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Swiss watch brands mull future of Hong Kong show as demand wilts

[HONG KONG] The Swiss organizer of an annual Hong Kong watch fair and some of the exhibiting brands are considering holding the event every other year amid declining sales in the industry's largest market.

The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in 2013 started Watches & Wonders, as the exhibition is known, branching out from the two biggest trade shows in Switzerland, the SIHH and Baselworld. While this year's fair will take place, the group is in talks with exhibitors on the future format of the show, according to Richard Mille, chief executive officer of the namesake independent watchmaker. The event mainly showcases Richemont-owned brands like Montblanc, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin.

"Some brands have been fighting to get out, completely out, to stop the Watches & Wonders," Mr Mille said in an interview at the Geneva watch salon on Tuesday, declining to name the brands. "Some of the brands want to do it every two years, some say every year. It's a negotiation." A Richemont representative declined to comment, and theĀ Geneva-based Fondation didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Demand for pricey timepieces in Hong Kong has suffered from China's crackdown on extravagant spending and currency fluctuations that make watches less expensive in other markets. Swiss watch exports to the island city plunged 23 percent in the first 11 months of 2015, and are facing the first annual decline since 2009. The industry is already pulling back, with TAG Heuer shuttering a store there in August.

Mille, who said the main reason for brands reconsidering the show is the time and investment it requires, would still prefer the exhibit to go on every year. Richard Mille's watches start at about 70,000 Swiss francs (S$100,841) and can reach 1.8 million francs.

"The objective of going there was to make contact with clients who maybe couldn't or wouldn't go to the boutiques, and we could enlarge our client data base easily," Mr Mille said.

"It's not cheap, but it's worthwhile." Montblanc chief executive officer Jerome Lambert said, "it's too early to say where it goes and how it goes and what will be done. Whatever happens, we'll remain very active in Hong Kong with major exhibitions." Hong Kong also plays host to the annual Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair, which had almost 800 exhibitors last year.