Minutes & Seconds

High-end watch brands introducing entry level models

PHOTOS: CARTIER, PANERAI, ROLEX, TAG HEUER

Many watchmakers are launching entry-level offerings to keep sales up

It is probably inevitable in a difficult market, but value is the new name of the game in the watch industry these days.

That is hardly surprising. For the last three years, luxury mechanical timepieces have been plagued by back-to-back slumps for reasons ranging from the strong Swiss franc to China's crackdown on corruption.

Although recent spikes in Swiss watch exports indicate the market may finally be clambering out of a rut, industry players are under no illusions that they will soon be scaling dizzying heights again.

According to the Swiss watch federation, prices of luxury watches climbed by 53 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

But in a gloomy economic climate, sky high prices are unrealistic and no longer tenable. Demand has not kept up.

Bad times demand smart responses and many watchmakers are hoping to keep sales up with entry-level offerings.

They opt for steel instead of precious metals, pare down the bling and complicated features, and simplify movements without compromising on their brand's character, style and reputation.

About three years ago, Montblanc released the Heritage Perpetual Calendar which, at $16,800 in steel, is the most affordable perpetual calendar from a big name. Last year, Tag Heuer did the same with a tourbillon chronograph: the Carrera Heuer-02T, which retails for $21,800 in steel.

Other watchmakers are going for cheaper iterations of classic models. Earlier this year, Cartier came out with a whole range of Panthere de Cartier. The steel model starts at $5,500.

Here are a few entry-level offerings from major brands.

PANERAI LUMINOR MARINA 1950 3 DAYS AUTOMATIC ACCIAIO

Like most Panerai watches, the Luminor Marina 1950 3 Days Automatic Acciaio - a new iteration of the classic Panerai Luminor Marina - has a great design and pleasingly clean lines.

It is powered by a self-winding Calibre P.9010, which has a power reserve of three days in its two barrels, beats at 28,800 vibrations an hour and boasts 31 jewels. Not only is the movement thinner, but the case and lugs are too. The 44m case is fashioned from brushed and polished stainless steel.

The recommended retail price is $10,750.

CARTIER PANTHERE

An iconic timepiece, the Panthere de Cartier watch made its appearance in the 1980s, but was discontinued in the early 2000s.

The reissue of this classic, with its distinctive square case, screwed-down bezel and link bracelet, is an attempt to woo a younger generation.

Powered by a quartz movement, the new range comes in nine materials, including steel, yellow gold and white gold with diamonds, and two sizes.

A small stainless-steel model starts at $5,500.

TAG HEUER CARRERA HEUER-02T

This is an example of Tag Heuer's mission of Haute Horlogerie: the only COSC-certified automatic chronograph with Tourbillon produced by the Swiss watch industry for under 15,000 Swiss francs (S$20,500). COSC refers to Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute.

The new movement has automatic winding, beats at 4 Hz/ 28,800 vibrations an hour and boasts a power reserve of more than 65 hours stored in a single mainspring barrel.

The case takes its inspiration from the Carrera Heuer 01, the chrono launched two years ago to attract a younger clientele, and is fashioned from Grade 5 titanium.

There are several versions, the most basic of which starts at $21,800.

ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL

An excellent entry point into the Rolex Watch kingdom, this handsomely constructed watch is rendered in 904L stainless steel and boasts the calibre 3130, a self-winding mechanical movement developed and manufactured by Rolex.

The dial, which comes in different colours including champagne and olive green, has distinctive hour markers made from 18-karat gold to prevent tarnishing.

The Oyster Perpetual is waterproof to 100m and has a power reserve of about 48 hours. It retails for $6,790.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Luxury at a lower price'. Print Edition | Subscribe