What’s Disrupting the European Watch and Jewellery Industry?

INHORGENTA Munich 2020 is the largest trade fair for timepieces and jewellery in Germany, offering halls for the display of precious stones and the machinery and technology involved in the industry. Major brands can be found at this event, which marks an important transition point of the business year for most participants. As the event grows annually in terms of participants and diversity, its preponderance in the European landscape increases consequently.

German branding, smartwatches disruption and perception of items’ value are the biggest trends impacting watches and jewellery. Differentiation is, therefore, the key strategy for most of the players in this internet-driven society.

Made in Germany brand and the German tradition

The quartz technology introduced in the 1970s resulted in the watch industry going through a disruptive phase, eroding share for business major players in Europe, particularly impacting Germany.

The Swiss watch industry was the only European watch industry that survived and then thrived as a major manufacturer of watches at a global level, with several brands leading in global shares. Nevertheless, benefiting from worldwide recognition of quality and durability, watches made in Germany are making their way back to being important brands globally.

During the event, brands located in Glashütte/Saxony, the birthplace of the watch industry in Germany, revealed a strategy of cooperation that strengthened their visibility. Mühle and Tutima were the most relevant players from this iconic town, while there were also players from other cities in Germany such as MeisterSinger and Sinn. Close to these brands were located Bruno Söhnle, Dugena and Carl von Zeyten with equally eye-catching booths.

Carl von Zeyten’s booth notably offered traditional interior design from the Black Forest region. Such collaborative initiatives are helping to strongly improve brand awareness for German-made watches and boost quality perceptions among consumers.

Innovate or die: the smart invasion

Similarly, to the evolution created by the disruption of quartz in the watch industry, the smartwatch concept is revolutionising the watch industry and how consumers use watches in their daily life.

Traditional watches are still appreciated and used by many people around the world. However, traditional watches’ true function of keeping the user aware of time has lost its purpose, as now virtually everyone owns a mobile phone.

Nowadays, traditional watches are mostly an accessory used for beauty or fashion purposes, while some even feel socially obliged to have traditional watches. This is supporting the exponential and vertiginous growth of smartwatches across the world with these also gaining a growing presence in such events.

Once again, Citizen Group’s brands Frederique Constant and Alpina displayed their hybrid options, characterised by traditional design combined with smart features. Festina Group also exhibited several hybrid options, including the Festina, Lotus and Jaguar brands, and the pure smartwatch Swedish brand Kronoby that was acquired by the group in 2018.

Best-selling smartwatch brands such as Garmin, Huawei, Samsung, Withings and Vita could also be found in technology retailer Komsa’s booth. With features such as high precision GPS, texting, physical activity tracker, weather reports, audio listening and heart rate monitors alongside higher battery durability and models with water/pressure resistance, these smartwatches are increasing the gap in terms of functionality with traditional watches.

Gold and precious stones are losing value

Fine jewellery is going through one of its most difficult phases in history. This time, the main factor driving sales down for many major brands is not exactly of an economic nature, as Germany and the world in general performed well economically over the last decade. Also, these items tend to keep value over time since the materials are constantly in demand, such as gold and silver.

Despite these factors, consumers are spending less per purchase on fine jewellery and consumers in younger generations often feel completely disconnected with most of fine jewellery brands and their products.

In the fine jewellery hall, high-quality jewellery collections from major German brands such as Rauschmayer, Gerstner and Breuning could be found. With an old history and traditional methods, these brands mostly come from Pforzheim and the surrounding towns. They are mainly preferred by older consumers and mostly purchased for ceremonial purposes such as marriages, which still drive most sales and emerging opportunities, as number of weddings has increased.

However, these players’ strongly traditional business model and disconnection with younger generations is hitting their performance. Whether for ceremonies or fashion purposes, consumers are becoming more eager to spend on experiences rather than goods, which leaves fine jewellery brands with little space to attract them due to their high unit prices.

Throughout the event in Munich, it was reflected that in an age of innovation and consumer transformation, successful brands are shaping their business models and shifting priorities.

Successful players are building their brands around historical and cultural elements to connect with buyers, particularly those from younger generations, who will account over time for a greater share of potential customers.