7 minutes

The Watch Industry and COVID: A Retrospective

By Balazs Ferenczi
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It’s hard to look at what has happened in the watch industry in the last six months without mentioning 2020 and COVID. Even before the pandemic, 2020 was shaping up to be a turning point in the industry for several reasons: First, SIHH became Watches and Wonders, and the event was moved to a later date, as was Baselworld. Of course, everything changed in February when the pandemic went global and life as we know it came to a standstill. The watch industry is not known for being particularly flexible or adaptable, not even for minor issues. That being said, the industry did manage to wake up and act swiftly to preserve sales. Brands needed to make sure supplies were still in place for e-commerce. Most companies, including Chrono24, experienced an initial decline in sales followed by a rapid increase. Was this the result of brick-and-mortar stores closing, or were people just looking for different ways to invest their money? It’s hard to tell, but one thing is for sure: The watch world had to go digital – and fast – if they wanted to stay afloat.  

By the time we reached 2021, we’d already been through a few waves of the pandemic, as well as several online brand events. I must admit that I did not enjoy attending these as a journalist since they lacked human interaction and the ability to touch and feel new models. That being said, brands did everything in their power to make their online events run as smoothly and be as informative as possible – kudos to them. It took the industry a good while to get used to this new way of life, but by 2021, we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Rumors about live events in the latter half of the year started circulating, and brands began signing off on Zoom calls with, “see you in real life soon.” The first half of 2021, in turn, was all about the Watches & Wonders online event in April. It was not only far better organized than the previous year’s make-shift solution, but it also featured an illustrious list of participating brands. Watches & Wonders (formerly SIHH) was traditionally a Richemont Group event with a few additions like AP, Richard Mille, H. Moser & Cie., MB&F, HYT, and more. Neither AP nor Richard Mille attended this year, but some heavy hitters like Rolex, Tudor, and Patek Philippe joined the show.  

Rolex joined Watches & Wonders for the first time.
Rolex joined Watches & Wonders for the first time.

Watch Trends: Colors and Materials  

Before getting to the big Chrono24 data, I’d like to address a common misconception about the watches released so far this year. Regardless of whether you think they are good or bad, none was made in response to COVID. All of these new releases had been in the pipeline for years before they come to the market. Anyone saying that the new timepieces are boring because brands did not have the means to design or produce better options during the pandemic is wrong. That aside, let’s look at some highlights from this year’s releases. To start, color played a major role. The Baume et Mercier Riviera watches were a hit with their refreshing blue dials, as were the timepieces in the Oris Diver Sixty-Five Cotton Candy collection. Moser’s new Mega Cool collection brought some summer vibes to the gloomy April days, and the new TAG Heuer Aquaracer models made sure this year’s beach watch was sorted. Of course, we must also mention the new Zenith Defy 21 Spectrum line.  

In terms of color, green is officially the new blue. In previous years, it was all about blue: blue dials, blue straps, blue accents. In 2021, however, the industry shifted to green, which is a much more exciting and less ordinary color, in my opinion. Most of the brands mentioned above had at least one green watch in their new line-up, alongside IWC’s Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41, Patek Philippe’s iconic 5711/1A, and the new Rolex Datejust 36 with its leafy dial. Speake-Marine also joined in with their new Dual-Time Mint, and, of course, Tudor introduced their Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K in gold.  

Tudor also debuted some new case materials. They previously only had steel and bronze models in their Black Bay collection, but in 2021, they added gold and silver to the mix. We already mentioned the new colorful Oris Cotton Candy releases, which became an overnight success. This was likely down to their bright dials, but their bronze cases and bracelets undoubtedly added to the appeal.  

Tudor debuted some new case materials.
Tudor debuted some new case materials.

Chrono24 Data: Rolex Drops, Seiko Wins   

One of the most informative and exciting lists we like to look at is the market share of different brands on Chrono24. There isn’t anything that surprising here in the first half of 2021. Over a third of the share belonged to Rolex, regardless of which country we are looking at. This isn’t really news in itself, but when compared to the first half of 2020, this represents an 8% drop. While it’s not necessarily a significant drop, Rolex is one of only three brands that experienced a decline. TAG Heuer had a barely noticeable decrease, while IWC dropped by a similar amount to Rolex. Most other brands improved their market shares in the first half of 2021. Let’s take a closer look. 

