Business News: Swatch Group Sales Plunge on Pandemic Closures

Along with job cuts and a positive outlook.

Swiss watchmaking conglomerate Swatch Group just announced its half-year 2020 results and unsurprisingly, it took a huge hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the group, which owns brands like Omega and Longines, had a good start in January with an operating margin of 17.3% – with the watch and jewellery brands performing a bit better than movement- and component-production division – the lockdown progressively imposed across the world since February severely impacted sales, leading to a steep declines in revenue and half-year operating loss, a first for the group.

Group sales for the first half plunged 43.4% at constant exchange rates from a year earlier, resulting in an operating loss of CHF327m, compared to a profit of CHF547m for the same period in 2019.

Most of the drop in sales was attributed to the lockdowns in most countries, resulting in widespread store closures. The Swatch Group saw up to 80% of both its own boutiques and third-party retailers close, meaning it had to rely on partially “partially feasible” e-commerce. And even after lockdowns were lifted, the group permanently vacated some of its retail space, as evidenced by disputes with its former landlord in Hong Kong, which has sued the Swatch Group for several million in allegedly unpaid rent.

Due to its swiftly-streamlining retail network, the group’s employee count was trimmed by 6.5% since December 2019 to approximately 33,700 employees. This was also confirmed by anecdotal evidence from insiders who cite an unusual large number of personnel departures at Swatch Group brands in many markets.

Looking up in the second half

Despite the dire first half, the Swatch Group is upbeat on the second half as a result of the easing of lockdowns around the world. A lower cost base, coupled with new products slated for launch, will further help the situation according to its announcement.

The recently launched Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph “Tuxedo”

The positive outlook is compounded by strong, continued customer demand for the watches produced by the group’s brands. Although the sales expectedly declined during the lockdowns around the world, they immediately rebounded as countries eased such measures and resumed economic activity.

For example, sales in China declined over 80% in the months of the nationwide lockdown. But the turnaround was pronounced once the lockdown ended, with sales at its own boutiques rising 76% and 60% year on year in May and June. As that was replicated in countries around the world, the group returned to an operating profit in June.

Consequently, the group plans to boost production capacity in the third and fourth quarter of the year to meet increased demand, leading it to expect a positive operating result for the full year.


 

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Patek Philippe Introduces the Ref. 5370P-011 Split-Seconds Chronograph

Now in blue grand feu enamel.

Unveiled in 2015, the ref. 5370P-001 was Patek Philippe’s second split-seconds chronograph powered by an in-house caliber, after the watches equipped the smaller, slimmer, and far more expensive CHR 27-525 movement. With a black grand feu enamel dial featuring Breguet numerals that gave it an eminently classical style, the ref. 5370P was a hit with fans of the brand.

Now the black-dial ref. 5370P has been discontinued and replaced by the Split-Seconds Chronograph Ref. 5370P-011. The new model is identical – with the same CHR 29-535 PS inside a 41 mm platinum case – except for the dial, which is now grand feu enamel in a stunning blue.

Initial thoughts

Like many others, I am a huge fan of the 2015 original for its balanced, restrained design that is also eminently legible and clear. As a fan of Patek Philippe’s traditional designs, the watch was also appealing for the design lineage that can be traced to Patek Philippe watches of the mid-20th century.

While the original is compelling for its vintage cues, the new version feels more modern with the blue enamel dial. As a colour that’s been in vogue for a couple of years, the new dial transforms the personality of the watch into one that is more contemporary.

While this facelift will undoubtedly be popular because blue dials are the colour du jour, I still have a preference for the original as the black enamel dial was more understated and in keeping with the brand’s historical designs.

Precious materials

Being identical save for colour as the original ref. 5370P, the blue enamel dial is no doubt executed exquisitely. With the dial base a disc of 18k gold, the dial is painted in vitreous enamel and then fired in an oven to melt the enamel onto the surface, a process that is repeated until the desired colour and thickness are achieved. The resulting grand feu enamel is lustrous in a way that is distinct to enamel.

Once again the dial features applied Breguet numerals in 18k white gold that add depth to the dial. The numerals, along with the feuille, or leaf-shaped, hands add a touch of elegance to what is otherwise a relatively sporty-looking watch.

