Leading luxury

Time in Hong Kong: Luxury watches are back

It’s boomtown in the Hong Kong watch market again – and the finest Swiss manufacturers are producing ever more innovative and daring models

Hong Kong has enjoyed ‘sustained and uninterrupted growth’ over the past year in fine watch imports, according to the latest report from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH).

In March, exports to Hong Kong bounced 10.2 per cent year on year, reaching more than 230 million Swiss francs (HK$1.8 billion).

But things weren’t always this rosy. Between 2014 and 2016, the market was in decline. According to the trade body, global exports plunged almost 3.2 per cent in 2015 and a further 9.9 per cent the following year. What happened?

Much, if not most, of the damage was done in Asia, and in China and Hong Kong in particular. In 2014, exports to Hong Kong peaked at 4.1 billion Swiss francs (HK$32.6 billion), making the territory the world’s largest importer of Swiss watches. But in mid-2016, that figure had dropped by a billion and the US, once a distant second, usurped Hong Kong at the top of the watch import pile.

Then in March 2017, things perked up. By the end of that year, exports to Hong Kong and China were up by an exuberant six and 18.8 per cent respectively. And the trend continues. The same is true of Singapore (up 8.4 per cent) and Japan (13.3 per cent), according to the March FH report.

The numbers have brought some relief to Swiss watchmakers, although there’s still work to do. Talk to the chief executives of top brands and they’ll say that their most powerful weapons are innovation and sheer bloody-mindedness. The Swiss don’t give in easily, they’ll say; instead, they think of new ideas and new products that their customers will be excited by. Three centuries of business suggest they know their onions.

While brands like Richard Mille will always push boundaries with hyperwatches like this year’s unfathomable RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough, many others are sticking to tried-and-tested classics, like Montblanc with its updated 1858 collection.

Here are some of this year’s most impressive releases.

Breitling Navitimer 8 Chronograph 43

Breitling Navitimer 8 Chronograph 43, chosen few
Mike Pickles. Styling by Jowie Chan

It’s all change at Breitling this year. Following a buyout by private equity group CVC Capital Partners in 2017, the company has a new chief executive, a new logo, a new marketing philosophy (gone are the Rubenesque women straddling torpedoes) and a suite of new watches, many of which are targeted at the Chinese market in particular, where historically it hasn’t enjoyed a firm footing. Leading the charge is the new range of Navitimer chronographs, all descended from Breitling’s genre-defining pilot’s watch first seen in 1952.

The new models are more modestly proportioned and more sober, and split into two categories. The first are powered by Breitling’s in-house B01 calibre chronograph movement and have two-tone dials. For these, you’ll pay a premium. The second, including the model pictured here, are powered by third-party movements, have mono dials and solid case backs, and are almost a third lower in price, the aim being to entice a new generation of customers previously priced out by Breitling’s budget-burning, decade-long in-house movement programme.

Baume et Mercier Clifton Baumatic 5 Days – Chronometer

Baume et Mercier Clifton Baumatic 5 Days – Chronometer, chosen few
Mike Pickles. Styling by Jowie Chan

In recent years, a number of big brands have invested heavily in improving the daily and lifetime performance of their watches. Rolex and Omega have led the way, releasing time and date watches with movements that offer previously unheard of guarantees of accuracy, autonomy and reliability. Next in line is Baume et Mercier, the baby in the Richemont stable of companies that includes Cartier, IWC and Vacheron Constantin. Its new Baumatic movement promises a beefed-up five-day power reserve, chronometer-certified accuracy of -4 to +6 seconds a day, anti-magnetism of 1,500 gauss and recommended service intervals of five years. A number of technologies developed by companies under the Richemont umbrella have made these possible, as well as the watch’s trump card: its price. Accessibility is a Baume et Mercier pillar, and few can touch the Baumatic’s value to innovation ratio.

Tudor 1926

Tudor 1926, chosen few
Mike Pickles. Styling by Jowie Chan

To understand the name behind Tudor’s new collection, it pays to know a little of the company’s history, which shows it was founded by the same man who created Rolex. By the mid-1920s, Hans Wilsdorf had sussed out that his Rolex watches were out of reach for many of his customers, so he created a more affordable brand that he could still market as accurate and reliable: Tudor. Although the name Tudor was used sparingly until after the Second World War, it first appeared on a watch in 1926, hence the name of this new line. The 1926 is undeniably commercial, coming in four sizes (from 28mm to 41mm) and with a wide choice of dials. This model, which has a stainless steel case and bracelet and a silver dial, is powered by an automatic movement. After a slump in the 2000s, Tudor is resurgent and ambitious – it will be hoping this all-rounder gives it leverage in countries all over the world.

Tissot Chemin des Tourelles Powermatic 80

Tissot Chemin des Tourelles Powermatic 80, chosen few
Mike Pickles. Styling by Jowie Chan

In keeping with the theme of improving the basic daily function of its timepieces, Swiss watchmaking giant Tissot continues to roll out its punchy Powermatic 80, a mechanical movement developed by parent company Swatch Group (Omega, Longines and Breguet among others) that delivers a thumping 80-hour power reserve. Power reserves in mechanical watches are typically around 40 hours, a figure that looks increasingly flaccid alongside the energy stores offered by the likes of Tissot’s flagship watch, the Chemin des Tourelles. The advantage, so watchmaking convention has it, is that a smart workday mechanical watch with a power reserve of 80 hours can be put to one side over a leisurely weekend and returned to a wrist on a Monday morning without needing to be reset and rewound. Many brands charge a fair sum for this privilege; but not Tissot. As this rose gold-plated model demonstrates, it’s perfectly possible to have a high-performance Swiss watch for a modest sum.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book