As the Swiss watch industry weathers a crisis, luxury brands are fighting for relevance online.
The latest example is Swiss luxury watchmaker Vacheron Constantin, which agreed to sell a unique version of its Cornes de Vache 1955 through the watch enthusiast website and shop Hodinkee.
The watch was a limited run of 36 pieces and ran for $US45,000 — a bit cheaper than the standard version of the watch due to its stainless steel case. The watch is currently sold out, but interested buyers can join a waitlist.
This baby-sized step is more about brand awareness than actual online sales, the company’s North American president, Vincent Brun, told Bloomberg.
“We wanted to make this digital step in order to increase brand exposure in the world and reach out to watch lovers we did not necessarily speak to until now,” he said.
But according to Hodinkee, watchmakers are going to need to devote a lot more time and energy toward the online space than they are currently doing. The Swiss watch industry is in a severe downturn, with total exports nearing levels saw during the “Quartz crisis” when cheap, battery-powered watches made in Asia threatened the traditional business.
“It’s the future of retail, and the distinctions between things like commerce, retail, brick-and-mortar, and e-commerce are going to continue blurring until we’re left with a totally new paradigm,” Stephen Pulvirent, managing editor and director of operations for Hodinkee, told Business Insider. “Adapting to this is going to be crucial for all businesses, but for typically conservative businesses like luxury watchmakers, they’re going to have to do things that make them a bit uncomfortable in the beginning to ensure future success.”
Hodinkee, with its online shop, is positioning itself to be a launchpad for watchmakers looking to get into the online business.
“We like to think of it as a new kind of 21st-century luxury shopping experience with implications that translate far beyond watches, too,” Pulvirent said “These centuries-old brands know that we understand what they do and respect what they do, so they’re more willing to take a leap of faith, knowing that we’re holding their hands.”
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