In the watch industry, the mention of China has a several connotations. From a consumer perspective, affluent Chinese consumers have been the engine driving growth in high-end watch purchases as the economies in the US and Europe have sagged. The percentage of watch sales from Chinese travelers for retailers in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Zurich and Geneva can be 50 percent or higher!
In the past couple years, and recently with the purchase of Corum and Eterna by a Chinese company, the question has been raised in the valleys of Switzerland where highly mechanical timepieces are made, will ownership from the East impact attention to quality and detail?
Of course, there are some brands that already have some manufacturing or parts made outside of the Swiss French German cradle of watch-making. Who and what parts already come from China is a question that probably is as much gossip as reality.
The Chinese Timekeeper on the other hand is the first high-end watch brand (albeit in the low four figure range) that is proudly telling the history of Chinese horlogerie. Launched by former L’Oreal and Richemont marketing executive Adrien Choux, the brand opened its first boutique in an upcoming, hipster area of Hong Kong Island away from the multitude of luxury malls and shopping streets. Using the marketing skills he picked up during his tenure with Panerai which popularized Italy’s contributions to the world of watches, The Chinese Timekeeper website blares, “Proudly crafted in China.”
Choux has done a good job using his company and its watches as a conduit to tell China’s long and very interesting history of keeping time. And perhaps not surprisingly consumer interest in his brand has come from as far away as Amsterdam and Santa Barbara, California where his watches are now being sold.
Recently The Chinese Timekeeper won the Hong Kong Invest Small Medium Enterprise Award. It is the same award won four years ago by jewelry company Qeelin, know for its blending of Chinese heritage and modern design. In January Kering (parent of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Boucheron YSL, Girard-Perregaux, Brioni and the like) acquired the majority of Qeelin’s shares.
Right now Choux expects to deliver about 500 watches in the next year meaning The Chinese Timekeeper is probably still too small to be a takeover target, but with the population of High Net Worth Consumers in Asia having surpassed Europe, Choux’s decision to leave the corporate world to become an entrepreneur could have been perfect timing.