The funky Apple Watch Nike+ may be the timepiece of choice for People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan but Cartier Replica watches are favored by China’s wealthy.
Cartier was the top choice for Chinese consumers looking to buy a luxury watch in the next 12 months, according to a survey by RBC Capital Markets. The French watchmaker ranked above Swiss titans Rolex, Omega and Longines when Chinese consumers with an annual income of above CNY450,000 were asked to pick a brand they would consider buying from a list of 38 high-end labels. Cartier was also king among millennial respondents.
The strong showing by the four powerhouse watchmakers is unsurprising as brand history and technical reputation rank highly among Chinese watch buyers. However, price now has stronger bearing on brand choice than it did a year ago, with the percentage of respondents citing “reasonable price” as a key criteria jumping to 39% from 35% two years ago. The tightening of purse strings could be a reason why Rolex and Omega have slipped down the rankings over the past two years. Despite being revered as standard-bearers in luxury watches, Rolex and Omega generally sell pricier timepieces than top finishers Cartier and Longines.
Wealthy Chinese consumers are also venturing beyond the most established brands. Bulgari, Patek Philippe and IWC have enjoyed the biggest increase in brand preference compared to two years ago. On the other hand, Rolex, Omega and Longines have become less popular. While there’s still a great deal of emphasis on the reputation and “fame” of a brand, the two issues have become less significant as buyers consider the design of a watch.
Wealthy Chinese consumers remain traditionalists when it comes to the type of watch. A hefty 70% of those surveyed intended to buy classic analogues, with the category ranking well above fashion and multi-function watches. Glitzy jewelry watches were least preferred, while sports and smart watches also didn’t find much favor. Choices of movement – or the inner mechanism – reflected traditional tastes, with mechanical models being more popular than quartz or battery models.
Despite being overshadowed by classic analogues, smart watches have been gaining popularity. The percentage of wealthy Chinese who own a smart watch has increased to 21% from 14% two years ago. The top reasons for buying a smart watch includes health and fitness functions, integration with smartphones and a growing number of apps. Interest in smart watches remains strong as Chinese consumers become more conscious about health and fitness as income levels rise – 73% of those surveyed are looking to buy a smart watch.
Retailers of luxury watches in China have suffered as Beijing’s crackdown on corruption and a slowing Chinese economy squeezed sales last year, but e-commerce isn’t posing a significant threat. Brand boutiques, watch sections of department stores and multi-brand retailers all eclipsed online as preferred channels for buying luxury watches among wealthy Chines consumers.