At just over 10%, the brand with the second-largest share of the market is Omega. This means that Rolex and Omega account for nearly 50% of all sales on the platform. While we might think of Rolex as the undisputed top dog (which it is), Omega’s numbers are also impressive. The brand did very well in France and the UK and reasonably well in the USA, but interest dropped significantly in Asian countries. Omega lost ground in Hong Kong and Japan, but those weren’t their strongest markets in the first place. Even with their losses in Asia, Omega has managed to keep its position as number two globally. Breitling comes in at number three, with half the share of Omega.  

It is particularly interesting to look at the numbers in the USA because it is one of the largest markets on the platform. Here, in addition to Rolex, sister company Tudor and Patek Philippe have less market share this year. While Tudor’s losses were only slight, Patek saw a drop of over 10%. Only a few brands declined in Japan, but many dropped off significantly in Hong Kong. In this market, super-luxury brands like AP, Cartier, and Patek Philippe performed well.  

Seiko's popularity is growing in the USA.
Seiko’s popularity is growing in the USA.

Cartier did well in France, the UK, and the United States, but its most significant gains were in Germany. The overall winner of the market share game – if we had such a competition – would have to be Seiko, with gains of more than 40% in the USA. That being said, their initial starting point was relatively low, so even with this growth, they still have room for improvement.  

Black Goes Green: Chrono24 Users Want Green Watches 

Now let’s take a closer look at some popular features. As mentioned, dial color has been a big focus of new releases this year (and for some time now). Black is still the most popular dial color, accounting for almost half of sales, but it has lost some ground. Blue comes in at number two, followed by silver. White, gray, and everyone’s new favorite, green, also gained momentum, with green being the clear winner of the first half of 2021. However, similar to Seiko, green dials previously made up such a small portion of the market that the color remains in sixth place globally, even with these significant gains. Trends in the US generally match with the global numbers – with a few exceptions. Here, green gained the most ground, followed by blue and gray. White dials also seem to be on the rise, but every other color (black, silver, gold, champagne, brown, mother of pearl) saw losses. Japan matches the US to a T: Everything the Americans love, the Japanese love, too. In Hong Kong, every dial color increased its market share other than black.  

Another trend mentioned above was case material. We don’t have such significant changes here, aside from the fact that steel, two-tone, and ceramic cases are losing momentum globally. This year’s winners so far are carbon, platinum, and white gold. Carbon’s gains don’t strike me as odd; there are many more carbon watches these days – DOXA comes to mind. Despite these gains, however, steel models still account for over 70% of the market. Two-tone cases occupy the second spot with around 7%. The remaining 23% is divided between the next eight most popular case materials.  

Is green the new blue?
Is green the new blue?

Chrono24 Users’ Favorite Models: Winners and Losers  

It’s important to look at popular models and popular brands and understand what happened to them in the first six months of 2021. Firstly, it’s clear that the market share is now divided more equally between various model families. For instance, the most popular model globally is the Rolex Datejust with 8% of sales, followed by the Rolex Submariner and the Omega Seamaster, each of which accounts for around 5%. Interestingly, these top three all lost ground, with the Sub taking the most significant blow. The Speedmaster comes in at number four, followed by the Daytona (4.75%). There are two clear winners, each of which saw around a 4% increase compared to the first half of 2020. However, there are many declines, including several exciting models like the GMT-Master II, Black Bay, and Navitimer. In fact, the GMT-Master II was the biggest loser in this timeframe. The model lost market share in every country we looked at. Could this mean that the GMT-Master II, once the hottest Rolex on the market, is no longer a fan favorite? Popular luxury models like the Royal Oak gained ground in Europe and Asia but lost some in the US. The same is true for the Nautilus: red hot in Europe and Asia, but Americans lost interest. 

We could go on and on analyzing Chrono24’s data, but we hope that this little look behind the scenes has given you some insights into the inner workings of the watch industry. Nobody can predict the future; we can only speculate, but we won’t do that either. But I will say that I’m excited to see what the second half of 2021 has in store. The watch industry is an exciting, ever-changing business, and I’m sure we will see some surprising moves, declines, increases, and models rising to the top. One thing is for sure: We will be here reporting on it in six months’ time! 

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About the Author

Balazs Ferenczi

I’ve been interested in watches for as long as I can remember. I've always thought the only “jewelry” a man should wear is a nice watch. It also says a lot about …

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