Smaller cases, lots of color, high-jewelry designs, and new twists on traditional complications reigned at the 2023 Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva, which ran through the beginning of April.
Luxury watches are appealing to younger buyers in droves, leading Swiss watchmakers to target those buyers. Some 60% of millennial and Gen Z shoppers (ages 18 to 35) in the US and UK feel it’s important to own a luxury watch, according to a March survey by Swiss agencies New Norms and Neoviso.
Interestingly, these generations covet the same top brands as their forebears, despite the high prices: Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe. As for future purchasing preferences, almost half the respondents would opt for a Rolex (48%).
“The watch industry has spent a lot of time on the so-called younger segment, either through entry-level product or younger-skewed, often derivative design,” comments Jared Silver, president of Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry in Menlo Park, California. “But I operate in a place where many of my young customers are not driven by price so much as by the search for something original that resonates with them. That’s why we specialize in independent watch brands that offer a cornucopia of original visions. I think young people want things that will set them apart.”
A modern makeover
Silver points to Roger Dubuis — which combines ultra-modern design with traditional high watchmaking — as one of his favorite progressive brands, hailing the company’s “bold use of color.”
Another case of a classic complication getting the modern treatment is the Patek Philippe Grand Complication reference 5316 with minute repeater, tourbillon, and retrograde perpetual calendar. Its movement is visible through a smoked sapphire crystal, a rare move for the brand.
“The 5316 is a testament to how Patek Philippe speaks to collectors of all mind-sets and proclivities, taking a watch configuration that was viewed as a more conservative high complication, and reinterpreting it to introduce it to a contemporary audience,” says Brian Govberg, president of Govberg Jewelers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Patek Philippe is a prime example of how a brand can differentiate its catalog to speak to both its current core collector and a new, younger audience with different complications, sizes and materials.”
Image: Patek Philippe Grand Complication reference 5316 with minute repeater, tourbillon, and retrograde perpetual calendar.
It’s the little things
Younger buyers are also interested in timepieces slightly smaller than the 40 to 42 millimeters that have been standard for the past 20 years — and brands have responded. Panerai, whose watches average 45 millimeters and routinely measure 47, launched the Radiomir Quaranta in a 40-millimeter size this year.
Other smaller introductions included Chopard’s 36.5-millimeter L.U.C 1860, Cartier’s 35-millimeter Pasha, Grand Seiko’s 38.5-millimeter Spring Drive Birch, Tudor’s 37-millimeter Black Bay 54, and Hublot’s 32-millimeter Spirit of Big Bang — in this case, not so big.
“The younger collector is drawn to legacy products and brands with remarkable heritage,” says Govberg. “But they are seeking watches that can be worn for all occasions — think slender sports watches — and the most sought-after pieces in production today are from collections that have been around since the ’70s [when watches were smaller].”
Image: Roger Dubuis Excalibur Blacklight Spin-Stone Monobalancier.
Jewelry watches are also trending, especially those incorporating metiers like enameling, marquetry or engraving. The marquetry dial of Cartier’s Baignoire features inlays of turquoise, onyx, mother-of-pearl and white gold, with gray spinels and blue tourmalines adorning the bezel. Patek Philippe debuted a diamond- and emerald-set version of its most complicated model, the Grandmaster Chime, at this year’s show.
Pendant watches are hot as well: Piaget introduced one with diamonds dangling from twisted gold tassels, and others with turquoise and diamonds or malachite and emeralds. Van Cleef & Arpels displayed versions in rose quartz, chalcedony and sodalite, along with sapphire, ruby and emerald. Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose mastery of gem-setting matches its expertise in high complications, showed off a diamond and onyx pendant version of its classic Reverso watch.
Most of these jeweled timepieces are available exclusively at brand boutiques, often selling directly to preferred clients without even making it into a showcase.
An extension of the jeweling trend is the joyful use of color in luxury watches over the past two years. From the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Celebration, with its 51 lacquered bubbles in bright shades, to the green-dialed Oris ProPilot X Kermit Edition, in which Kermit the Frog appears in the date window on the first of every month, Swiss watches are glowing with new hues.
Main image: Rolex Oyster Perpetual With a Celebration dial in multi-colored enamel. (Rolex)