Industry: Chinese Demand Helps to Stabilise Swiss Watch Exports

Moderating the fall.

China remains the only market capable of providing an immediate boost to Swiss watch sales. The export figures announced this morning by the trade body Federation of Swiss Watch Industry (FH) appear to indicate that watch exports have reached the inflection point of the negative trend that has been going on for too long. Exports are still down 11% in August year on year, but after the massive slump in the previous months – with April exports falling 81% – the fall seems to have moderated.

Cumulative watch exports for the year to date are 30.5% below the same period in 2019 – which will remain a record high for a long time – but , without hoping for miracles, the industry can expect a substantial improvement by the end of the year.

Eldorado for the luxury-goods industry

According to a recent study co-published by Bain & Company and Italian luxury trade association Altagamma, Chinese consumers will be the main contributors to growth in demand for the luxury goods over the next five years. The report predicts that more than 90% of growth over the period will be attributable to Chinese customers. I would be a little more cautious about the percentage, but I agree with the report’s observation that all players in luxury goods are doomed without the Chinese market.

Still, a glimmer of hope comes from the United States, where the latest indicators on luxury goods sales are starting to turn green. The multiple, converging negative factors affecting consumption – namely COVID restrictions and uncertainty about the presidential election – seem to have less influence on sales than the excellent performance of the stock market, which is close to its all-time high.

And the United States, even more so than China, is a market that is highly accepting of e-commerce, even for luxury goods. Swiss watch brands that have made great strides in enhancing their e-commerce and digital communication in recent months – Omega and Breitling stand out for me – are beginning to reap the rewards of their efforts.

A recent report on the luxury-goods industry published by Morgan Stanley titled Not Just a China Story rightly reminds us that one out of every five francs (22%) in sales of luxury goods worldwide is spent by the American consumer. For watchmaking, the proportion is lower, but still significant at one franc in eight (12%).

Rarefied air at the top

Another trend that the recent export numbers confirm is the erosion of the base of the Swiss watchmaking pyramid – clearly thanks to smartwatches. Apple, which just unveiled the sixth version of its Apple Watch, will sell three times more watches this year than all the Swiss watch brands combined, by my estimate.

Some Swiss watch brand like TAG Heuer have recently launched interesting, luxury smartwatches, but they are all in a price segment that is significantly higher than their American, Korean, or Chinese competitors.

We can see the trend in the table below: watches with a public retail price between CHF5,000-12,000 (meaning an export value of CHF2,000-5,000) see their export volume recovering. In this price segment, it remains the same brands, as always, that are the dominant players – Rolex, Omega, Tudor, Longines, and a handful of others.

But as a whole, exports in all price segments declined in 2020 in both value and volume. The industry has lost 5.6 million units since the beginning of the year, compared to the same period in 2019, and that comes after a drop of 3.1 million units for 2019 agains 2018. The sharp fall in numbers hurt the watch industry’s specialist suppliers most markedly, particularly since the dominant watch brands are largely vertically integrated.

Swiss watch exports for August 2020, segmented according to export value. Source – FH

Returning to the local market

A chief executive of one of the few watch brands to survive the COVID-19 tsunami without major damage recently revealed what he was telling his sales teams around the world – the captive market of the Chinese tourist market is gone. The scenario he sketched out for his salespeople was stark: “Imagine a wall all the way up to the sky around your country. No more tourists! How do you sell? You reconnect with your local market, because the trips of the leisure traveller will not come back for a long time.”

I agree 100% with his observation that brands have to revert to building the local brick-and-mortar market, in addition to all the digital initiatives that allow them to stay in touch with their customers. Direct-to-consumer and local are complementary, just like the “phygital” that creates bridges between the physical and digital worlds.


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HYT Introduces the Flow

Illuminated horological theatre.

A pioneer in the hydro-mechanical display of time – where time is indicated by liquid in tubes – HYT has furthered its novel time display by lighting up the liquid display. Not merely with luminescent paint as is convention, but with dynamo-powered LEDs. First installed in the H4 of 2016, the illuminated-liquid display now returns with the sleek HYT Flow.

Contained in a rounded, almost organic case with sweeping lines on the dial, the Flow features an LED at six o’clock. It launches with two versions: the simpler one having a a light ring around the aperture at six, and the other – which is more lavish and interesting – is equipped with lights underneath a dome set with baguette diamonds.

Initial thoughts

While LED lighting is not new, it remains the highlight. It is definitely not something conceived for functionality and legibility in the dark, but instead as a complication with brilliant visual appeal. The diamond-set variant, in particular, offers a stunning light show thanks to the highly refractive and reflective nature of the gemstone – albeit at a steep price of well over US$160,000.

Functionally the Flow remains similar to its predecessors, but the entirety of the design has streamlined compared to the angular styling of the brand’s earliest watches. The case is rounded, with lines that flow, which is complement by the open-worked wave pattern on the dial.

Crucial elements like the minute hand and power reserve indicator are on the dial, while the turbine-shape running seconds sits below the wave-pattern surface. Notably, the dial does not reveal the bellows mechanism that drives the liquid hour indicator, but the overall look is elegant-sci-fi and appealing.

The only shortcomings of the watch are the same as those for preceding models: the watch is big and fairly expensive, and long-term serviceability is a question. But the Flow, like the rest of HYT’s line up, is a truly novel take on horology, which mean conventional yardsticks probably matter less.

A modern take on the classics

Thought not obvious at first, but the dial layout is a contemporary interpretation of classical horological ideas. For instance, the boundary between the coloured and clear liquid advances around a glass tube to indicate the hours, and reverses direction to flow backwards quickly once it completes its path – a liquid retrograde hour display. And it is also a regulator-style display, with the minute hand at twelve o’clock and running seconds at nine.

