Watch Trends 2021 – Top 3

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Bvlgari boutique - 2021 watch trends

Yesterday, I debunked Chrono24.com‘s email Top 3 Watch Trends of 2021 (Rolex Explorer II, bold colors, in-house movements). Today, I’m putting myself out on a proverbial limb with my three choices for watch trends 2021. As someone who started daily watch blogging a year ago last August (2019), by now I should have a highly developed sense of what the Germans call Fingerspitzengef├╝hl (finger on the pulse). I’ll let you be the judge of that . . .

2021 Watch Trends – More “Boutique Only” Watches

Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA401 - watch trends 2021Over the last decade, watchmakers have been opening their own upmarket AF mono brand boutiques in the world’s chi-chi shopping centers. Carefully located, curated and managed, these boutiques have proven themselves peerless brand builders and money spinners. And then COVID-19 flew the coop in China and shut down luxury shopping worldwide.

Even before Coronageddon-inspired retail reticence, boutiques competed with the brand’s own authorized dealers – who can offer larger discounts and more personalized service. Special edition “boutique only” models were the manufacturer-owned stores’ trump card (so to speak), generating media coverage that drove boutique footfall.

Panerai boutique only Luminor - watch trends 2021

Still are, still do. With Coronageddon set to drag on into summer, watchmakers have even more reason to give shoppers even more reason to mask-up and get down to a boutique – as opposed to hitting up an authorized dealer, buying watches online, or not buying at all. Which will piss off the AD’s, but what can they do about it?

So, look for an increased number of “boutique exclusive watches” as one of the watch trends 2021. Will they be any good? That’s another question. But there’s no question the best of them are both highly desirable and limited in number, making them a better “investment” than watchmaker’s standard fare. Or so they would have you believe.

Expensive Watches Get More Expensive

One of the easiest 2021 watch trends to predict: traditional watch prices will continue to edge upwards. Prices for timepieces made by high-end mainstream watch manufacturers – Rolex, OMEGA, IWC, Breitling, Cartier, etc. – have been creeping up for at least the last five years. This year, in the midst of the pandemic, Rolex hiked its prices by six percent.

It seems counterintuitive. If smart watches are completely dominating total watch sales, why would the trad watch major leaguers increase their prices in the face of diminished demand? Because demand hasn’t diminished at the top end of the market. Not for the established players. Not yet.

Joe Biden wearing Rolex

For one thing, there’s the “flight to safety.” In the midst of Coronageddon uncertainty, watch buyers are taking less risks with their money, buying big name watches.

There’s also a larger absolute number of wealthy people in the world – especially in the Asian market – who prefer a traditional luxury watch over a smartwatch for status projection. And don’t forget all these lockdowns saved wealthy people a fortune on fine dining and luxury travel.

Apple Watch Conquers All

traditional watch vs. Apple Watch

Sorry. I know. The Apple Watch is not a “real” watch. It’s an electronic device. A wrist-borne computer. It has none of the heart or soul of a mechanical timepiece. Even the cheapest, simplest quartz watch has more emotional appeal. The idea that the Apple Watch – and its smartwatch competitors – are displacing traditional watches is galling to the vast majority of our readers. And yet there it is.

Watch trends 2021 - smartwatch shipments

“Smartwatch shipments worldwide are forecast to grow in the following years,” statista.com predicts, “increasing from 69.3 million units in 2019 to over 109 million units by 2023.” According to swissinfo.ch, “Switzerland produces just over 20 million watches per year.” Or less, recently.

Update! Apple shipped 11.8 million watches in the third quarter of 2020. Apple cranks-out more watches in one financial quarter than the entire Swiss watch industry ships in an entire year – a trend that’s set to continue in 2021. It’s the death of the pocket watch all over again, only this time you’ll have plenty of traditional watches to choose from for the foreseeable future. Or will you?

The fact that Rolex can’t make enough watches to satisfy demand tells us the traditional watch is alive and well in 2021 at the higher end of the market. As for the mass market, the traditional watch may not be on its deathbed, but it’s coming down the home stretch.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Sure, Apple (smart) “watch” sales are increasing. And, high-end watch sales are increasing if not at least steady.

    But, where is the evidence that mass market traditional watches are on the decline? Honest question. Where are the charts indicating the decreasing trend of mass market watch sales? Are there any?

    It may be a false dichotomy to suggest that if “smart watch” sales go up, mass market traditional watch sales must go down. Zero sum game?

    Realizing that I only have anecdotes and the admitted microcosm of my own limited experience… Based on activity on traditional watch social media (groups and forums), there is plenty of interest in traditional mass market watches. PLENTY and growing.

    Based on threads (in those same forums) about smart watches, there are those who have both, and there are those who have no use for “smart watches.” But, I’ve seen literally none who have professed to breaking completely free of traditional watches in favor of committing to a “smart watch.”

    I think it’s entirely possible that we will continue to see growth in both markets. I also submit (my own theory) that a significant percentage of the “smart watch” buying trend are consumers that never wore a traditional watch before their purchase of what I prefer to call a “cell phone remote.” Just my own speculation, which could be entirely misguided. Someone will be along to show me how wrong I am! ­čśÇ

    • If we trust the markets the stocks of Casio, Seiko, and Citizen are in the toilet even though the Nikkei just reached a 30 year high (climbing back to where it was in 1991, ouch).

      No future in the traditional quartz watches where those companies are heavily invested. As the successful smart watch makers (maker) figure out better shock resistance, water resistance, and charging intervals/solar power the outlook will get even more grim.

      • Well… given the speculative (and even emotional) nature of stock prices, I’m not so sure that they are the best bellwether of actual sales. Are the sales up or down? Again, honest question. I have not been able to find any such data (though my attempt to find any was cursory).

        Lately, stock prices do not seem to correlate with actual value of a company…. to wit… some companies that have yet to make a profit often have soaring stock values, based on speculation.

        I’m genuinely curious if there are reports with data showing a decline in traditional watch sales. If there are charts about increasing “smart watch” sales, surely the other data is out there somewhere. Or not?

        • Click here for the data you seek young master Luke. Chart is for Swiss watch exports for the month of November 2020 by price categories. December’s numbers are up in three days.

          • Ah… yes… but, that’s SWISS watch sales. I thought we were talking about “mass market” traditional watch sales. You know… watches that cost less than a car… less than a meal at a nice restaurant. Japanese and Chinese watches, for example. Or even American watches, if there is such a thing. Where is the data for that? Up? Down?

          • Yes… I saw that. But, it’s limited to Swiss watches only. I haven’t seen a Swatch since the 90s.

            Perhaps I’m horologically naive (not perhaps – admittedly)… but, when I think of mass market watches, I think primarily of Japanese, not Swiss.

            Who sells more (or has the majority and by how much?) mass market watches? Japan or Switzerland? If Japan… what is the sales trend?

          • I love automatic watches, and mechanical watches. Look ma, no batteries! Put it in a drawer, forget about it for a couple of years, take it out, shake it up, and it works! Lets see a quartz do that! But…

            No mechanical or automatic watch can take the punishment of a quartz watch. It isn’t even close. Accuracy and durability. I get why quartz watches became so pervasive. The smart watch is an improvement on the quartz watch, and maybe not now, but in five or ten years, it is going to be the new “quartz” in terms of time pieces.

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