We were hoping that the end of 2020 would spell the end of the Covid crisis. That has not yet happened. How can we thus envisage this year, without looking for something in this public health crisis other than merely the cause of our misfortunes?

The Covid crisis is often presented as a trigger for new phenomena, a catalyst for new trends.

I certainly see it as a trend accelerator, from the digitalisation of commerce to a general awareness of the risks linked to the economic and industrial development of our society: global warming, pollution and animal extinction.

I also see it as a demonstration by absurdity – or more specifically by absence – of the persistence of certain fundamental elements characterising the watch industry and the luxury world in general.

Our industry and indeed our society lives and breathes through social interaction, exchanges, sensual and physical contact.

In 2020, we have learned to do without watch fairs, exhibitions, commercial operations, and pop-up stores. We have moved towards intensive use of new video platforms such as Zoom or Teams.

However, in September 2020, when we were offered a window of opportunity, we jumped at the chance to hold the Geneva Watch Days, a simplified trade show bringing together some 20 brands. I can assure you that the partners who were able to do so joined us with extraordinary enthusiasm and eagerness.

Trade shows, like the retail sector, thus have a bright future ahead of them – naturally in another form, perhaps more local, more frequent and
definitely more strongly echoed by social media and the internet.

This is because consumers, like journalists and retailers, need to put watches on their wrists, to feel them, to test their comfort when wearing them, to directly appreciate the sound of the chimes of a Grande Sonnerie, or the intricacies of complex mechanical movements.

Over the last few decades, the vertical integration of the major watch brands has forged a new economic environment. This has probably led some observers to imagine a fundamentally very monolithic watch industry, with the emergence of integrated giants covering the whole spectrum from production to marketing, in parallel with the disappearance of multi-brand retailers and specialised trade press.

With the crisis, there has of course been a growth in traffic on watch media websites, but this has not been to the detriment of print editions, quite the opposite. Several media have indeed reported an increase in their publication volume.

With the fall in watch exports in the first part of the year, and the substantial drop in orders, some watch brands also became aware that they are part of a genuine watchmaking eco-system, while realising that the bankruptcy of some of their suppliers would entail the disruption of their supply chain. Financial solidarity has suddenly proven to be an obvious choice.

Today, I can’t imagine anyone questioning the crucial importance of collaboration and solidarity between the various watch industry stakeholders – suppliers, retailers and the press – in order to protect the future of this business.

We might as well transform this complex period into an opportunity to face up to obstacles; to demonstrate our resilience and imagination in the face of the closure of sales outlets and the subdued level of commercial activity.

There is a need for escapism and pleasure. We can be one of the many answers.

Through artistic creativity and through technical ingenuity, we celebrate humanity.

Antoine Pin, watch business unit managing director at Bulgari