And the light display is perhaps a modern take on the automaton. To generate electricity, the crown at four o’clock is wound, which rotates an electrical coil in a magnetic field to induce current. Pushing the button on the top of the crown activates the LEDs for about eight seconds, after which the mechanism requires winding once more.

The movement

Underneath the dial is a manual-wind movement that has a 65-hour power reserve. Like a conventional movement, it has a balance assembly and gear train, but combined with the liquid-display mechanism made up of a pair of bellows that move the two immiscible liquids.

The finishing is attractive and suited to the style of the watch, but not spectacular for the price – it is fine and neat but largely mechanically applied. The gilded wheels constrast well with the darkened and frosted bridges, and the bevelling is a nice touch.

Key Facts and Price

HYT Flow
Ref. H02464 (diamond dome)
Ref. H02593 (vortex)

Case diameter: 51 mm
Case height: 20.6 mm
Material: steel
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Unavailable
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, and power reserve
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Hand-wind
Power reserve: 65 hours

Strap: Rubber strap

Limited edition: 25 pieces 
CHF149,000 (Ref. H02464)
CHF79,000 (Ref. H02593)

For more, visit


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Hamilton Introduces the Khaki Aviation Converter

Affordable, slide-rule pilot's watches.

Once an American watchmaker that was a global giant, Hamilton is today a Swiss brand best known for its value-proposition, vintage-inspired watches – and providing watches for several Hollywood films. Its speciality is exemplified by watches like the Khaki Field Mechanical, a robust, military-style watch that costs less than US$500.

Hamilton has just unveiled a new collection of affordable pilot’s watches, the Khaki Aviation Converter. The line up is made up of three watches – time and date, GMT, and chronograph – all equipped with a slide-rule bezel for cockpit calculations and conversions.

From left: the base model automatic, the GMT, and the chronograph in two variants

Initial thoughts

As with the most of the watches in the Khaki collection, the Converter is appealing in design and no doubt solidly, if simply, constructed. While it might not be the most original in design – the slide-rule bezel is synonymous with Breitling’s Navitimer but used by many brands – the Converter is strong value. Starting at US$995 for the automatic and rising to US$2,145 for chronograph, the collection is a good entry into watches featuring a slide-rule bezel.

The bezel features double-row knurling for good grip

The generic design aside, it is heartening to see that attention has been paid to the details. With the large, luminous hands and contrasting colours, legibility appears good.

The movements are visible through the case back, something that can be captivating for a beginner hobbyist, but the movement finishing is undoubtedly bare bones as with all Hamilton watches. That said, the movements are upgraded ETA calibres with a long 80-hour power reserve – a feature most of the competition at this price point lack – and some models are features a high-tech hairspring, namely silicon for the chronograph and Nivachron for the base model.

The base model

The most straightforward offering is the Khaki Aviation Converter Automatic. Despite being the base model, nothing about it is sloppy.

The indices, and even the frame for the date, are applied. And importantly for a pseudo-instrument watch, the hands are just the right length, extending to their respective markers. A nice touch are the grey numerals of the 12-hour scale, helping them to recede a little into the background and not clutter the dial, but still being easy enough to read.

Notably, this is powered by the H-10 movement, an ETA automatic with a hairspring made of Nivachron, a recently-announced alloy that has magnetism resistance superior to the industry-standard Nivarox alloy.

The base model is offered only in black dial, but is available with a brushed or black-coated steel case.


A step up from the basic model is the Khaki Aviation Converter GMT Automatic that has a second time-zone indicator. With the bezel being a circular slide rule, the 24-hour GMT scale is on the dial.

The result is a dial that’s a bit crowded but still easy enough to read, in part due to the 24-hour scale sitting close to the red GMT hand. The GMT scale is further differentiated from the dial with a concentric pattern that helps it stand out from the radially-brushed dial.

The GMT model is offered only with blue dial, making it the only watch in collection in blue, making it a little special.

The chronograph

And the top of the line model is the Khaki Aviation Converter Automatic Chronograph. The dial layout instantly brings the ETA 7750 to mind, and for good reason: the movement is actually a heavily upgraded version of the 7750 that’s kitted out with a silicon hairspring and run time of 60 hours instead of the usual 45 or so.

Offered only with a black dial, the chronograph does have two case-finish options, either with black PVD coating or a brushed finish. Both have black dials with a twist, the twin registers for hours and minutes are dark grey, giving the dial a subtle two-tone finish. The black-coated version features gilded accents on the dial, bezel, pushers, and crown, giving it a slightly more luxe appearance.

Key facts and Price

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Converter Auto
Ref. H76615130 (Steel on bracelet)
Ref. H76615530 (Steel on leather strap)
Ref. H76625530 (PVD steel)
Ref. H76635730 (PVD steel with gilded accents)        

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Steel, or PVD coated steel
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: H-10
Features: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet or leather strap

Availability: At retailers starting September 2020
Price: Starting at US$995 (or 1,630 Singapore dollars) for the all-steel model

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Converter GMT Auto
Ref. H76715140 (Steel on bracelet)
Ref. H76715540 (Steel on leather strap)

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: H-14
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, and GMT
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Power reserve: 80 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet or leather strap

Availability: At retailers starting September 2020
Price: Starting at US$1,295 (or 2,110 Singapore dollars) on strap

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Converter Auto Chrono
Ref. H76726130 (Steel on bracelet)
Ref. H76726530 (Steel on leather strap)
Ref. H76736730 (PVD steel with gilded accents)

Diameter: 44 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: H-21
Features: Hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, and chronograph
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 60 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet or leather strap

Availability: At retailers starting September 2020
Price: Starting at US$1,845 (or 2,980 Singapore dollars) in steel on strap

For more, visit


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