THE TROUBLES in Hong Kong could have a lasting impact on the luxury watch trade in Asia.
Depending on how the demonstrations are resolved, there could be longterm disruptions to an otherwise healthy supply of luxury goods from Europe.
Case in point, Hong Kong has been the main market for Swiss watches, importing CHF3 billion (USD3.1 billion) in 2018, an increase of 19% over 2017. In the top 15 countries that Swiss watches are exported to, seven are from Asia, with Thailand propping up the list with imports valued at CHF279 million, and showing an increase of 10% YOY in 2018.
Asian countries account for 51% of the top 15 countries’ export value of CHF16.94 billion.
As a trans-shipment centre, many watches that find their way into Hong Kong will eventually be shipped to distribution and retail points in other countries. But since the troubles started, Hong Kong posted a record drop of 26.8% in the value of Swiss watches imported.
This could be an opportunity for other markets to raise their game and possibly take on more product.
Time For Opportunities
Jimmie Tay has been in the watch industry since the age of six. He has seen many dips and a fair share of recoveries in this industry.
His grandfather started a watch business in Singapore before World War II, and despite being disrupted by the Japanese occupation, it was handed over to Jimmie’s father. Differences in opinion between Jimmie and his father meant there was no succession for Lee Chay Watch, which recently shuttered.
Jimmie learned about the watch and luxury business in his uncle’s store, The Hour Glass, and other companies he joined. He picked up his know how of regional markets, and subsequently built up his own distribution company, Risen Eagle, operating in these countries.
His constant regional travel resulted in a casual lunch with an associate linked to Thai royalty who thought it would be a good idea to bring an approximation of the ultra-exclusive international watch fairs — Baselworld and Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie — to Bangkok.
Jimmie couldn’t say no as the idea of being the first to do it in Thailand excited him.
Bangkok Ups The Luxe
The Bangkok Independent Watchmaking Exhibition (BIWE) will take place at Gaysorn Village from 4–8 September. It brings together 18 high-end independent watchmakers who will showcase their creativity in aid of charity.
Jimmie is pleased to note that there’s been regional interest in the event. “We have requests from Vietnam and Singapore to fly in and participate in the special auction which is being conducted in conjunction with Christie’s. Unique watches and clocks created with a Thai motif will be auctioned off, with part of the proceeds benefitting the Kamlangjai (Inspire) Project.
“It’s the first time Christie’s will be holding a luxury watch auction in Bangkok,” he enthuses.
Jimmie is optimistc about the outcome of the event.
“The luxury scene in Bangkok is still very vibrant, with customers from the regional countries, so the confidence is building,” he notes.
While many industry players lament the decline of retail relevance due to the encroaching digital world, Jimmie feels it’s still a viable business.
“You have to know how to make the business work,” he explains, somewhat cryptically, before continuing.
While previously it was all about selling product, a different approach is required today.
“When we speak to brand principals today, they want to sit down and talk. If we can work well together, we continue.
“If not, it’s the end of the story. It’s all about relationships.”
Jimmie intends for the BIWE to be an ongoing series, which will draw enthusiasts and watch brands to Bangkok’s lively scene, and elevate Thailand’s role in the world of horology.
You can follow The Bangkok Independent Watchmaking Exhibition on instagram @artoftimebangkok