerful than ever. The groups are growing in size, most recently with the sale of Tiffany to LVMH. And there are fewer independents than ever before, now that Breitling, Ulysse Nardin, Frederique Constant and others have sold to the highest bidder. There won’t be a consumer backlash in the next decade. More interesting will be to see whether those going it alone now are still flying solo come 2030. Rumours about Rolex and Patek are probably only that, while Chopard looks more likely to build its own portfolio. Audemars Piguet is now a billion dollar company and comfortable in its own skin. Richard Mille will be bought out in full this decade. Which leaves the likes of Carl F Bucherer and Oris in the mainstream, and then the litany of Swiss independent microbrands. Most will get offers.

The pre-owned market will grow but prices of unicorn watches will level out

Prices of new watches have spiked this decade, creating a vacuum where younger buyers once had rich pickings. Into that have slotted a new cohort of affordable luxury brands, while others, such as Oris, have made a virtue of being heritage mechanical brands in the sub-$2,500 category formerly occupied by the likes of Omega and Zenith. Rising prices have also meant pre-owned has come into its own. Companies such as WatchBox, WatchFinder, Chronext and Chrono24 will play a major role in the industry landscape over the next decade. The more ambitious are predicting sales of pre-owned watches will outstrip those of new by 2030, but don’t count on it. And expect the likes of Rolex and Patek, and their retail partners, to fight the flippers harder as they battle to keep a lid of the rocketing values of so-called unicorn watches, such as the GMT Master II and Nautilus.

Watch companies will have to be more transparent

Smoke and mirrors are two of the watch industry’s most powerful weapons. Cases made in China? Parts of ‘in-house’ movements outsourced to third parties? Claims of accuracy not quite accurate? A new generation of consumers, armed with communication tools to make or break products, will come to demand greater transparency from an industry that for too long has got away with very loose definitions of ‘Swiss Made’ and ‘in-house’. At the moment, only 60 per cent of the value of a watch has to be added in Switzerland before it can carry those two little but hugely valuable words. By 2030, that figure will be higher.

But don’t worry, most things will stay the same

Even now, Switzerland doesn’t move that fast. In 10 years’ time, watches may be a few millimetres bigger or smaller and we may be looking at designs with purple dials or cases made of compacted fish bones, but mostly, things will stay the same. Mechanical watches will still be here. Baselworld will still be here. Rolex and Patek will still dominate. When everything around it is swallowed into a vortex of progress, its consistency is what makes the watch industry so eternally appealing.

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