But to quote legendary financier Warren Buffett, “only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked”. The hard truth is that the majority of watches out there are, simply speaking, mediocre on every level. They are mediocre in design, mediocre in function, mediocre in story-telling, and mediocre as a value proposition. And this has allowed a brand like Rolex, which has unparalleled brand equity, to launch its strongest watch in a decade – the new ceramic bezel, steel Daytona priced at SFr.11,800 – and totally dominate the competition in every way. My theory is that Rolex was ready with this watch in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona but, correctly predicting the difficulties the industry would face in 2016, chose to launch it when the competition was at its very weakest.
What the watch industry has failed to do on a global level – with a few exceptions such as IWC, Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Panerai and Richard Mille – is captivate the imagination of the new generation and cultivate the interest of a highly affluent consumer who has not yet become interested in luxury watches. We have never lived in a time where there are more rich young people and they are spending unprecedented levels on homes, vacations, meals, and vehicles. But what has the watch industry done to cultivate them or reach out to them on their own level, in language of today? Essentially nothing. Case in point, Richemont Group used to own, and still has a financial interest in, the single most powerful e-commerce entity on the planet, a website that has revolutionized luxury retail: Net-a-Porter. But guess how many Richemont Group watches they have sold on this platform to date. Zero. I’m not making this up. It is actually zero.
But 2016 will be a wake-up call to those helming brands or sitting on boards of directors who still believe the watches they create for themselves – and those like them – have any relevance to the contemporary consumer If you are sitting on millions of dollars of inventory you are part of the problem not the solution. This year my best of Basel is not just a summary of the best watches of this fair, but an expression of a few of the brands in the watch industry that have made the critical steps to increase their relevance with the audience of today. Together these brands are forging the future of the watch industry in a time where many others are causing its demise.