William Massena, Managing Director of Timezone.com, Trustee of the Horological Society of New York
May 7, 2018
The Swiss watchmaking industry has had its share of ups and downs over the decades, including a period of rapid growth over the last 20 years. At the May 7, 2018, meeting of the Horological Society of New York, William Massena discussed the past, present and future of the Swiss watchmaking industry, posing many thoughtful questions to the audience. The first point Massena addressed was the title of his lecture, "The Swiss Watch Industry: 20 Years Into the 21st Century." Massena explained that even though we are only in the year 2018, the 21st century really started for the Swiss watchmaking industry in 1998 when the Asian financial crisis caused a large portion of the Swiss watchmaking industry to bring their distribution channels in-house.
Massena then discussed the large conglomerates operating in the Swiss watchmaking industry today, explaining their successes and failures. Panerai was used as an example of a brand that is having difficulty today. Their strategy of abundant limited editions of similar watches painted the brand into a corner, where customers stopped being interested. Massena explained that this scenario has played out many times, and made the case that large watch brands today are essentially marketing machines first. Massena also showed how brands in the same group will market very similar watches at different price points, with only minor differences in quality.
Independent watch brands were then discussed, with Rolex being the first example. Rolex does offer similar watches at different price points, but Massena showed how this is largely tied to the amount of precious materials used in the watch. Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe were also cited as examples of successful independent watch brands. Massena explained that the smaller independent watch brands, such as Richard Mille and MB&F are also doing quite well today, in contrast to the challenges faced by the brands owned by large conglomerates. Massena concluded by discussing the future. He stated that larger independent brands will continue do well, and that new watch buyers are looking for innovation, rather than the traditional watches that their grandfathers wore.
HSNY thanks William Massena for his fascinating lecture!