Horology in Motion: Significant Milestones of the Watch Industry in 2023
As the year 2023 unwinds its final moments, let us revisit the top ten defining moments that have marked the watch industry’s passage through time. These events stand out not only for their immediate impact but also for their potential to shape the trajectory of horology in the years to come. It’s been a period where tradition met innovation, where the industry’s giants carved new paths, and where history’s silent witness, the watch, found new tales to tell. Here is my top ten list, let me know if it coincide with your top ten and if not, what’s your top ten?
1.Watches & Wonders Under New Management of WWGF: Transition to the management of the Watches and Wonders Geneva Foundation (WWGF) – (March 27, 2023)
March 2023, Watches & Wonders Geneva underwent a pivotal change, transitioning from the management of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) to the Watches and Wonders Geneva Foundation (WWGF). Established by Rolex, Richemont, and Patek Philippe, the WWGF aimed to promote watchmaking globally, organizing both physical and digital exhibitions. The event, held at Geneva’s Palexpo, showcased nearly 50 brands and, for the first time, opened to the public, reflecting an inclusive approach and emphasizing Geneva’s significance in the watchmaking industry. This strategic shift marked a new era in luxury watch exhibition and community engagement.
2. Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives: Introduction of Louis Vuitton’s Watch Prize for Independent Creatives – (April 21, 2023)
April 2023, Louis Vuitton launched the Watch Prize for Independent Creatives, a significant initiative to recognize and support independent watchmakers. This prestigious award, judged by a panel of industry experts, aimed to showcase innovation and craftsmanship in horology. The jurors, selected for their diverse expertise, evaluated submissions based on design, innovation, and technical complexity. This prize signified Louis Vuitton’s commitment to fostering the art of watchmaking and provided a platform for emerging talents in the independent watchmaking sector. It highlighted the brand’s dedication to nurturing creativity and excellence in the luxury watch industry.
3. Audemars Piguet Announces New CEO: Announcement of a new CEO by Audemars Piguet (May 22, 2023)
May 2023, Audemars Piguet announced the appointment of the new CEO Ilaria Resta. This decision garnered attention, particularly because Resta did not have a traditional background in watchmaking, marking a departure from the norm in an industry steeped in heritage and specialized expertise. The move was seen as a significant shift for Audemars Piguet, a brand known for its rich history and prestige in the world of haute horlogerie. The appointment raised discussions about the evolving landscape of the luxury watch market and the potential new directions in which the brand could be headed under this leadership. This change at the top level of Audemars Piguet was indicative of the brand’s readiness to embrace new perspectives and strategies in a rapidly changing luxury market.
4. Puyi’s Patek Philippe Auctioned: Auction of Puyi’s Patek Philippe watch – (May 23, 2023)
May 2023 auction of Puyi’s Patek Philippe watch held special significance, particularly for individuals with a connection to Chinese history and culture. For someone like myself, who has been impacted by “The Last Emperor” movie, the auction of this watch wasn’t just a sale of a luxury timepiece but a poignant reminder of a significant historical era in China. Puyi’s watch, steeped in the history of the Qing Dynasty’s final days, symbolizes the profound transformations China underwent in the 20th century. The auction of such an artifact resonates deeply, blending the allure of horological art with the rich tapestry of Chinese heritage. This event encapsulated more than just the monetary value of a rare watch; it represented a tangible link to a past era, embodying the personal and national story of China’s last emperor.
5. Significant Increase in Stolen Luxury Watches: Bloomberg’s report on the increase in stolen and missing Rolex and Patek Philippe watches – (Reported on August 21, 2023)
August 2023, a Bloomberg report highlighted an alarming trend in the luxury watch market, particularly in London, where there was a significant increase in the number of Rolex and Patek Philippe watches reported as stolen or missing. This surge in watch-related crimes in London has become a major concern for watch owners and collectors. The report detailed that billions of dollars worth of these high-value watches were registered as stolen or missing, illustrating the scale of the problem in the city. The prevalence of these thefts underscored the need for enhanced security measures and greater awareness among luxury watch enthusiasts. The situation in London reflected the broader challenge facing the luxury watch industry in safeguarding against theft and loss.
6. Rolex Acquires Bucherer: Rolex’s acquisition of the large watch retailer Bucherer – (August 30, 2023)
August 2023, Rolex’s acquisition of Bucherer, a major watch retailer, marked a pivotal shift in the luxury watch industry. Bucherer’s extensive retail network, with over 100 global locations including 53 stores showcasing Rolex and 48 offering Tudor, played a significant role in the distribution of Rolex products. This acquisition was a strategic move by Rolex to assert control over its distribution, especially after Bucherer’s acquisition of Tourneau in the United States in 2018 and Rolex’s foray into the certified pre-owned market in Europe. The move raised questions about the future of independent retail distribution and potential market and regulatory reactions, signaling a new era in luxury watch retailing with potential significant impacts on the industry dynamics.
7. Swatch Launches Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Collaboration: Launch of the Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms Collection in collaboration with Blancpain – (September 9, 2023)
September 2023, Swatch Group and Blancpain collaborated to launch the Bioceramic Scuba Fifty Fathoms Collection, celebrating the 70th anniversary of Blancpain’s iconic Fifty Fathoms, the first true diver’s watch. This collection, comprising five models named after the world’s oceans, featured design elements true to the Fifty Fathoms heritage, such as superior water resistance and outstanding legibility. These models, equipped with Swatch’s SISTEM51 mechanical movement, highlighted the fusion of playful design and traditional craftsmanship. The collaboration showcased the innovative approach of both brands, blending Swatch’s fun style with Blancpain’s prestigious diving watch legacy.
8. ONLY Watch Postponement Announced: Postponement of the 10th edition of the ONLY Watch auction to 2024 – (October 23, 2023)
October 2023, the ONLY Watch charity auction, originally scheduled for November, was postponed to 2024. The postponement was due to concerns raised about the fund allocation and governance of the Association Monégasque contre les Myopathies (AMM), the organization behind the event. This decision reflected a need for transparency and accountability in the management of funds raised for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. The postponement highlighted the importance of ethical and responsible practices in philanthropic events within the luxury watch industry, emphasizing the need for trust and integrity in charitable endeavors.
9. WatchBox Rebrands to The 1916 Company and Enters Rolex CPO Market: WatchBox’s rebranding to The 1916 Company and entry into the Rolex CPO market – (November 1, 2023)
Nov 2023, WatchBox, a leader in the luxury watch retail and pre-owned market, underwent a significant rebranding, becoming The 1916 Company. This change came as part of a strategic expansion that included the acquisition of several Rolex authorized dealerships, significantly enhancing its retail capabilities. The rebranding to The 1916 Company marked WatchBox’s transition to an official Rolex Certified Pre-owned dealer, focusing exclusively on authenticated, pre-owned Rolex watches. This move was seen as a key development in the luxury watch market, indicating a trend towards consolidation and the increasing importance of the certified pre-owned sector.
10. Breitling Acquires Universal Geneve: Breitling’s acquisition of Universal Geneve – December 12, 2023)
December 2023, Breitling’s acquisition of Universal Geneve for 60 million CHF, to be paid over five years, marked a strategic expansion in the luxury watch industry. This move brought together Breitling’s renowned aviation heritage with Universal Geneve’s storied history in watchmaking. The acquisition price underscored the value placed on Universal Geneve’s legacy and potential contribution to Breitling’s portfolio. It reflected the ongoing trend of consolidation in the luxury watch sector and highlighted Breitling’s commitment to diversifying and strengthening its global market presence by integrating Universal Geneve’s innovative designs and esteemed history into its brand.