SIHH 2018: How watch brands are seducing millennials

Written by Stephen Pulverent

Stephen Pulvirent is editor of the online specialist watch magazine Hodinkee.

It’s no secret that the past decade has been a decade of ups and downs for the luxury watch industry, thanks to financial crises, economic booms and changing consumer habits. And while a return to old heights may be impossible, the consensus is that watchmakers around the world will need to make significant changes to ensure continued success.

One of the challenges is figuring out how to attract new, younger buyers. Enticing a millennial to spend three months’ salary on a handmade watch is undoubtedly difficult in an age of “experiences, not things” (not to mention the apple watch.)
In this year’s edition of International Exhibition of Fine Watchmaking (SIHH) in Geneva, the invitation-only watch trade that leans towards the high end of the high-end watch industry, the world’s leading luxury groups and independent watchmakers were invited to prove that they are at the height of the challenge.

One of the ways brands seem to be trying to attract new shoppers to stores is by offering products that offer better value for money at lower prices. These watches incorporate features found on more expensive models, are designed with the utmost thought, and encourage the customer to learn more about their purchase even after the sale.

The Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic brings high-end watch features and classic styling for under $3,000. Credit: Courtesy of Baume & Mercier

Take for example Baume & Mercier, one of the most accessible brands exhibiting at the SIHH. This year’s flagship release is the Clifton Baumaticwhich at first glance is just a simple three-hand watch with a date display and a kind of retro 1960s style. However, the automatic movement inside has a five-day power reserve, meaning you can take it off on Friday night and when you go to tie it up before you go to work on Monday it will still look perfect.

Add to the fact that the movement uses a silicon escapement (the part of the watch that tells the time) and carries COSC chronometer certification for accuracy and performance, and you have something that looks a lot more like a timepiece. $10,000 than a $2,790 watch is what the Clifton Baumatic will sell for when it hits stores in September.

Elsewhere at the show, brands are offering models traditionally made of precious metals in more affordable stainless steel. This way, buyers have the option of paying for timepieces instead of gold, and getting a slightly more casual product in the process.

The new FiftySix collection allows previously overpriced customers to purchase Vacheron Constantin, with the FiftySix automatic in stainless steel priced at $11,700.

The new FiftySix collection allows previously overpriced customers to purchase Vacheron Constantin, with the FiftySix automatic in stainless steel priced at $11,700. Credit: Courtesy of Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin, a Geneva watchmaker known for its often complicated dress watches in precious metals, launched the Fifty sixa collection of watches with a more graphic style, configurations ranging from time and date to triple calendar with moon phase, and the option of a stainless steel case instead of rose gold.

Prices start at $11,700, about half the price of most entry-level watches from Vacheron Constantin. This opens up the brand to a completely different customer, creating the opportunity to develop lifelong fans much sooner.

But they’re not the only ones taking this approach. Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the Polaris-Collectiona set of five models inspired by an important diver’s watch in the company’s archives, which make it a hardwearing sports watch to wear alongside the more elegant Master collection.
Similarly, Cartier launched its Drive de Cartier Extra-Thin in stainless steel ($5,600) after only offering it in rose and white gold when it debuted last year. And, to celebrate its 150th anniversary, IWC unveiled a Jubilee Collection which includes limited-edition chronographs at $4,700 alongside the $249,000 tourbillon models.
To fill the gap in its catalog that should be occupied by a solid sports watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre has introduced a new Polaris collection that includes basic time models, chronographs, etc.

To fill the gap in its catalog that should be occupied by a solid sports watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre has introduced a new Polaris collection that includes basic time models, chronographs, etc. Credit: Courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre

The best thing about this trend is that it’s probably not a trend at all. Thanks to the rise of blogs, forums and social media, customers are more educated and demanding than ever, and it seems the watch world is finally taking notice.

Watchmakers must work hard to appeal to 21st century consumers and to explain why the mechanical watch is still something to be excited about. And it looks like they are up to the task.

International Exhibition of Fine Watchmaking is ongoing until January 19, 2018.

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