Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Asia has become luxury watch capital of the world

AFP , SINGAPORE

If you want to see the finest selection of luxury watches in the world, don't bother going to Switzerland.

Affluent Asian cities are teeming with retailers feeding a growing appetite for luxury timepieces, some of them heavily encrusted with jewels, boasting complex hand-crafted mechanisms -- and worth as much as a mansion.

Asia, with a growing millionaires' club and expanding middle classes, is now the key market in the global luxury watch retail scene.

Industry sources said about half of Switzerland's watch exports totalling more than US$8 billion yearly end up in Asia, with Japan and Hongkong as the top destinations and Singapore not far behind.

Taiwan and Thailand are also key markets, and China is growing fast.

The region has a "strong watch-buying culture" and sophisticated buyers, Sincere Watch executive vice-president Ong Ban said.

"The barometer of how well a [newly launched] watch will do depends on two key markets, Asia and Italy," Ong said. "If it can do well in these two major markets, it will usually do well in other parts of the world."

Sincere Watch is one of Singapore's biggest luxury watch retailers, with 19 outlets in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and Hong Kong.

"If you want to buy a Swiss watch, you get more choice here than in Switzerland," Ong remarked.

In the last two years, there has been a buying trend in favor of bejewelled and "high complication" watches, retailers said.

They said non-quartz, mechanical watches with features such as the minute repeater and perpetual calendar are especially in demand. It can take up to two years to deliver one handmade watch.

Quartz watches have electronic chips embedded in them, with less craftsmanship involved, making them less attractive to diehard collectors.

Ong said big-faced watches have also been a global hit after becoming popular in Asia. The trendy watches made by firms such as Panerai from Italy have 42mm wide watch faces, compared to the average of 35 millimetres in diameter.

Among Asians, the perennial favourites include Omega, Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Piaget.

"They are more well-known because of huge advertisement campaigns that give them strong international branding," said Singapore's Cortina Watch founder and chairman, Anthony Lim.

Cortina has nine stores in Asia, including countries such as Myanmar, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Lim, who is also Singapore's Clock and Watch Trade Association president, said that even in Singapore, one of Asia's smallest countries with a population of 4.2 million, there is a booming niche market.

Touted as Southeast Asia's watch retail hub, Singapore receives about 460 million dollars' worth of Swiss watch exports yearly and is a hotspot for wealthy watch-lovers from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia.

Tourists make up close to half of the luxury watch sales in Singapore, retailers said.

Luxury brand prices range from US$600 to six figures.

Lim revealed that Cortina sold more than 10 watches priced above US$170,000 each over the past three years in Singapore.

Retailers said the typical Singaporean collector -- most of them are young professionals and executives -- would spend about US$2,300 to US$6,000 on a watch, and chalk up five to 10 new purchases a year.

The most expensive watch in Cortina is currently a US$460,000 Patek Philippe minute-repeater.

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