September 25, 2013
by Ariel Adams
For the second year, aBlogtoWatch traveled to Hong Kong to attend the 2013 Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair. Organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the event is a unique mixture of private and public interests whose main goal is to facilitate business, trade, and opportunity. As an American it was interesting to see such an effort on actually facilitating business and networking as producers and retailers come together to do business. In fact, the show goes so far as to have scheduled tours where retailers are walked through brand’s booths. Things happen quickly here compared to Europe. While one Baselworld to another no doubt sees the release of entirely new models and products, the ability for the Chinese industry to shift so quickly in terms of what and how they produce is impressive. It is much more a reflection of how they do business overall versus just the Asian watch industry. Some of the major lessons during this voyage were many of the curious “whys” as to what the Chinese seem to produce and for what reason.
We last looked at the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair here in 2012 as a recap of that event. A major topic of discussion was how Western and Eastern talents best combine to produce watches worth buying. In summary, we suggested that Eastern production capacity and speed, combined with Western design and marketing sensibilities result in the best watches in terms of price and production volumes. Further, we found it difficult to imagine a global watch industry that didn’t have some part Asia, and some part in Europe or the US. Now let’s look more into the Asian watch culture (from a production versus consumer angle) after a visit to the 2013 Hong Kong watch show.
Hong Kong was no less populated with watch ads, stores, or actual watches this year compared to last. In fact, perhaps there were even more watch stores this year. Mainlander Chinese continue to frequent Hong Kong as a watch shopping destination because of favorable tax-free pricing. Though, the more worldly Hong Kong sensibility is also appropriate for doing business with the “larger” watch world. My theory is that having a closer connection to Western ideals and concepts allows people in Hong Kong to best serve as an intermediary between factories in China, and consumers all over the world. The issue is that while China “can” produce anything, what they produce is an entirely different story.
As a Western consumer I’ve been entirely curious about “strange” Chinese products for years. Given my understanding of watches, this interest has peaked upon seeing so many strange watches being produced over and over again from Chinese watchmakers. The most “interesting” ones are those you’ll never see in stores you probably frequent. It is difficult to define “strange” in this context. By that I mean oddly designed, poorly designed, or unintentionally humorously designed. Having said that, what interests me more are the well-designed watches from China – and for 2013 I am seeing a lot more of them.
I’ve boiled it down to the idea that the Chinese excel at rapid replication, and cost reduction. We know this. And these precise qualities (which can be good), are the exact opposite of what is necessary for the production of well-designed watches. Swiss watchmakers are notoriously slow. They don’t even hide it. Many are even proud to be slow. This steady pacing seems to be a virtue that allows them to somehow design and produce better things. Low production, highly priced things, but really nice things nevertheless. This is the first time I realized what the benefit of “Swiss pacing” had to do with watch production. It seems as though the more time a company takes in making a watch, the better chances it has of being really nice.
Taken logically, the notion suggests that slow production allows for careful design tweaks, better attention to detail, etc… Conversely, in China slow production is bad. That means low products, low volumes, and the likelihood that your competition will beat you. Assuming they have a design and method to follow, the Chinese will beat anyone. The trick is in first having that design and method – two things that I’ve found are best not rushed.
I interviewed many people at the Hong Kong show on how they design watches, what inspires them, and who they are designing watches for. What I learned was that precious few of them take a more global approach to design, considering everything from taste to trends, as well as being unique. What many do is try to replicate designs without actually copying them, while at the same time trying to combine elements of various successful designs. The logic is simple, if you have little time to design a new watch, the best thing to do is take what works elsewhere and modifying it for your needs while trying to throw everything else you like in the bucket. It is the exact opposite of the “less is more” rule.
This is the precise reason why we see so many Chinese copies of other designs. There is a culture of emulating what works. It isn’t seen as unethical or dishonest, but more so like following how your favorite musician or celebrity dresses. If it looks good on them it will look good on me too, right? The idea is to take something you like and represent it your way and receive its qualities by virtue of being close to it. To be more like them, just stand really close to them. China isn’t known for its strong nurturing of the individual. There are many independent personalities in China, but culturally it is a collectivity nation where people thrive by following leaders. European and American ideals value the individual much more – and that leads to more unique designs. Though in valuing the individual so much, the Western world fails in acting together so much of the time… more »