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Stars come out at premier HK fair
THE Hong Kong film industry isn't called the Hollywood of the East for nothing; when the second edition of Watches and Wonders (W&W) rolled into the city on Monday, the stars naturally turned up to add glitter to the annual luxury watch fair.
The throngs of Occupy Central protestors at downtown Wan Chai - just around the corner from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre where the four-day event which ended on Thursday was held - did little to dampen the mood as the red carpet was rolled out for the who's who of Asian cinema, including mainland Chinese actress Zhou Xun, Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung, and veteran TV thespian Ada Choi.
If that wasn't enough, Australian screen siren Cate Blanchett and supermodel Karolina Kurkova also flew in to sprinkle extra stardust on the affair.
All in all, it capped off a big week for the participating watchmaking maisons of luxury group Richemont, as W&W looks set to become a regular fixture in the Hong Kong events calendar.
First held last September, the fair is generally perceived as a scaled-down version of the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), which takes place every January in Geneva. But the presence of all 13 chief executives of the participating brands spoke volumes of how important W&W also is.
Returning for the second year were A Lange & Sohne, Audemars Piguet, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Richard Mille, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
But unlike SIHH where dealers from all over the world come to strike deals with the brands, W&W has a less business-like atmosphere as watch aficionados from the region - particularly Hong Kong, which is the leading market for Swiss luxury timepieces; plus mainland China, which has been the industry's fastest-growing market in recent years - get the rare opportunity to meet the watchmakers instead.
Gregory So, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, called the affair a "unique gathering" in his address during the opening ceremony on Monday and said it was proof of the host country's strength as a paradise for luxury shopping as sales of high-end timepieces and jewellery alone last year accounted for a quarter of retail spending.
It's still at top spot as HK$21.5b (S$3.53b) worth of Swiss watches were exported to Hong Kong in the first eight months of this year - up two per cent from the same period in 2013, according to figures released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Mainland China registered a 5.1 per cent growth as it came in third with HK$7.7b.
Fabienne Lupo, chairwoman and managing director of the Geneva-based Foundation for Fine Watchmaking, which organises both SIHH and W&W, adds the latter is returning to Hong Kong because one of its tasks is to impart the culture of Swiss watchmaking to those who appreciate it. "We are here to showcase watches, yes, but also to transmit their heritage, to let people glimpse the history, the passion, the care and the time that has gone into creating these beautiful instruments," she explains.
This year's event also coincided with Mainland China's Golden Week - the country's National Day public holiday where many of its citizens are expected to travel overseas. As usual, many were bound for nearby Hong Kong, where mainlanders make up 75 per cent of the country's total visitors; leading Ms Lupo to add, "The timing this year just made Golden Week a little more Golden."
While 2013's inaugural W&W felt more like an SIHH after-party because some maisons looked unprepared and did not arrive with anything new, this year's definitely felt more like a curtain-raiser leading up to 2015's SIHH.
Element of surprise
"What's important is not just to come with the Geneva novelties but also to surprise (visitors with exclusive pieces)," states Alain Zimmermann, CEO of Baume & Mercier.
Hence, there were visibly more special editions created specially for W&W's visitors. Blanchett, Zhou and Kurkova were on hand to help IWC premiere its new mid-sized Portofino collection, which at 37mm is not only unisex but also a better fit for the slimmer wrists of male Asian collectors as audacious over-sized sports watches begin to give way to the current trend of thinner and more elegant classic-looking timepieces.
Over at Baume & Mercier - where Mr Zimmermann stressed creating watches for women is not about marketing but an important part of its DNA for more than 100 years - Ada Choi showed off the femininity of the brand's W&W exclusive piece, the Promesse in Red Lacquer.
Even before Nick Cheung showed up for Piaget on Tuesday evening, the maison was already stealing the thunder early on as it drew big crowds to a high security section within its booth - aptly dubbed the Treasure Room. In it, some of the maison's most popular watches were given a bling-bling makeover, courtesy of 760.2 carats of diamonds worth more than S$35 million - effectively tranforming Piaget's exhibition space into the most expensive one at the event.
For a city used to all things beautiful, the fair still managed to dazzle its visitors as the celebrities and luxurious timepieces took turns to share the spotlight; turning the second editon of W&W into a truly all-star affair.