Last week, right before Christmas, I wrote a rather personal column looking back at the most important things I’d remember from 2021 – regarding watches and the watchmaking industry, of course. As 2022 is right around the corner, it’s time for me to share my thoughts regarding the future. 2021 has been a year of transition for the industry, with its ups and downs, its good moments and its difficulties. And although 2021 saw a partial recovery of sales, the future remains uncertain. Here’s what I’m looking forward to in 2022.
I really hope that Watches & Wonders 2022 will happen… But I have more and more doubts
In my overview of what happened in 2021, I explained the ins and outs of the decline (if not the almost certain death) of one of the most important watch fairs, the event with the longest history: Baselworld. Once again, the Basel-based show has been cancelled for 2022. As the fair’s website states, “Baselworld, scheduled for spring 2022, will therefore not take place.” This leaves us with one global, transversal watch show on the table: Watches & Wonders. Previously named SIHH, the show organised by the Fédération de la Haute Horlogerie is expected to be a colossal, omnichannel and all-encompassing event for the industry with about 40 brands already lined up – including all the heavyweights from Richemont, LVMH and brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Grand Seiko and many more.
Clearly, this is an event I’m extremely looking forward to attending. For the past two years, we (the MONOCHROME team, but also our colleagues from the watch media industry and all members of the watch industry) haven’t been able to attend this important – dare I say, crucial – event of the year. Indeed, Watches & Wonders, in its 2020 and 2021 editions, was an entirely digital affair. The only moments when the watch industry has been able to gather physically were during smaller-sized events like the LVMH Watch Week, the Dubai Watch Week and Geneva Watch Days. Sure, these physical fairs were great initiatives, with an extremely pleasant atmosphere and a refreshing casualness where work and pleasure mixed and brands benefitted from their presence.
Yet, nothing can replace the importance of Watches & Wonders Geneva. With so many watchmakers participating, it is the epicentre of the industry, the moment when almost everything happens: it’s the moment when brands present most of their watches; when we can meet with brand representatives and CEOs; when trends are spotted; when most of the business transactions and sales take place; and when we can give you, readers, the best possible coverage of the watch scene. In short, W&W (just like Baselworld in the past) sets the pace of the industry for the year to come. In this instance, I’m sincerely looking forward to attending what the FHH has announced to be a mix of digital and physical events.
However, I have more and more doubts regarding the feasibility of Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022. To give you an idea of the scale of this event, the last physical edition of W&W, which occurred in 2019, gathered over 23,000 visitors and journalists in a closed environment, not what you would call a small-scale event. Yet, looking at the current situation of the pandemic, with the rise of the Omicron variant, it seems far-fetched to combine a crowd of this magnitude with strict sanitary measures. Even if the show is modified and limited to a smaller amount of visitors, its future doesn’t seem very bright. And this isn’t something I’m happy to share with you… I sincerely wish to be able to visit this show again, and soon.
I hope the industry fully recovers from the pandemic, but again, I have my doubts about the timing
Looking at the state of the industry in late 2021, it seems that watch sales are on their way to recovering. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (and its report of November 2021), sales are expected to be higher than in 2020 (which isn’t a surprise) but will most likely be higher than pre-pandemic levels, with exports about 2% higher for January-November 2021 than the same period in 2019. Altogether, the FHS forecasts sales close to the record levels of 2014 buoyed by Swiss watch exports of about CHF 22 billion, close to the CHF 22.4 billion reported in 2014. However, these numbers should be interpreted carefully as they could also represent a correction of the market following the low sales of 2020. But still, the situation is, for the time being, positive.
However, for the exact same reasons we mentioned regarding the feasibility of Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022, I have doubts/questions about the watch business in 2022. We’re seeing more and more drastic sanitary measures around the globe, and even confinements and lockdowns in some areas – such as The Netherlands recently. If the Omicron variant isn’t contained correctly, it could well have a strong impact on sales in early 2022. The year to come will most certainly start with a good deal of uncertainty, postponing the complete recovery of the industry to a later moment.