“Email” is French for enamel

With a platinum case measures 41 mm wide and 13.56 mm tall, the ref. 5370P certainly does not wear small, though the shape and details of the case give it a degree of refinement that’s rare in large watches. Though it is similar in size to the Lange Double Split, the ref. 5370P manages to feel smaller.

One helpful element is the concave bezel that makes the watch look smaller than it is. And the case has flanks that are recessed, finished with satin-brushing surrounds by raised polished borders that add visual definition. Also distinctive are the white gold cabochons at end of each lug.

A gorgeous movement

Turn the watch around and you’ll be greeted by the CHR 29-535 PS that’s captivating in its visual intricacy and depth. The is based on the CH 27 found in the ref. 5170 and ref. 5172 but with a split-seconds mechanism added on.

Equipped with a column wheel and a horizontal clutch, the split-seconds chronograph is one of the most sophisticated complications. It can record two elapsed times of up to a minute, which means it can record the lap times of simultaneous moving objects, or two consecutive lap times.

The finishing of the CHR 29-535 is superb with all details attended to. The decoration is not to the same level as the CHR 27-525, but the latter costs almost twice as much.

The movement has also been designed in an attractive manner, with slim and finely shaped levers for the chronograph mechanism, which add to its refined aesthetic. The highlight is the split-seconds mechanism in the middle of the movement that sits under a sharply-shaped bridge.


Key Facts and Price

Patek Philippe Split-Seconds Chronograph
Ref. 5370P-011

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: 13.56 mm
Material: Platinum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: CHR 29-535 PS
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and split-seconds chronograph
Winding: Manual wind
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Alligator leather

Availability: Now at boutiques and authorised retailers
Price: 232,000 Swiss francs

For more information, visit Patek.com.


 

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Patek Philippe Introduces the Ref. 5172G Chronograph

A revamp of its classic chronograph.

Baselworld 2018: Patek Philippe Introduces the Aquanaut Chronograph Ref. 5968A

A new entry-level sports chronograph - with an orange rubber strap. (With pricing inside.)

Patek Philippe Introduces Chronograph Annual Calendar Ref. 5960/1A in Black

Cosmetic tweaks to the chronograph with annual calendar in stainless steel.

Patek Philippe Introduces the Minute Repeater Tourbillon Ref. 5303R-001

With an open-worked dial.

Originally introduced as the 12-piece limited edition ref. 5303R-010 for the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019, the Minute Repeater Tourbillon was a unique watch amongst the brand’s grand complications. It combined an open dial, partially-skeletonised movement equipped with a minute repeater and tourbillon, within a case with contrast-colour gold inlays.

Now the reference has entered the catalogue as a regular-production model with the Minute Repeater Tourbillon Ref. 5303R-001.

Initial thoughts

When first debuted during the Grand Exhibition in Singapore, the ref. 5303R was polarising but popular. Traditionalists who favour the old-school Patek Philippe style (think Breguet numerals and leaf hands) didn’t appreciate it, but those who wanted something more contemporary or unusual loved it.

Initially I though the look was too much, but came to appreciate it, especially in the context of a Patek Philippe collector who already has several watches. This looks different, while still having all of the key features that make it appealing, namely the excellent minute repeater sound and the “octopus” wheel on the back.

Skeletonised and inlaid

The key features of the new watch are identical to the Singapore edition. The movement is the Cal. R TO 27 PS, featuring both a minute repeater with cathedral gongs and tourbillon.

Both the complications are visible on the dial, with the hammers and racks exposed at 11 o’clock, and the gongs circling the dial.

The ref. 5303R is also the only model in the catalogue that has the tourbillon visible on the dial, sitting under a clear sapphire disc covered in a transparent UV-protection coating that prevents sunlight from degrading the lubricants of the mechanism.

To match the case, the base plate is plated in rose gold, while the bridges of the movement that are visible through the case back have the usual rhodium finish. The most prominent and beautiful detail on the back is the “octopus” wheel with its serpentine spokes that are rounded and polished.

The case is a largish 42 mm and made up of two colours of gold. Most of the case is 18k rose gold, but the flanks of the case band and lugs are decorated with open-worked inlays in 18k white gold.


