Horological highlights of 2015 Smartwatch boom and economic gloom
Our editor-in-chief looks back on an eventful year for the industry
One of the biggest upsets of the year for the industry came at the very start of 2015 in the middle of one of the industry’s biggest exhibitions of the year. Barely was the SIHH under way when the Swiss National Bank announced without any warning that it was abandoning the artificial peg that had been keeping the CHF/Euro exchange rate at 1.20. At a stroke, the franc plummeted to near parity with the euro – a devaluation of over 20% that made Swiss exports more expensive. The Swiss watch industry was quick to react in different ways, among the first being Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, who quickly adjusted prices in the brand’s Swiss outlets back to the previous rates.
The subject has since largely been forgotten and even at Baselworld 2015 it had to vie for attention with the other major topic of the year – the smartwatch. Frédérique Constant had drawn the first battle lines on behalf of the Swiss watch industry back in September 2014, just one week after Apple had presented the watch that was set to strike fear into the heart of the industry, at least if you believed the company’s design guru Johnny Ive. Montblanc followed at the start of the year with its “e-strap”, which allows you to add “smart” functionality to any traditional timepiece, whether or not it is by Montblanc. Other big names followed suit at Baselworld, with Bulgari presenting watches linked to a secure vault hidden in the Swiss alps, Gucci announcing a collaboration with musician Will.i.am that has yet to see the light of day and TAG Heuer staking out its territory with Intel and Google. The Carrera Connected born of this partnership only saw the light of day in November, yet its success has even surprised the company’s far-from-cautious CEO Jean-Claude Biver.
In fact, the announcement of TAG Heuer’s version of the smartwatch was just one in a very long line of stops on the 2015 Biver marketing campaign. From the Bundesliga to bird ladies, the Carrera Panamericana, numerous new ambassadors, new skis – all built around the social media-driven “#DontCrackUnderPressure” slogan, the brand closed the year with a sponsorship bombshell, ending its 30-year partnership with the McLaren Formula 1 team in favour of a new partnership with Red Bull Racing. The new partnership even gives TAG Heuer naming rights on the 2016 Red Bull Racing - TAG Heuer RB12, a twist that harks back to the days when McLaren engines also used to be branded by TAG.
What started out as a mere currency-related “blip” in January gradually progressed into a full-blown economic downturn for the industry. Terrorist atrocities towards the end of the year led to massive cancellations of trips to Europe by Chinese luxury goods consumers, adding to woes in the domestic market and an absence of wealthy Russian tourists, who were being dissuaded from travelling abroad. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the decline in Swiss watch exports steepened further towards the end of the year.
What does 2016 have in store for the watch industry. Find out in our article on the outlook for the industry on 4th January.
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