2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Royal Oak… And I’m expecting a lot
As most of you know, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was launched in 1972. This means that 2022 will mark its 50th anniversary, and, without a doubt, AP will celebrate this jubilee with panache. We know for a fact that the cornerstone model, the Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin 15202 (the closest you can get to the original 1972 reference 5402), is about to be discontinued, and it will be replaced by a new, updated model in 2022, a watch that will incorporate an unprecedented in-house extra-thin movement, replacing the JLC-based calibre 2121.
But knowing Audemars Piguet, there will be plenty of watches lined up to celebrate half a century of the Royal Oak. If you recall, an updated Jumbo was presented for the 40th anniversary of the RO in 2012 along with a new chronograph, an openworked extra-thin self-winding and an openworked tourbillon – among others. Now that the 50th anniversary is on the horizon, and marking an even more important moment in the life of the Royal Oak, I’m sure we can expect a lot from Audemars Piguet. Besides the rejuvenated classic Jumbo Extra-Thin, AP will most likely present a full collection of new complications, new colours, new materials…
Yet, I must say that I’m also a bit concerned and sincerely hope that Audemars Piguet will remain true to the original spirit of the Royal Oak and won’t be too bold or stray too far away from the design concept initiated by Gerald Genta in 1972. But I’m sure the question has been debated internally and that we’ll have plenty of pleasant surprises. Wait and see, a new model/collection is coming soon!
Independent watchmaking will continue to be on the rise, while classic vintage could well remain stable
2021 will be remembered as the year when independent watchmaking boomed. Be it at auction or gauging by the waiting lists, indie watchmakers were clearly in the ascendant. Names such as F.P. Journe, De Bethune, Kari Voutilainen, Richard Mille, but also more historic names such as Derek Pratt, George Daniels, Roger W. Smith or Vianney Halter are all benefitting from a strong momentum and an incredible rise in prices. It seems that 2021 was the year when these important members of the watchmaking industry gained the recognition they truly deserve. And maybe the interest of investors too… But that’s another issue.
This trend, initiated in the late 2010s and reaching record heights last year, is certainly not going to wane in 2022. I’m expecting the same level of interest in independent watchmaking in the coming year, with an increase in collectability for important handmade, soul-filled watches manufactured post-2000s. At the same time, I’m also expecting the classical side of the vintage market, long dominated by heavyweights such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, to remain relatively stable. We’ve seen this already in 2021, with still a strong interest, but not much growth for the classic vintage watches. Prices are strong, but not stronger than before.
Online is king and will continue to accumulate power
And this goes for sales of new watches, sales of second-hand watches, auctions, communication, media and sharing the passion for watches… While online and digital activities have been on the rise for at least 10 years, the situation generated by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 forced the entire industry to change its habits and reinvent itself. Online – which was one tool among many to sell watches, to communicate about watches, to share the passion for watches, to review watches and to present new models – has become THE main instrument for brands, sellers, media and auction houses in the past two years forcing them all to embrace digital because a physical presence is no longer an option.
Being the managing editor of an online magazine, I’m definitely a strong advocate of online activities. For over 15 years now, MONOCHROME has been 100% digital, publishing articles on this website, posting and sharing on Instagram or producing dynamic video content on YouTube. When releasing our two Montres de Souscription this year, we realised the importance of our digital presence: online content really generates passion and, in the end, leads to sales. Nowadays, this passion for watches is shared by dozens of notable collectors on social media, video reviews of watches appear on YouTube or online articles such as what you can read in this magazine. Digital is stronger than ever and will remain so. And for this reason, MONOCHROME will not only continue its activities online but reinforce them to be even closer to you, our loyal readers. And brands that want to succeed and grow can no longer turn a blind eye to the online world.
Will there be yet another final Nautilus, or will we see a new (maybe not-so-new) Nautilus?
OK, this one is here to end on a light note. And yes, there will be a new edition of the classic time-and-date Patek Philippe Nautilus in 2022, replacing the 5711 and most likely ready in time for Watches & Wonders 2022. With all the reactions generated by the introduction of the Tiffany Blue edition of the 5711, you can see how some people on Instagram got really inspired… Kudos to @bludimelo for these cool mockups.
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For now, and from the entire MONOCHROME team, we thank you again for reading this magazine and for sharing your passion with us. We wish you all the best this New Year’s Eve and hope to see you soon (very soon) in 2022.