Key facts and price

Patek Philippe Minute Repeater Tourbillon
Ref. 5303R-001

Case diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.3 mm
Material: 18k rose gold with inlays of 18k white gold
Water resistance: Moisture resistant; not water resistant

Movement: Cal. R TO 27 PS
Functions: Time, minute repeater, tourbillon
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Hand-wind
Power reserve: 40-48 hours

Strap: Alligator with folding clasp

Availability: At both retailers and boutiques
Price: 600,000 Swiss francs

For more, visit Patek.com.


 

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Patek Philippe Introduces the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J-001

Once again in yellow gold.

After an extended absence, Patek Philippe’s signature perpetual calendar chronograph is once again available in yellow gold with the Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270J-001.

The new watch joins the platinum and rose gold versions currently in the catalogue, and is the first perpetual calendar chronograph in yellow gold since the ref. 5970J was discontinued in 2009.

Initial thoughts

The very first Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph powered by an in-house movement, the ref. 5270 was introduced in 2011 but remains under appreciated, primarily because it isn’t one of the earlier perpetual calendar chronograph that are regarded as “iconic” (namely the refs. 5970, 3970, 2499 and 1518).

But the ref. 5270 is excellent, or at least very good, in most tangible aspects. It’s a well-made watch with a smartly-constructed, modern movement inside robust-yet-elegant case of that sort that Patek Philippe excels at. And functionally it is also excellent, especially with the slightly larger calendar windows.

Admittedly the movement finishing is not quite artisanal, but it is on par with other high-end brands that produce watches in substantial numbers, like Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet. It does costs more than what the competition charges for an equivalent watch, but the value of the Patek Philippe brand is tremendous.

The ref. 5270J adds the option of a far more classical look to the line up. The combination of a silver dial and yellow gold case is the quintessential look for the Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph ever since the ref. 1518.

Personally, the silver dial against the yellow gold case lacks contrast, but it will surely find its fans, especially amongst traditionalists.

A new face

The new ref. 5270J is essentially identical to the existing versions of the reference, with the same dial design featuring a tachymetre on its perimeter that overlaps the outer minute track.

And the case is also identical in shape and size, with a 41 mm diameter and the flared lugs with concave fluting that are usually overlooked.

Within is the CH 29-535 PS Q, an in-house movement with a traditional construction and an instantaneous 30-minute counter, which means the hand jumps crisply with each minute that elapses on the chronograph. And it contains a handful of notable modern innovations, including patented tooth profiles for the chronograph wheels.


Key facts and price

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Ref. 5270J-001

Case diameter: 41 mm
Height: 12.4 mm
Material: 18k yellow gold
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. CH 29-535 PS Q
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph with instantaneous minute counter, and perpetual calendar with moon phase
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Hand-wind
Power reserve: 55-65 hours

Strap: Alligator with folding clasp

Availability: At both retailers and boutiques
Price: 149,000 Swiss francs

For more, visit Patek.com.


 

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Patek Philippe Introduces the Ref. 5172G Chronograph

A revamp of its classic chronograph.

Patek Philippe Introduces Chronograph Annual Calendar Ref. 5960/1A in Black

Cosmetic tweaks to the chronograph with annual calendar in stainless steel.

Baselworld 2018: Patek Philippe Introduces the Nautilus Perpetual Calendar Ref. 5740/1G

Long awaited and in 18k white gold. (With pricing inside.)

Up Close: IWC Portugieser Chronograph 3716

A substantial upgrade for the same money.

Launched three years after the Portugieser rattrapante chronograph of 1995, the first-generation Portugieser Chronograph ref. 3714 combined straightforward good looks, excellent dimensions and an affordable price. Unsurprisingly it was resoundingly popular, and a bestseller for over 20 years.

Apart from an upmarket spin-off, the ref. 3903 with the in-house cal. 89361 – that was not quite a success due to a size and price – the ref. 3714 remained virtually unchanged since inception except for a new dial colour every so often. The movement within also remained the same over its two-decade production run – the cal. 79350, a gently upgraded Valjoux 7750.

Then in 2018, IWC offered the first glimpse of the future when the brand celebrated its 150th anniversary. Amongst the commemorative editions was the Portugieser Chronograph Edition 150 Years ref. 3716, near identical to the ref. 3714 but powered by the in-house cal. 69355. Now the Portugieser Chronograph 3716 has officially joined the catalogue as a regular-production model, replacing the venerable ref. 3714.

