Thursday, February 21, 2008

Business Daily - ‘Watches are ice-breakers’

Bindu D. Menon

You may think that in the days of high-end cameras, swanky mobile phones and iPods, the days of the watches are numbered. Wrong! It is believed that when people make their first million, the first thing they go out and purchase is invariably an exquisite luxury watch.

And if Stephen Urquhart (62), President, Omega Watches, is to be believed, the future of the luxury watch industry is on terra firma. For the purpose of a watch is not just to tell time, it also a way of self-expression.

Estimated at Rs 650 crore, the luxury watch segment in India is growing at a compounded annual rate of 25 per cent. The market size for Swiss watches alone is about euro 14 billion and India’s share, at Rs 200 crore, is less than 0.5 per cent of the total market for luxury watches. Omega is a part of the Swatch group, which owns 18 well-known brands. It other top brands are Blancpain, Breguet, Longines and Rado.

In an interview with BrandLine, the Swiss timekeeper says India has evolved and transformed itself. It is a booming market for luxury goods and watch collectors are enthusiastic about any new launches internationally.

A popular assumption is that the luxury watch industry may not survive in the days of high-end gadgets. Where do you think the industry is heading?

It is wrong to assume that the days of the watch industry are numbered. On the contrary, it is literally ‘high’ time for the segment. The awareness is very high and consumers are clued into the minutest details. A watch is a horological masterpiece and a style statement. A person’s handshake can say a lot about his social status. Watches capture people’s attention and start conversations. They are ice-breakers.

Omega has been capturing people’s attention in India. How is the market in India?

The Indian consumer is a very discerning consumer. Sales have been high and our five exclusive outlets have a steady clientele. Omega helps an aspiring individual to fulfill his emotional and artistic need. It is not a me-too product and attracts people with fine taste. Watch lovers know the bells and whistles their watch offers. They love to talk about all the complications included on their watches. So it is basically luxury meets lifestyle.

Omega is seen to lend its name to sports events. Is that your way of connecting with sports lovers?

Sports and lifestyle are very intrinsically linked. Omega has been wearing a sporty hat for a long time. For instance, we have been heavily promoting golf and sailing for a long time. In India, we are promoting the two games. Besides, motivational merchandise reflects the style statement of an individual and so sporty watches will be a dominant theme in the future.

The grey market is a thriving industry and more so in India. How will you tackle this problem? What are your strategies to increase your presence in India? Grey markets exist in all pockets around the globe. It is estimated that more than 40 million counterfeit Swiss watches are sold every year and in values terms it is a loss of over $650 million. We are addressing this through various means. The distribution network is being strengthened and lots of awareness is being created. We will be increasing the number of corporate flagship stores. This will create a distinct brand identity besides providing a touch and feel experience.

What is the trend in high-end luxury watches?

Watches both quartz and mechanical are doing very well. Sporty styles with big dials, water-resistant, easy-to-read LCD display that indicates the wearer’s heart rate, speed, distance and altitude and has chronograph functions are also extremely popular.

Complicated watches with lots of utilities and functions have also generated considerable interest. Our belief is that these products motivate an individual to stay healthy. Red gold is also in vogue though steel finishes both gloss and mattes are also enduring timepieces. More and more people are becoming eco-friendly, opting out of leather and using composite materials like rubber.

There is a lot of excitement about vintage watches. How is the market doing?

Watches which are over 50 years old can be classified as vintage. A lot of Omega’s vintage watches are sold on e-Bay. So we thought, it was better to buy them back from old customers and establish it in a museum. This helps our design team to work on enhancing designs and at times even marrying the contemporary with the vintage. Currently, we have 15,000 pieces in our museum in Vienna itself. The company spends about 10 per cent turnover on R&D.

The duty on imported watches is very high. Have you made any representation to the Indian government to bring it down?

The Swiss luxury watch manufacturers have made a representation to the Indian Government to bring down the duty in luxury goods. This would help us consolidate the market in India. India has a fine taste for imported watches and we hope that in three to five years, it will among the top markets in the world for luxury watches.

With Bollywood heartthrob Abhishek Bachchan as your brand ambassador, how many eyeballs have you managed to attract in India?

Having a local brand ambassador is a part of our policy of ‘think global, act local’. Abhishek is a perfect brand fit and symbolises our images as a lifestyle brand. For our jewellery line, we have Sonali Bendre.

No comments: