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French watch market A tough sell for the watch industry?
The French watch industry is on its knees. And yet, Swiss brands still manage to outsell the local wares, thanks to their more famous names and targeted pricing. Is this a strategic response to a market that is struggling to get back on its feet?
The French watch market is not setting the world on fire. Far from it. And it’s not because the French don’t sell any watches; watches make up almost one-third by value of total jewellery sales. This is an entirely respectable figure for a country where jewellery plays an important cultural role. But the thing is, the proportion of watches fell by 6 points in 2016.
A closer look at the statistics paints an even less rosy picture. Sales of watches over 5,000 euros have declined significantly (-10%), and in the price-bracket lower down, between 1,000 and 5,000 euros, things are even worse, with a decline of 14%. The obvious conclusion is that the French buy quite a lot of cheap watches. The only segment that grew was watches priced between 100 and 300 euros.
Action, reaction: entry-level value
How are Swiss brands dealing with this disappointing situation? Well, it’s quite logical: the models that offer the best value for money are leading the way. For example, Baume & Mercier’s Classima watches took a clear lead in 2016. There’s a similar situation over at Seiko, where the 3-handed Presage automatic, which offers excellent value for money at just 479 euros, is forging ahead.
Anonimo, while less well-known than the other two, has come through with its Nautilus at 1,950 euros (steel case, Sellita movement). And then there’s Frédérique Constant, whose Heart Beat collection remains a winner in France and many other countries, thanks to its particularly well-thought out positioning.
But where do smartwatches come in all of this? TAG Heuer is doing very well. Its Connected Watch currently tops sales in France, although it has been said that the watch’s marketing budget virtually guaranteed it would be successful. But if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.
Star for a day, star forever
There are nevertheless a number of hardy perennials that appear unaffected by the turmoil. Look at Hublot, whose Big Bang Steel Ceramic was a top seller in 2016 in France as well as internationally, a position it has held since 2005! Close behind is the Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph Titanium. The former is priced at 13,400 euros, and the latter 14,800 euros, both well under Hublot’s average price of 20,000 euros. So France loves Hublot, yes, but there are limits!
A similar phenomenon is at work over at Piaget. One of the watchmaker’s most lauded models repeated its convincing performance in 2016. This year, once again, the Altiplano 38mm in pink gold, with its legendary calibre 430P, stole the show. There’s a similar situation at A. Lange & Söhne, where the Lange 1 remains dominant, albeit with a local preference for the Moon Phase. Richard Mille’s RM 011 collection (which includes the RM 011, RM 11-01, RM 11-02 and the recent RM 11-03) remains the front-runner in terms of sales. And Hermès’ eternal Cape Cod refuses to relinquish the top spot, as do Girard-Perregaux’ evergreen 1966 and Laureato collections.
Haute horlogerie: after a difficult year, some difficult conclusions
Sales in haute horlogerie are obviously smaller in number but far bigger in price. Nevertheless, some brands still offer a number of standout models. Roger Dubuis’ French best-seller of 2016, for instance, was the Excalibur 42 skeleton automatic, with the RD820SQ calibre.
However, it is less easy to draw any meaningful conclusions as far as independent brands are concerned. Distribution can be far more patchy, and is often significantly weighted in favour of particular territories, which can hide strong disparities. As far as independent haute horlogerie watchmakers are concerned (Christophe Claret, Greubel Forsey, MCT, Romain Gauthier), sales are rare because the watches are rare. Julien Coudray 1518, for instance, charges as much as 400,000 euros for a single piece. That means the company doesn’t have to sell very many in order to keep its head above water. This year, HYT recorded a preference for the H4, which overtook the H1 for the first time. Creativity remains a strong driver for growth in watchmaking – provided that the price is right.
Following the vision of Ferdinand Adolph Lange to build the world’s best watches, A. Lange & Söhne strives for ultimate precision and explores new avenues in order to advance the art of fine...Find out more
Born in Italy, crafted in Switzerland. The history of Anonimo watches is unmistakably linked to the pioneering exploits of Italy’s naval divers and alpini militare.Find out more
“Life is about moments”: with this motto as its signature, Baume & Mercier expresses its desire to design timeless watches that forever safeguard the emotion of shared moments.Find out more
Frédérique Constant has made a successful business out of offering affordable luxury, experiencing growth rates well above the industry average. The owners have a clear mission to make fine...Find out more
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“La Montre Hermès” has adopted an epicurean philosophy that values the creation of sober, contemporary timepieces.Find out more
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The Hydro Mechanical Horologists at HYT have realised an impossible dream: combining mechanics and fluids in a wristwatch.Find out more
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One hundred and forty years’ worth of uninterrupted history have allowed Piaget to forge its unique jewellery and watchmaking expertise. The Brand is a genuine Fine Watchmaking manufacture that...Find out more
Richard Mille did not simply try to find his place in the watchmaking world – he carved one out for himself, constantly striving not to take anything for granted, and to make innovation and extreme...Find out more
The Roger Dubuis Manufacture was founded on the desire for independence and watchmaking excellence. With remarkable dynamism, Roger Dubuis quickly ignited the world of Haute Horlogerie and has...Find out more
The history of Seiko is a more than 130 year story of innovation. From the very start, Kintaro Hattori was determined to be at the forefront of the industry and his oft-repeated credo was that...Find out more
Over 150 years of watchmaking savoir-faire and technical innovation have made TAG Heuer a global reference in avant-garde sports watches. As it tracked the rise of sports demanding increasingly...Find out more