The latest Watches & Wonders event—an initiative from Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont—opened on Tuesday in Sanya on the Chinese offshore duty-free island of Hainan, just as demand for high-ticket luxury is surging. On display to brand-hungry shoppers are 11 prestige watch maisons.
For one month until 31 October, the sought-after watchmakers will be showcased in the CDF Mall run by China Duty Free Group. They are: A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Hermès, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin.
Workshops, talks and introductions to fine watchmaking are part of the program for this second date in China. It follows a five-day event in Shanghai earlier this month which marked Watches & Wonders debut in the country.
The move is timely. Sales of jewelry and watches on Hainan have been rocketing since personal duty-free allowances were more than tripled on July 1 to $14,000.
The supercharged spending across all product categories has resulted in over CNY 7 billion in sales, or about $1 billion in the period from 1 July to early September according to Hainan’s Provincial Bureau of International Economic Development.
In that time, customer numbers have topped 830,000, up 55% year-on-year. This, coupled with the allowance rise, has driven up daily spending to an average of $19 million, with a one-day peak of $25 million. Not bad for a post-Covid retail environment—and a complete contrast to most other duty-free environments which continue to suffer due to lack of travelers.
“Hainan has become a leading participant in the Chinese duty-free industry and it has outperformed other markets not just before the Covid-19 crisis but afterwards,” comments Xu Chen, a spending data product manager at ForwardKeys. “A robust spending recovery in underway.”
An associated online marketplace
At the same time as Watches & Wonders debuts in Sanya, a strategic partnership with online luxury and fashion platforms Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter has been announced. The two online specialist are part of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group of multi-brand ‘stores’, the others being Yoox and The Outnet, also owned by Richemont.
In its 2020 financial year, 19% of Richemont’s €14.2 billion sales came from online retail, a share the company is trying to increase.
The new partnership gives exposure to a total of 14 high-end watchmaking maisons, together on the two sites for the first time. Ten are the same as those being shown in Hainan: Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Hermès, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Panerai, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin; plus the following four additions: Bovet, Girard-Perregaux, HYT, and Ulysse Nardin.
Hard luxury is gaining momentum in Hainan. According to ForwardKeys among the most sought-after brands (based on August 2020 spending), four of the top 10 were now from the jewelry and watches category—Bvlgari, Cartier, Tiffany & Co.
Growing interest in big ticket items
Chinese consumers are also spending more at the higher end. ForwardKeys says that almost 11% of duty-free shoppers in Hainan spent on average more than $1,000 per transactions. Last year that share was just 6.5%.
Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter may be able to capitalize on this rush for big ticket luxury. It will be hosting digital and offline events, and have detailed product curation and new brand launches. For VIPs, virtual one-to-one appointments will be arranged with interactive Instagram Live conversations hosted by the sites’ editor-in-chief, Sarah Bailey, and senior watch editor, Chris Hall.
The tie-up between Watches & Wonders and Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter is designed to bring together leading watch and jewelry players, not only those under the Richemont umbrella. The goal is to establishes these online luxury retailers as go-to global shopping destinations for fine watches.
President of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter, Alison Loehnis, said: “We want to provide an international platform for the most exceptional timepieces… where their stories can come alive and be accessed by watch lovers across the globe.”