Covid-19 & designer watches: The impact of the outbreak

The coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread devastation across the entire globe. Not only are the numbers of cases and deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus already in the tens of thousands, but industries and societal constructs are continuing to struggle as a result. 

One such industry to suffer the consequences of the pandemic has been the luxury sector and, in particular, the watch industry. Since the outbreak started to spread globally, horological-focused events have been cancelled left, right and centre, and product manufacture has come to a halt. 

In this article, we take a chronological look at the crisis and how the watch industry has been impacted up to this point. 

Feb 3rd: From ‘Time To Move’ to ‘Time To Stop’. 

At the start of February, The Swatch Group announced that it was cancelling its ‘Time to Move’ event. Originally scheduled to be held in Zurich in early March, the event was set to debut the 2020 timepiece releases of Breguet, Blancpain, Glashütte Original, DWISS and Jaquet Droz.

Feb 4th – 24th: Baselworld = ON.

On February 4th, Baselworld’s event organisers announced that they were carefully observing the impact of coronavirus on travel and events, but were carrying on planning the event as usual. 

One week later, Bulgari decided to pull out of the show citing the ‘growing travelling uncertainties’ of international visitors. Citizen soon followed suit, as did Seiko and Casio – three of the major Japanese watchmaking companies. 

These withdrawals didn’t sway Baselworld’s stance though, with managing director Michel Loris-Melikoff declaring that planning for Baselworld 2020 was still going ahead as intended.

Feb 27th and 28th: Baselworld = OFF.

Originally due to be held at the end of April in Geneva, the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie announced on February 27th that it was cancelling its upcoming Watches & Wonders event as a result of coronavirus and mass gathering fears. 

A day later, Switzerland’s Federal Council announced an open-ended nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people, giving Baselworld’s event organisers no choice but to cancel. 

Just hours later, Baselword’s website was updated to state that the event had been postponed from May 2020 to January 2021. 

Mar 2nd: Making Up For Lost Time. 

In order to fill the week-gap left as a result of the Watches & Wonder cancellation, eight watch brands joined forces to organise several smaller hotel-based exhibitions throughout Geneva. Titled ‘Geneva Watch Days’, this scaled-down event was set to feature the latest releases from major watchmakers like Breitling, Bulgari, and Girard-Perregaux.

Mar 4th: The Name’s Gone… James Gone. 

Following the announcement that the newest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, had decided to push back its premiere date from April to November, concerns started to come about over Omega’s profits.

Having been the official watch of the Bond franchise since 1995, Omega’s newest James Bond timepiece – the Omega Seamaster Diver 300m – is now unlikely to sell in the same way as its previous 007-focused models. 

Mar 16th – 20th: Coronavirus Closedown.

During mid-March, three major corporations changed their stance towards the pandemic. Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennesey, Christian Dior and Givenchy decided to switch their production efforts from perfumes to disinfectant gel, in order to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Rolex and TAG Heuer soon followed suit, announcing that they were shutting down their production facilities and many regional offices for the foreseeable future. 

Meanwhile, Las Vegas’ JCK Watch and Jewellery show – another annual staple of the watch-world event calendar – was postponed until further notice. The Couture Show – which runs at the same time as JCK – also recently announced it was cancelling its event this year. 

March 24th: Olympics & Omega.

Following the decision by the International Olympic Committee to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Omega was dealt with another significant blow. 

After originally being chosen to be the games’ official timekeeper, Omega will now need to turn their marketing efforts elsewhere to gather sales over the summer. 

March 25: Taking A Hands-On Approach.

At the end of March, the Italian watch and jewellery giant Bulgari decided to donate thousands of bottles of hand sanitiser to Italian medical facilities battling the spread of the coronavirus, truly taking a hands-on approach against the pandemic. 

Depending on how the virus spreads, it is difficult to know which other events are likely to be cancelled or postponed over the coming months. With no pun intended, you’ll simply need to watch this space. 

By Annie Button

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