It would be an easy assumption to make that most high-end luxury watch brands are universally popular the world over. Big budget advertising campaigns and lavish boutiques in every airport can give that impression, but you’d be surprised that different regions around the world find certain watches to have a very different level of appeal. London-based watch traders and enthusiasts, Tempo & Time, explore the global tastes of watch fans from Europe, the Middle East and beyond.
With its rich European heritage and headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Rolex still reigns over its home continent. With an unrivalled presence across the region, Rolex is not only seen as a sign of status, but also as a safe investment. In much of Western Europe, the pre-owned watch market is flourishing, with customers seeking out decommissioned models for their often-staggering level of appreciation. With a taste for understated pieces from historic brands, many affluent Europeans celebrate their graduation from Rolex by going for something with real connoisseur-kudos, like a dressy Patek Philippe Calatrava or a clean and classic Grand Lange 1 by A. Lange & Söhne. Alternatively, some opt for a high complication piece such as the revolutionary multiple time zone Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Geographic.
Much like Europe, different brands enjoy varying levels of appeal across the vast United States. Officine Panerai for example, can boast a huge following on the East Coast, especially in New York. Not only does the brand’s Italian heritage helps its appeal, but with their bold yet smart designs – particularly their ‘base model’ steel Luminor range on chunky leather straps – Panerai now rivals Rolex as the Wall Street banker’s watch of choice.
As for the West Coast, you only need to look toward Hollywood to see which brands have gained traction due to movie tie-ins. The TAG Heuer Monaco, for example, has that eternal ‘cool factor’ because of its synonymy with the legendary Steve McQueen, and since nabbing its Bond movie license-to-product-place from Rolex in the mid-1990s, the Omega Seamaster remains one of the most popular sports watches in the States.
With a diverse range of clientele with big buying power, many luxury watch brands thrive in the Middle East, especially in the UAE. To regular wearers, Rolex dominates, but when money is no object, exclusivity and customisation often come next. The high concept, mechanical marvels from innovators MB&F are rarely seen away from the showroom, but they’ll be found on the wrists of affluent Emirati. Extremely limited release Richard Mille, like the RM052 Tourbillon Skull, would also be seen as a horological holy grail anywhere else in the world, but the movers and shakers of the Middle East can be seen casually wearing these incredible timepieces.
China has an insatiable appetite for expensive accessories. Arguably more interested in how watches look than how they work, timepieces from traditional jewellery brands such as Cartier and Chopard are very popular. Watches with unique, extravagant designs also do well there. Franck Muller’s colourful and curvy Crazy Hours and Vanguard models are very popular among both Mainland Chinese men and women alike. Hong Kong, on the other hand, has a longer affiliation with traditional Western brands. The region sees more luxury watches cross its shores than any other country in the world, and it shows on the streets. The latest and greatest sports Rolex models are ubiquitous among aspirational young professionals there, while a vintage Datejust would almost be scoffed at – a far cry from more nostalgic consumer cultures like Italy or Japan.