Cartier, Hermes Replace Geneva Watch Fair With Online Event

(Bloomberg) -- The Geneva watch salon will be replaced with an online event as the Swiss watchmaking industry tries to make the best of what probably will be the worst year in the modern history of watchmaking.

On Saturday, a site will open up to consumers, retailers and media, showcasing new products from 30 brands, including Panerai and Vacheron Constantin, organizer Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie said in a statement Monday.

Swiss watch exports may drop a record 25% this year in one of the best-case scenarios, Vontobel analyst Rene Weber has estimated. The internet is the last resort for luxury watchmakers, which are struggling to hawk their wares in an industry based on face-to-face communication and checking how well a timepiece fits on one’s wrist.

The show on http://www.watchesandwonders.com will consist mostly of Geneva-based Richemont’s brands, such as Cartier and IWC Schaffhausen, plus peers Hermes and MB&F. In a rival event, Breitling Chief Executive Officer Georges Kern presented the label’s new watches last week via webcast.

“What the crisis is bringing us is that some critical trends that were already in the pipeline are being accelerated,” Panerai Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Pontroue said in a phone interview. The brand’s e-commerce sales more than doubled in April from a year earlier, with a big part of that linked directly to store closures caused by the coronavirus.

Swiss watchmakers were slow to adapt to the internet, only in recent years joining social media and putting timepieces with six-digit price tags up for sale online. Richemont may have an advantage over rivals Swatch Group AG and LVMH because it was an exception, spending billions to expand in online sales, which now represent about 18% of its total revenue, according to Bank Vontobel estimates. That compares to 2% for the industry in general.

Consumers have become more willing to splurge on big-ticket items via e-commerce. Panerai regularly sells timepieces online for $25,000, and the most expensive watch the brand ever sold online was a $150,000 Luminor Tourbillon, Pontroue said.

Elsewhere, Watches of Switzerland Group Plc has seen a 50% increase in online sales as brick-and-mortar stores closed in the U.K. due to the coronavirus. Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin have just recently joined its site, boosting sales.

“There is a new audience discovering luxury watches online in addition to our loyal following,” Watches of Switzerland CEO Brian Duffy said in an email. “There will be a permanent pickup in online due to the lockdown period.”

(Updates with executive comments from fifth paragraph)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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