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The watches of the future

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Art forms, tech marvels and functional – there’s much watch-gazing to look forward to..

Vibrant times ahead!
Vibrant times ahead!

In perhaps the first ever interview given by Nicholas Hayek Sr to a mainline Indian newspaper, this writer asked Hayek his views on the future of wristwatches. Is the wristwatch at the end of its life? What does digital technology hold in store for the horology industry? Why do people need a wristwatch to read time after all?

Hayek suddenly became enthusiastic, like a child, his passion for horology palpably on display. He sat through to explain the future of the wristwatch by drawing sketches and charts on his pad. His views of the future:

Three clear and distinct scenarios are emerging. On top is what Hayek calls “the art form”. It is the same as the works of Picasso and Monet that you see in the Louvre. These are masterpieces where each component is handcrafted by Masters of Horology and designed by master designers. His Breguet falls into that category. He believes that watch as an “art form” will continue to stay in the hands of the Swiss. The Swiss industry holds 95 per cent of this market and Hayek believes that this market will continue to grow at about 10 per cent a year over the next decade.

The next scenario is what Hayek calls “technology watches”. You already have watches that are reading your pulse rate and watches that can be used in emergency as a cell phone. Soon you will have watches incorporating the GPS for navigating your cars and carrying your entire medical history to be referred to by doctors in emergency! The Swiss currently have a 55 per cent market share in this segment. The market is growing rapidly at about 17 per cent. There is a lot of innovation in this space around the world. Chances are that over the decade the Swiss will lose market share in this segment from 55 per cent to maybe 40 per cent.

The last is what Hayek calls “watches to read time”. He believes these are cheap watches priced between $1 and $30 and will grow at about 20 per cent annually. The Swiss have only a 5 per cent of this market. This is where all local players survive and grow. As this market will have enormous volume throughput, local watch brands will be beneficiaries of some interesting volume sales.

Food for thought: Would some of our big Asian brands fall in this last category? Would the Indian brands ever create an “art form” watch? More importantly, do we have imagination, diligence and perseverance to sell a Rs10 lakh watch?

Cynics seem to believe that such markets do not exist in India. Just a wake-up call though, for them. It is important to note that last year Breguet sold 300 watches in India for probably an average price of Rs.7-10 lakhs. It needs both savvy and guts to sell luxury products anywhere in the world, more particularly, in India.

_ P. M.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 25, 2008)
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