In the last century, we have witnessed many inventions such as the internet, the breaking of the sound barrier, other timekeeping devices on our computer and phones and others. And yet none of these developments has threatened the dominance of the Swiss watch making industry. It seems that the Swiss have been telling the world’s time forever. The Swiss have been producing most of the elegant and luxury watches of the world such as Bell and Ross; Tag Heuer; Corum; Rolex; Patek Philippe, EBEL and others.
But accurate timekeeping has long ago ceased to be the point on why people buy elegant luxury watches of the world. Once you can afford to spend even entry-level prices for a Bell and Ross, EBEL, Corum, Tag Heuer, Patek Philippe or a Rolex, your watch has begun to represent status and one-upmanship. A watch is a statement of achievement. Something glittery on your wrist says something about your earning power and your taste. Even in bad economic situation, the wearer can even show off his wealth. The fatter and more complicated and expensive the watch, the more the wearer may assume control of the universe.
Making anything really small by hand tends to be extremely expensive. In the watch industry, the precision of the tiny parts is one reason for the great cost. But the major contributory factors are human and mastery skill, handed down through centuries, required to make something beautiful and functional from an otherwise inexpensive metal and stones. But it is precisely this process — the feat of human engineering — that appeals to the watch connoisseur. It explains why a fine watch like Rolex Watches, Patek Phillippe, Bell and Ross, Corum, EBEL or Tag Heuer costs so much.
In an increasingly digital world, people are still willing to spend huge amounts on analogue timepieces. In 2014, the Swiss exported 29m watches. This was only 1.7% of all watches bought globally, but 58% of their value. This raises eyebrows. Why Switzerland in the first place? How did this country come to dominate the industry? And how did it master the art of charging thousands for an object that often kept time less accurately than some other really cheap ones?
The answer is that It represents a show of mastery skill and the refinement and years of training that go into making objects of beauty. Really these days, no one requires a Swiss watch or a watch from any country, to tell the time. The time displayed on our mobile phones and other digital devices will always be more accurate than the time displayed on even the most skilfully engineered mechanical watch, yet the industry is so much alive. Watch prices show no signs of making a cut-price concession, even from the recent competition from the Apple Watch. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true: the higher the asking price, the greater the appeal, for cheapness may suggest a reduction in quality.
So the Rolex , the watch par excellence of influential people, and the Patek Philippe, for men who take accuracy seriously, are some of the elegant and luxury watches of the world.
In the last six years, Patek Philippe has increased annual production from about 40,000 watches to 60,000, which cannot be compared to Swiss giant like Rolex, which produces more than 700,000 watches a year.
But why do we continue to buy these over-engineered watches like Rolex, Corum, Patek Phillippe, Zenith, Bell And Ross, EBEL, Tag Heuer and others? Why do so many people pay so much for an item whose principal function may be bought for so little? And how does the watch industry not only survive in the digital age, but survive very well.
And so the answers to these questions lie within our propensity for extreme fantasy, our consumption of dazzling marketing and our renewed reverence for craftsmanship in a digital world. Exclusivity is a key to desirability.