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The Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair flies above the turmoil

Amid continued unrest, both domestic and international, the 38th Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair was placed in a challenging position. Yet it has proved remarkably resilient, writes MARTIN FOSTER.

The 38th Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair (HKWCF) opened in early September against the background of Baselworld suffering exhibitor self-doubt and the lightweight Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) – now to be known as Watches & Wonders Geneva – show-pony prancing at its heels.

Yet the divided agonies of the Swiss could not have been further from the minds of the Hong Kong exhibitors or their visitors. This was not so much born of indifference, but to the fact that Hong Kong is suffering its own regional troubles.

Political protests began in March and April; by 9 June, hundreds of thousands of people were marching in the streets. The demonstrations continued right through until the opening of the HKWCF on 3 September.

Despite all the circumstances, the fair soared above the unpredictability on the streets; personally, I saw no protestors on arrival or at my departure flight.

The HKWCF is held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the edge of beautiful Victoria Harbour. And throughout the trade show, there was bling, dazzle and glitz aplenty.

Benjamin Chau, HKTDC
Benjamin Chau, HKTDC
"Despite the continuation of the Sino-US trade friction, global exhibitors and buyers still view Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair as a premier one-stop trading platform"
Benjamin Chau, HKTDC

This 38th edition of the fair attracted 18,000 buyers from 104 countries and regions. There was growth in buyer attendance from emerging markets such as Brazil, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam, along with established markets such as Belgium and Switzerland. The political tension between Beijing and Hong Kong is believed to be the cause of a fall in Chinese attendance.

There were other global issues in play too, such as the China/USA trade fallout. However, Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade & Development Council (HKTDC) which organises the HKWCF, said, “Despite the continuation of the Sino-US trade friction, global exhibitors and buyers still view Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair as a premier one-stop trading platform.

“The fair attracted various watch and clock brands, retailers and wholesalers such as Shiel’s from Australia, Chilli Beans from Brazil, Wenger’s of Canada, Germany’s Paul Valentine, Titan Group of India, Tous Watch from Spain, Iduna AB of Sweden, Switzerland’s West End Watch and Armitron from the United States.”

Generous credit must go to the Hong Kong authorities, who maintained an official ‘business as usual’ image.

Continued success

As the Swiss trade events have progressively unravelled, the Hong Kong fair has flourished – but the reasons are not clear-cut and resist lazy conclusions.

For example, it may well be that the highly valued provenance for buyers of Swiss luxury watches has waned a little for the new-wealth buyers in Asian markets; this possibility is reflected in the already reduced numbers of Asian exhibitors at Baselworld. But concomitantly, we now see more Swiss/ European brands exhibiting in Hong Kong, and the given reason is the beckoning Chinese market.

Perhaps here we need to clarify another widely held assumption that the Hong Kong fair is selling to the whole world. Without any doubt it most certainly is – but Chinese wealth, and China itself, are the primary targets of the 830 HKWCF exhibitors.

There are, reportedly, around 4,500 shopping malls in China and another 7,000 are expected to open in the next seven years. To put that figure in context, the UK has 1,522, France 1,253, Italy 860, and Germany 794. The New South China Mall in Dongguan, situated in central Guangdong Province, is reputed to be the biggest in the world.

These malls include luxury watches and jewellery at all levels. Thus, by any measure, the exhibitor’s temptations are compelling and the HKWCF provides the doorstep into that temptation.

In terms of aesthetics and quality, Chinese watchmakers are strongly closing the gap with their Swiss counterparts. At the same time, the Swiss are recognising the broader opportunities of proximity to China – and the HKWCF is an ideal crossroads of these cultures.

This was evident in the tools exhibitors; many of them were representatives of the European makers and had wide ranges of hand tools and parts from China.

The show that has it all

In the halls of the fair can be found a full range of mechanicals, complications, quartz and smartwatches together with tools, parts, crystals, testing equipment, machinery, display stands, packing and presentation materials and all associated services.

A special feature of the HKWCF is the small orders zone. This presents about 130 showcases, targeting buyers seeking to place orders for 5-1,000 watches, clocks, leather straps, bracelets or accessories. Some of these products can be ordered as singles online or at the fair.

Indeed, it is a one-stop sourcing platform for international buyers with prices ranging from $1 to well into the tens of thousands.

At the 2019 edition, the fair’s Salon de TE featured about 140 upmarket brands and designer collections. These included 13 luxury Swiss/German brands from World Brand Piazza, along with traditional craftsmanship at the Swiss Independent Watchmaking Pavilion and the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI).

Useful statistics were also provided, with the HKTDC commissioning independent market research in which 839 buyers and exhibitors were interviewed. The data showed that about 31 per cent rated smartwatches to be among the most popular categories for 2020. For automatic watches, the figure was 22 per cent, followed by 18 per cent for digital analogue watches and 14 per cent for quartz analogue watches.

The respondents were also asked which types of watches would be developed most in the coming year; the three most popular answers were watches connecting with smart devices, watches infl uenced by fashion trends, and mix-and-match watches with changeable features.

The HKWCF will open its doors again on 1–5 September 2020.


38th Hong Kong Watch and Clock Fair


Martin Foster

Martin Foster is a freelance journalist and Jeweller’s resident watch ‘guru’. Based in Sydney, Martin attends major international exhibitions covering the watch and timepieces categories.

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