Having grown out of QP magazine, the authoritative British voice in watch media, the annual event at the Saatchi Gallery in west London attracts watch lovers and industry experts from around the globe, all keen to see the latest designs and innovations in the world of luxury watchmaking.
We caught up with James Gurney, editor of QP magazine and founder of Salon QP, on the second day of the show to ask him, among other things, about the trends he has noticed this year and the overall condition of the high end watch industry.
What are your impressions of the show so far?
My impressions are pretty good. Without knowing the numbers for today, so far it’s looking quite nice and busy. And that’s what I’m looking for – to make sure all the brands have people engaging with them.
No-one is here now just for the drinks. Everyone’s here for the watches and as long as they’re moving around the gallery, finding things or interest and getting excited about watches then we feel our job is being done.
What are the trends we’re seeing this year?
Trends are very hard to have in the watch industry, as it takes such a long time for product cycles to work themselves through, but watches are getting a little bit smaller than in the past 5-6 years. I think the interesting trend is the emergence of brands that aren’t trying to be the next mega watch maker but are looking to talk to a broader audience who don’t just like watches, but who like good things in life. A brand like Schofield, for example, their watches come in a whole cloud of nice things whether it’s straps made from cricket ball leather or whatever.
Bremont are much the same in that respect. It’s really easy to buy into the brand, to enjoy the story. It’s not the super mega watches that were getting all the headlines 10 years ago and I think that’s a really healthy direction because it’s a much bigger audience. It’s perhaps less about pure horology and much more about being a brand that’s a full service brand with a great story, really good product, and it comes presented in a way that meets contemporary tastes.
Does the high end watch industry follow other luxury sectors in terms of the peaks and troughs of the market, or does it tend to follow its own course?
I think the higher up you go, it follows the same sorts of cycles as contemporary art, fine jewellery, all those other things. But all these areas have their own internal pressures, so the dominance of Patek Philippe and Rolex at auction is a phenomenon you don’t have in say the world of fine wines, so there are different things going on, but particularly in terms of the new side of the industry then yes, they face the same pressures. If the Chinese suddenly buying this year and not next year that does create problems whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
Speaking of China, is it still the market everyone is trying to reach?
Yes and what we’ve learned is the Chinese consumer of today is not the one of tomorrow. It’s a very quick-moving market. The average Chinese consumer was very brand name orientated four years ago but this is not necessarily the case now. It’s a fast, maturing market and I would guess is liable to the same individual fluctuations as everyone else.
My guess is that to look after the Chinese market will be a matter of making sure you have the right things in place in terms of language, payment systems, and just the way you look after clients generally. But if you just try to create products for the Chinese market you will fall flat on your face.
Can you tell us about the valuations service on offer at the show?
Bonhams are here, Watch Finder are here, Watches of Knightsbrige are here and they are all engaged in pre-owned or vintage watches.
Bonhams have been part of Salon QP pretty much from the start, and it’s a growing part of the watch world. Particularly the pre-owned side of watches, just because there’s so many watches out there. The growth of luxury watches has been going on for 15-20 years and now there’s watches out there that are part of the eco-system.
And what about the Gems of Time exhibition this year?
That’s a really interesting extension for us. High jewellery watches is one of the more interesting sectors creatively in the whole business and it just seems to be having its moment right about now. Also, by default, Salon QP is an essentially male oriented event, but if you look at the visitors, it’s not 90% male, it’s nearer 50/50, so we thought we have to offer something that’s more female oriented.
The other thing that’s interesting is that it’s a much more curated approach than we have in the rest of the show. It is watches chosen that follow a theme that’s been set out, and the brands who are involved have been asked to help illustrate that. It’s staged and curated in a much more overt way than in the rest of the galleries.
Finally, what do you think will be the major innovations in luxury watches over the next 5-10 years?
I wish I knew! I suspect that it will with things like case making and dial making, which are actually very difficult but unsung skills. In terms of watch technology, I think what you’ll see is a wider feed through of technologies that are already there. Omega’s movements are now by default magnetic, silicon-based and you will see that spread through the industry so that the critical parts are by default the silicon or similar rather than, for example, brass. In terms of style, don’t ask me!