With a significant part of the world on lockdown, it was only a matter of time before the hallowed watch factories of Switzerland followed suit. Even watch enthusiasts oblivious to the real world saw this inevitable conclusion with the cancellation of both Baselworld 2020 and Watches and Wonders Geneva 2020 last month.
Due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland, the Canton of Geneva imposed a ban on all gatherings of 5 or more people last March 16. That same day, Rolex CEO Jean-Frederique Dufour announced that all its factories in Switzerland (Geneva, Bienne and Crissier) will stop production starting March 17, 5 pm (CET) and will effectively shut-down for a minimum of 10 days, but with this date subject to change depending on whether or not the pandemic has been contained.
Aside from Rolex, other notable manufactures synonymous to haute horlogerie such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Hublot have also stopped watch production due to this health crisis. Some brands, on the other hand, disclosed only the temporary shut-down of their stores and boutiques such as TAG Heuer and Cartier. Other companies such as Frederique Constant opted to maintain a skeletal workforce in their manufacture to ensure that orders are still being served, but at a slower pace.
Even in Asia, it has not been business as usual for quite some time. The Grand Seiko Summit that was supposed to be held in Tokyo last March 4 – 6 was cancelled due to the health risk posed by COVID-19. Previously teeming with locals and tourists, the streets of Tokyo are now practically empty with many choosing to stay indoors and limiting contact with other people.
It is no exaggeration to say that the entire watch industry is reeling from the effects of COVID-19. Physical movement in many places is restricted with quarantines becoming the norm, and even delivery of non-essential goods has been curtailed in certain countries. With many small and medium businesses adversely affected by the coronavirus, looking for a new watch is just not at the top of people’s minds at this point in time.
Before this pandemic, the watch industry was on an upward trend the past few years. Gray market prices of in-demand models were trading at an all-time high, and auction houses were breaking records for iconic timepieces that were put up for sale. And everything was on track to be even better this year.
This crisis has put everything on hold. Even the previously vibrant pre-owned market here in the Philippines has slowed down significantly now that Metro Manila is on lockdown. Travel outside the house is not only discouraged, but is actually monitored and restricted. Even door-to-door delivery service has been hampered due to the obvious health risks faced by delivery personnel.
With everything uncertain right now, it’s hard to say what will happen in the next few months. This is a pause button not just for the watch world, but for every affected country. Perhaps this pandemic will help put things in perspective and bring down to more rational levels the prices of certain hyped up models. Or it is entirely possible that this event will drive up prices even more due to the temporary shut-down of certain watch factories.
All that we can do right now is wait, hope, pray, and wash our hands.