The ref. 3716 in the classic gold-on-silver guise

The ref. 3716 in burgundy

Initial thoughts

The new Portugieser Chronograph ref. 3716 is essentially a ref. 3714 with a superior, in-house movement. If you liked the original, you will definitely like the ref. 3716.

Importantly, the ref. 3716 6 is a good value proposition. It’s priced at less than 5% over the original, a modest and entirely reasonable increase. In fact, the ref. 3716 offers much better value than the original, which, after numerous price hikes over two decades, ended up fairly pricey for a 7750-based watch.

The in-house cal. 69355 visible through the display back

And for those who like the style but want something new, the ref. 3716 is available in funky new colours. The line up totals nine references, in either steel or 18k red gold, including the all-time classic in steel with gold numerals that’s the quintessential Portugieser Chronograph.

The line up also includes several striking new colours for the steel model, namely metallic green, burgundy, or blue. While the green and burgundy are far from the traditional Portugieser look, they are interesting for precisely that reason. The gold-on-silver dial is classic but it has been produced for so long that the look is a bit too common.

Portugieser looks

The Portugieser design is simple but surprisingly distinctive. The dial is characterised by Arabic numerals, dot minute track, and a spacious but symmetrical layout. Matched with the narrow bezel, the result is a recognisable and pleasing look that is also versatile, having gone from a time-only watch in the original to a chronograph (and then perpetual calendars and tourbillons).

But while the design is basically the same, a key element has been upgraded. The Arabic hour numerals are now applied, instead of being embossed as they were on the previous generation. On the steel models the applied numerals are brass, but on the 18k gold version, the numerals are also solid gold. The difference between applied and embossed is barely discernible, but it is a little extra that’s nice to have.

Virtually unchanged in terms of looks over the first generation, the case is straightforward and fuss-free, with brushed flanks contrasted with polished top surfaces on the lugs and a slim polished bezel.

Though a large watch – it was a giant watch historically – the Portugieser has always been slim. The new chronograph measures 41 mm in diameter and 13.1 mm high, slightly thicker than its predecessor but barely.

That makes the ref. 3716 notably thin, being much slimmer than the common Valjoux 7750 or Sellita SW-500-powered watches on the market, which explains its appeal. The Brietling Navitimer Chronograph 41, for instance, is 14.44 mm thick while a Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph measures 15.5 mm.

The dimensions alone make the ref. 3716 one of the most compelling options for someone seeking an elegant automatic chronograph.

3714 vs 3716

In terms of aesthetics, the 3714 and 3716 are nearly identical from the case to dial, which makes comparing the two an exercise in splitting hairs. The 3716 is larger than the original, but the differences are so slight that they are almost indistinguishable. The new model is 41 mm in diameter and 13.1 mm high versus 40.9 mm by 12.6 mm for the original.

Old and new – refs. 3714 (left) and 3716

Refs. 3714 (left) and 3716

Dimensions aside, one subtle difference between the 3716 and the 3714 are the round pump pushers, with top portion of it in the 3716 being slightly thinner. As such, the pushers are less dominant visually. The finishing of the case is virtually identical to its ref. 3714.

Ref. 3716

Ref. 3714

The original design and architecture of the dial remain completely intact save for a couple of small modifications, including the applied numerals mentioned above.

For one, the “IWC” lettering in a classic Roman serif typeface is now slightly bigger and has been combined with the word “Schaffhausen” in a sans-serif font below. At the same time, the weight of the typeface for the words “Chronograph Automatic” has been reduced, which diverts the attention to the logo instead. Overall, the tweaks give the dial a slightly more cohesive and refined feel.

Ref. 3716

Ref. 3714

The typeface for the numerals on the registers have also been reduced to a similar size and weight. In addition, the quarter markers on the running seconds counter are no longer in bold – a tiny but sensible adjustment that allows an unimportant counter in a stopwatch to somewhat fade into the background. The bold quarter markers on the minutes totaliser, on the other hand, remain unchanged.

Ref. 3716

Ref. 3714

In the same vein, the gold running seconds hand has a domed profile and also slimmer than the original, making it less prominent than all the other flat, polished hands. The rest of the dial, from the gold, leaf-shaped hour and minute hands to the applied Arabic numerals, are otherwise identical to the ref. 3714.

