Editorial: The Rise of Personalisation For Luxury Watches

By Su Jia Xian

Luxury watches are less rare than they once were, with the cumulative quantity in circulation increasing every year. With the slowdown in fine watchmaking, watch brands need to make the client feel special.

Options for hand-engraved initials on a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

Luxury goods are supposed to be exclusive, perhaps unique, demonstrating the savoir-faire and patrimony of centuries old maisons. Critics, on the other hand, allege that is no longer the case. There is lots of evidence to back up those claims, since the biggest luxury houses like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel each do several billion dollars worth of business each year.

Though the watch industry is smaller, it is equally prolific. The three largest watchmakers in Switzerland – Rolex, Omega and Cartier – between them produce nearly two million timepieces every year. Even the preeminent name in haute horlogerie, Patek Philippe, has an annual output in the mid-five figure range.

Fine watchmakers are also just as global as luxury fashion houses. Leading watch brands have outposts everywhere, even at the frontiers of global capitalism, boasting stores in Africa and Central Asia. Can luxury watches continue to be special?

Personalisation is one obvious solution. It is now common amongst leather goods brands. Bags and wallets can be be engraved, embossed or painted with initials for a modest fee, with custom motifs also available for a little bit more.

For watches personalisation is still nascent. While major high horology brands offer their best clients – meaning those who spend millions – custom watches, such timepieces are extraordinarily expensive. Custom watches often emerge at auction, providing a glimpse into what those with unlimited budgets can achieve.

Vacheron Constantin‘s recently launched most-complicated-watch-ever is a one kilo example of a wealthy client can demand. Amongst the best known are various Patek Philippe complications fitted with unique dials or laden with precious stones. Despite their ostensible rarity such watches regularly appear at international watch auctions.

For the ordinary consumers, large watch brands strive to offer a standard product, both to enjoy economies of scale in production and to build brand equity. A consistent product and image, achieved via product and also boutiques, is necessary in order to build up a strong brand identity. That’s why the average buyer has to contend with a Henry …read more      

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