Study Finds Tripling Of Luxury Watch Imports During Chinese Leadership Transition

Much of the slowing demand for luxury watches has been blamed on cooling demand in China and Hong Kong, as evidenced by falling sales in Greater China. A 2013 academic study sheds some light on why this is happening.

Not the sort given as a gift

Published in 2013 by a pair of economists at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) in Beijing, Swiss Watch Cycles: Evidence of Corruption during Leadership Transition in China examined the link between the five yearly transition of power in China and Swiss watch imports into China. For the period between 1993 and 2010, the paper found that imports of Swiss watches tripled during each leadership transition. The current leader of China, Xi Jinping, embarked on an all-out battle against official corruption almost immediately after taking office in late 2012. That had an immediate impact on Swiss watch exports to China and Hong Kong, evident in the 2013 Swiss export statistics. With Hong Kong and China accounting for a quarter of Swiss watch exports, the slowdown in Greater China has had a chilling effect on Swiss watchmaking. Xiaohuan Lan and Wei Li at CKGSB demonstrated the link between watches and corruption in their 2013 paper. Because watches are small but expensive (the median value for an imported luxury watch in China is US$5000), while also having high value retention (meaning they can be sold for cash), they are ideal as gifts for officials. And the widespread counterfeiting of luxury watches makes them even more attractive as gifts, since a real watch and its equivalent counterfeit can be gifted together, with the replica used as proof during an investigation.  Using trade statistics from the World Bank, Lan and Li showed that during each of the three leadership transitions between 1993 and 2010, imports of luxury watches into China tripled. This did not happen in Hong Kong, Singapore or the United States. The study also studied import figures for jewellery, luxury handbags and automobiles, none of which showed a similar jump. Here’s the full study in PDF format. It’s an interesting read.

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The Verdict: Vacheron Constantin Harmony Chronograph and the New Calibre 3300 Movement (with Original Photos & Pricing)

Vacheron Constantin introduced its long anticipated in-house chronograph movement at SIHH 2015, inside the the Harmony Chronograph Cal. 3300, a limited edition to mark the brand's 260th anniversary. 

After a long wait, Vacheron Constantin finally took the covers off the calibre 3300 chronograph movement earlier this year at SIHH 2015. Its first modern, in-house chronograph movement, the calibre 3300 made it debut inside the Harmony Chronograph, a cushion-shaped, limited edition wristwatch introduced to mark the 260th anniversary of the Geneva watchmaker.

Patek Philippe has the impressively constructed CH 29 while A. Lange & Söhne introduced the gorgeous L951 movement found in the Datograph some 16 years ago. Vacheron Constantin, however, relied on the Lemania-derived calibre 1141 since the 1980s – until SIHH 2015 when the calibre 3300 came along in the new Harmony Chronograph. Modelled on a 1920s doctor’s watch, the Harmony Chronograph is a 260-piece anniversary limited edition (one of several made for the anniversary). It features a pulsometer on the dial, as well as a power reserve indicator at six o’clock. Next year will see the introduction of the regular production Harmony, equipped with the same, but less elaborately decorated, calibre 3300.

The calibre 3300 is the new flagship chronograph movement for Vacheron Constantin, offering the aesthetics of a traditional, high-end chronograph movement. That is to say it is manually wound and equipped with a lateral coupling for the chronograph, so all the bits and bobs of the chronograph mechanism are spread out over the movement instead of being hidden under a rotor or a bridge.

Beyond the standard features, the calibre 3300 is also a mono-pusher chronograph, with a button co-axial with the crown for start, stop and reset. And it has a 45 minute counter, instead of the more common 30 minute register.

At just under 33mm in diameter, the calibre 3300 is a rather large movement (the Patek CH 29 is only 29.6mm wide), with an unusually large balance cock. For the 260th anniversary limited edition the balance cock is hand-engraved with a floral fleurisanne motif that will be absent on the regular production Harmony to be launched in 2016.

The reason the balance cock is so large (and the balance wheel comparatively small), is that the calibre 3300 is actually a variant of the calibre 3200 found in the Harmony Tourbillon Chronograph. Because the calibre 3300 is identical except for the tourbillon regulator, removing the tourbillon leaves significant space to be filled, which is accomplished by enlarging the balance cock as well as the three-quarter plate.

Interestingly levers of the chronograph mechanism are rather wide and flat, a style of construction also found in the Lange 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar. This helps reduce the height of the movement, which is still 6.9mm high. That is slim but not exceptionally so, putting it in somewhere in the middle compared to the competition. The construction, combined with its diameter, gives the movement a spaced out appearance with lots of flat surfaces.

While the calibre 3300 lacks the spectacular three-dimensional aesthetics of other chronograph movements (the Vacheron Constantin calibre 3500 is a good, albeit much more expensive, example), it does offer visual appeal, like the Maltese Cross-topped column wheel.

Note the second, less obvious Maltese Cross

The finishing is excellent, as is expected for Vacheron Constantin and at this price. Up close it is not quite a spectacular as the Lange Datograph movement. And the Patek CH 29 appears to have a slight edge as well.

While the Harmony Chronograph and the calibre 3300 inside are both very, very good, one can’t help but feel the movement could be better. Price-wise the Harmony Chronograph 260th Anniversary limited edition is competitive, retailing for US$75,300 or S$105,600, about the same as the pink gold Lange Datograph but less than the Patek Philippe Ref. 5170.

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