Valjoux 7750 vs IWC cal. 69355

The internal update is no doubt the most important aspect of the new model. It is powered by IWC’s own cal. 69355, visible through an open case back and substantially more modern than the Valjoux-based movement it replaces.

A quick refresher: when the ref. 3714 was launched in 1998, it was equipped with the cal. 79240, which was later replaced by the cal. 79350. Both calibres were based on the ETA Valjoux 7750, modified to have a continuous seconds at six o’clock and the omission of the hour totaliser at nine o’clock.

In addition to these modifications, the IWC version of the 7750 was upgraded in several ways, including with a higher jewel count and more decorative finishing. But the movements were still very much a 7750 and easily recognisable as such (though on the ref. 3714 it was hidden behind a solid case back).

The solid back of the ref. 3714 (left), and the cal. 69355 inside the ref. 3716

Now it has been replaced by the cal. 69355, an in-house movement but most probably developed with some help from ValFleurier, the movement-making entity of Richemont, IWC’s parent company. The cal. 69355 is a better movement than the one it replaces in many ways, though it is imperceptibly thicker.

Visually, the cal. 69355 is monochromatic and industrially finished, a look that is very much in keeping with IWC’s engineering-centric movement development.

Solid engineering

Part of the 69000 family of movements, the cal. 69355 was developed from the ground up, so it was designed to fit a watch like the Portugieser chronograph without modifications. While the constant seconds had to be moved from nine to six on the Valjoux 7750, the cal. 69355 has its fourth wheel located at six o’clock under the dial, so it drives the seconds hand directly. (Many thanks to Hirota Masayuki, editor in chief of Chronos Japan for his input on the technical details below.)

Other aspects of the chronograph construction were improved as well. Though the Portugieser ref. 3716 does not have a 12-hour counter, other 69000-family movements do have a 12-hour counter mechanism under the dial, instead of relying on the mainspring barrel to drive the 12-hour counter as in the 7750 (because the mainspring makes a full revolution every 12 hours).

Other upgrades are more obvious, like the column wheel that’s visible on the back. While the column wheel is an on-off switch of sorts for the chronograph, the cal. 69355 has an oscillating pinion to connect the chronograph mechanism to the going train, causing the chronograph to start. While most modern chronographs rely on a vertical clutch for the connection, the oscillating pinion was used instead due to the requirement of having the constant seconds at six.

The column wheel

And the cal. 69355 also has a high-tech escapement featuring a skeletonised, nickel-phosphorous escape wheel and pallet fork fabricated via LIGA, a high-tech lithographic and moulding process that enables precise fabrication.

The advantages of LIGA-manufactured parts are considerable, primarily in lightness, improving efficiency of the movement. In fact, the power reserve has improved slightly, up by two hours to 46, in the cal. 69355.

The balance wheel with the nickel phosphorus escape wheel visible under the right edge of the balance wheel

And lastly, the cal. 69355 also incorporates a bidirectional pawl-winding system that is similar to the “Magic Lever” mechanism originally invented by Seiko but now fairly common, especially amongst movements of Richemont-owned brands. Even the far more expensive watches like the Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Tourbillon rely on the Magic Lever, which is well liked for its simplicity, compactness, and efficiency.

Similar in principle to the Pellaton winding mechanism that’s an IWC signature, the Magic Lever utilises two pawls, one pulling and the other pushing, to winding the mainspring. Though simpler than the Pellaton mechanism, the Magic Lever is made up of fewer parts, and takes up less space, explaining its popularity with movement designers.

Concluding thoughts

The excellent dimensions, along with the incredible discretion and clarity of the dial, have made the Portugieser Chronograph a very sharp watch, perhaps the most elegant mid-range automatic chronograph on the market. And having a tangibly better movement – in both functions and engineering – only makes it all the more compelling especially when it doesn’t cost that much more than the outgoing model.


Key facts and price

IWC Portugieser Chronograph
Ref. IW3716

Case diameter: 41 mm
Case height: 13.1 mm
Material: Steel or 18k rose gold
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 69355
Features: Hours, minutes, and seconds; chronograph
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 46 hours

Strap: Crocodile

Availability: Already available at IWC boutiques and retailers
Price: US$7,950 in steel; US$17,800 in gold (or 11,800 and 25,200 Singapore dollars respectively)

For more, visit IWC.com.


 

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