Giving the Umbrella to Swiss Watches

You might not realize it if you aren’t a diehard watch aficionado, but amidst the protests currently taking place in Hong Kong, Watches and Wonders 2014, a premier haute horlogerie event, is also underway.  Watches and Wonders is taking place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, with side events at boutiques and elsewhere around the city.

One of the reasons why these mega events are so powerful is that it makes the cosmopolitan watch industry so local – i.e. to the many Asian shoppers in the region they are selling an intimately Swiss experience.  La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Schaffhausen, Le Brassus, Plan-les-Ouates, all legendary names- become real. The experience exemplifies the industry message that everything they do is local – design, sourcing, manufacturing, production, finissage, are all Swiss.  The industry mythologizes the local. Heritage and tradition; it all reduces to local.

Though I love watches and the habits of being a watch collector, I’ve cooled to luxury wristwatches over the last few days.  As someone raised in Hong Kong, I feel that something is off-base with the Watches and Wonders 2014 extravaganza given the protests literally outside the Exhibition Center’s front door.  And though I would ordinarily attend as a watch lover, I won’t be participating this year for one reason. 

I understand that Richemont and the Watch Industry were going to go ahead with Watches and Wonders 2014, despite the protesters massed a stone’s throw from their location.  However, Watches and Wonders has made no recognition of the protests.  A perusal of twitter and instagram hashtags supports this. Instead, they have chosen to black out Hong Kong as a prime part of their story.  Watches and Wonders was initially proud to be in Hong Kong – check out this prelude video and note the city’s prominence.  

Yet look at this video taken at the event, on day 3 of the protests – there is not one mention of Hong Kong. 

It is as if the event is taking place in a no-man’s-land. The luxury watch industry- its heaviest hitters, and all the concentric circles of media, celebrities, and fans have decamped on Hong Kong, most likely staying in hotels that face the protesters in Central.  Yet, Watches and Wonders bears no witness to these events going on around them.

I get it -- Swiss watch brands can sell Hong Kong on their local- but when Hong Kong’s local is in need- after all these years of Hong Kong-Swiss partnership- the Swiss will happily retreat from everyone else’s local.  Indeed, the luxury watch industry’s “let them eat cake” attitude smacks of absurdity for an industry that draws a lifeline from Hong Kong. It is not a matter of supporting or not supporting civil disobedience– it is a matter of bearing witness. Even just a note from the event chair, recognizing that events are going on during the show would go a long way.  But to be willfully blind is an insult.  It’s a minute repeater that isn’t repeating for me, and for that reason, I will not be attending the event this year.