Beginners’ guide to luxury watches
Not all timepieces are created equal
By Kim Da-ye
Korea’s luxury goods boom started with designer bags, moved onto imported vehicles and has now arrived at watches.
The economic slowdown hasn’t stopped Korean consumers from buying high-end watches although they have apparently cut their spending on other kinds of extravagances.
In the first quarter, the sales of luxury goods at the Galleria Department Store grew 18 percent while that of high-end watches soared 40 percent. Lotte Department Store’s luxury watch sales went up 13.7 percent, compared to the 7.8 percent growth in overall luxury goods sales.
The sales of luxury watches at Hyundai Department Store and Shinsegae Department Store shot up by 25 percent and 30 percent, respectively, according to data released to the Seoul Economic Newspaper, a Korea Times’ affiliate.
Luxury watches that easily cost more than 10 million won are still new to the majority of domestic consumers while choosing one may be more demanding than buying a vehicle due to the variety and relatively little information available on them.
Kim Pil-do, a luxury watch buyer at Galleria Luxury Hall said that consumers can obtain information about luxury watches from online forums as well as specialist magazines.
In Korea, Time Forum (timeforum.co.kr) is the most active online luxury watch community. For overseas websites, TimeZone (timezone.com) and PuristSPro (watchprosite.com) are well known to Korean luxury watch aficionados. Chronos is the trusted magazine on the subject, and is also published in Korean.
Kim said that the process of choosing the right watch usually begins with deciding whether to go with quartz or automatic movements. Quartz watches are powered by batteries, and automatic counterparts are self-winding.
“For automatic watches, consumers should look at the brand’s history and heritage. The automatic movement requires delicate workmanship that is acquired over a long period of time,” Kim said.
“For quartz watches, consumers look at design and materials.”
Consumers can also narrow down their choice by specific desired features such as the display of dates and a chronograph.
Kim added that advanced buyers would even consider if the luxury watch candidates are equipped with in-house movements. Some models of Cartier, for instance, are fitted with movements developed by Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre.
“When you know such details of the watch you bought, it will maximize your satisfaction with the purchase,” Kim said.
Here are the luxury watch brands popular among Koreans.
These watches are the most expensive and the most respected. Expect to pay 50 million won for a decent model.
Among Korean consumers, Patek Philippe is regarded as the king of the luxury watch manufacturers.
The Swiss watchmaker, founded in 1951, produces a limited number of watches, and the exclusivity has helped them become the “final destination” for luxury watch collectors here.
Its only official boutique in Korea is in Galleria Luxury Hall in Apgujeong, southern Seoul.
The Swiss brand founded in 1874 is favored by local business leaders and politicians for its classic, conservative style. The company claims that it is the oldest fine watch manufacturer still owned by its founding families.
The French brand founded in 1775 touts probably the most aristocratic heritage although it is now based in Switzerland as part of the Swatch Group. Some of the historical figures who wore the watch in the past include French Queen Marie-Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Tsar Alexdander I of Russia, Queen Victoria and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Classic & popular
These are the watches most sought after by Koreans and business executives for their brand names and more accessible prices than top-end luxury watches.
Founded in Switzerland in 1833, Jaeger LeCoultre represents devotion to the business and quality. Regarded as just below the top five watchmakers — Patek Phillippe, Blancpain, Vacheron Constantin, Brequet and Audemars Piguet — the brand is actually more exclusive than Rolex and Omega.
According to a posting on TimeForum, LeCoultre is a true watchmaker with more than 40 in-house movements in its portfolio.
Nearly everyone with little knowledge in luxury goods knows Rolex, and the Swiss company produces a large quantity of watches. The wide availability, however, hasn’t waned its popularity as a luxury watchmaker.
Rolex recorded sales of 72.1 billion won in Korea — up 27.8 percent from 56 billion won in 2010 — continuing to rule the luxury watch market here.
Omega is loved by businessmen as well as newlyweds who choose its watches as wedding gifts.
The Swiss watchmaker was the official timekeeper at the 2012 London Olympics.
Better known as a jeweler, Cartier produces beautifully designed watches.
Trendy & stylish
The brands in this category have recently gained much popularity, especially among young consumers, expanding the luxury watch market to a wider age group.
International Watch Co., founded by an American and based in Switzerland, represents modernity meeting tradition.
It is one of the fastest growing luxury watch brands in Korea with its design ranging from classic to sporty.
The brand is favored by Korea’s young entrepreneurs at venture companies and the affluent who buy their first luxury watches.
Hublot is probably today’s trendiest watchmaker that can pull off using a rubber band in products that cost tens of millions won.
Founded in 1980, the brand was sold to LVMH, the holding company of Louis Vuitton, in 2008. That explains the brand’s marvelous growth and knack for marketing activities. The brand is the official timekeeper of the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups.
Founded in 1980 in Italy, Panerai used to supply watches to the Italian navy. The watches’ sporty and bulky design that won the hearts of Paneristis, the fans of the brands in Korea and across the world.
TAG Heuer has been regarded in Korea as a luxury watch brand, but strictly speaking, it is not. Priced at around 2 to 3 million won, most TAG Heuer models are good for the first-time buyers of expensive watches. They are also popular wedding gifts.
At under 1 million won, Tissot watches provide the best value for money. Founded in 1853, Tissot now belongs to the Swatch Group. Its quality and design for the price is unmatchable.