It’s been confirmed via brand representatives and independent sources that these three juggernauts of the watch industry will be pushing back their 2020 releases to 2021. A spokesperson at Tudor had this to say: “In view of the continuing challenge we are facing across the world, and in order to protect people by avoiding gatherings and one-to-one meetings, we have decided to postpone the announcements to a later date. We have presently not defined a new timing for our release.”
Smaller independent brands are also pushing their releases back. A representative at Nomos said: “…due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have put our release schedule on hold. With the majority of our retailer network currently closed, it is simply not the right time to be introducing new watch models.”
The Impact on Big Brands
Who can blame the blue chip brands. It’s not only the retailer networks who have shuttered, but international manufacturing has ceased production as well. If you can’t make new watches and you can’t sell extant watches, and everyone’s hunkered down at home, there ain’t much point in introducing a flood of new SKUs into the marketplace. And if you’re a consumer who’s spending five or six figures on a watch, there’s still a good chance you’re going to want to try it on in person, even with the advent in e-commerce that the coronavirus seems to be sparking.
Okay, so no real shock that the big boys are pushing their releases back. But we’re talking about Rolex, Tudor and Patek here. Life will go on. You can’t get your hands on most of these brands’ newer steel sport watches anyway.
The Impact on Smaller Brands
What’s more troublesome is how this new release push to 2021 is going to affect smaller brands. Nomos, though it doesn’t have the century-plus legacy of a Patek Philippe, is well-established at this point, and will doubtless come out the other side of this thing more or less intact. But what of the much smaller brands — the microbrands who don’t have the capital reserves (or even the cashflow) to sustain them through an international crisis of this magnitude? How will they fare?
The honest truth is that some what doubtless not survive COVID-19. I hope I’m deeply mistaken, but when you’re manufacturing in China (or assembling in America with Chinese-made parts) and your supply of new product completely dries up…well, you do the math. Margins are low on these affordable watches to begin with, so the one saving grace is that these newer brands were set up with integrated e-comm from the drop. If they’re shipping the watches themselves, at least they can continue to fulfill orders. Not so if you’re relying on a drop-ship model, or worse, on a network of ADs (authorized dealers).
Here’s to hoping that the little guys can hang in there. Of course, if you’re in a position to support these brands, even by buying a strap, I say do it. The founders of these smaller brands are our friends and colleagues — good people making cool shit, just trying to survive out there, like everybody else.
How This Could Affect Innovation
The watch industry, like many industries, revolves around product cycles. You can’t very well develop brand-new movements and watches and release them yearly — this process can take three years or more. This is why you’ll see several years of incremental releases at the trade shows, such as new dial colors or bezel colors, in between the years of truly new product. There’s even a French term for this: habillage, or “dressing.”
So what now? What happens when this typical product cycle is upended by a year? Depending on where we are in the cycle (it would seems that we were in for another year of habillage, but this is my personal calculus and is speculation based upon 2019 and 2018’s releases), could it be that the big brands will have the chance to further tweak their incremental releases, and seriously innovate and develop their truly new pieces? And what if we take it one step further: will this entire process be shortened in time, such that several years no longer pass between new movements? Will there be pressure to deliver innovative new SKUs more quickly based upon fear of another recession or international emergency?
Developing new technology in watch movements and cases involves a ton of technological innovation — and time. We can’t reasonably expect the industry to be able to kick on the hyperdrive and deliver us the goods without time for R&D. At the same time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an impact on the greater product development cycle result from Covid-19.
We wait and see. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to be a collector or even simply a watch enthusiast and fan — there’s so much great information available on the web to consume from home. Use this time to read up on your favorite brands, to enjoy the watches you have, and, most importantly, to support your favorite brands large and small if you’re in a position to do so. After all, healthy and safety and the most important thing for everyone. But if you love watches, there’s no reason to stop loving them now.
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