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Su Jia Xian: Why a slow luxury market is actually a great time for collectors

Slowdown in luxury timepiece business spells a boon for would-be watch buyers.

Every January, some of the world’s leading luxury watchmakers – the brands of the Richemont conglomerate, plus notable peers like Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani and Richard Mille – gather in uncomfortably wintry Geneva to show off their latest wares inside the cavernous expo hall near the city’s airport.

By the time the 27th Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, opens its doors later in the month, the festive mood would have worn off , despite the snowy outdoors, and everyone will be going about business briskly. Many in the watch industry would wish business was a bit more brisk, in fact, due to the slowdown in the luxury goods business globally.

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For would-be watch buyers, however, the reverse is true. That’s because mechanical wristwatches are – relative to, say, three years ago – more aggressively priced than before as watchmakers try to shore up slack demand.

A favoured description for new releases is now “entry-level”, as watchmakers lower the prices of their basic models to make them more palatable to more people. So, while luxury watches are still luxuries and priced as such, a good number are more affordable than before. Among the brands that will reveal new products at SIHH this month, Cartier, IWC, Lange, Panerai and Vacheron Constantin are notable in already having introduced conspicuously more accessibly models last year.

So someone who otherwise would never have considered a pricey timepiece from A. Lange & Sohne or Vacheron Constantin, might now savour the thought of the Saxonia Thin 37mm or stainless steel Quai de l’Ile, respectively.

But such watches still cost a lot of money, with the most entry-level watch from mid-tier luxury IWC or Panerai still equivalent to a month’s, or even two months’, salary for a young working professional. Fortunately there are more wallet-friendly options off ering horological satisfaction.

Perhaps the most cost-effective way of enjoying the look and feel of a new watch is to swop the strap, especially when the new replacement band is strikingly different from the old one. Most watches are delivered new with black leather straps, typically made of alligator, a safe choice regarded as appropriately upscale.

A new strap in another colour, and importantly, a different hide or material, can make all the difference to the tactile feel and appearance of a watch. Beyond the common choices of alligator and calf, watchbands are also available in shark, ostrich, lizard, elephant, stingray and even sturgeon, a particularly robust material. The Internet literally offers a boundless array of watch straps in every size imaginable. And despite being a small country, Singapore has – surprisingly – a number of custom strap makers, enhancing the variety available both online and off.

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Beyond the strap, there are numerous accoutrements that go along with watch collecting, from the practical to the inane. Storage boxes and winders are useful, and the no-frills versions of such accessories are affordable. Indeed, for the new collector, the time to start is now.

Read more of Su Jia Xian’s incisive commentary at his website, WatchesbySJX.com.