National Jeweler Network

Brand Profiles

Lull in Chinese luxury market hurts watches

December 23, 2013

 Shanghai, China--The luxury market in China has slowed considerably in 2013, impacting high-end watch sales there, according to a report from global consulting firm Bain & Co.

According to Bain’s 2013 China Luxury Goods Market Study, released in Shanghai last week, mainland China’s luxury goods market slowed from 7 percent growth in 2012 to around 2 percent this year, with similarly slow growth expected in 2014.

Chinese shoppers now do two-thirds of their luxury buying abroad, which is also causing slowdowns in store traffic and openings in the domestic market.

The campaign started nearly a year ago by Chinese President Xi Jinping to cut back on spending and corruption, and to encourage frugality, has also changed the landscape of gifting, which had been one of the major growth engines of the luxury marketplace.

The menswear and watch categories have been hit the hardest by the move of the government.

Watches make up more than one fifth of the total domestic luxury market in China, and sales were down 11 percent in 2013.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry also reports that Swiss watch exports to China fell nearly 27 percent in November. Additionally, during the period of January to November, exports were down 15 percent from the prior-year period.

The bright spot in China’s domestic sales are women’s categories, according to the Bain report.

A rise in women’s influence and sophistication in the country have brought the share of luxury spending between men and women to equal levels in 2013, coming a long way from the 90 percent share that men held in 1995.

This could explain why, even when the watch industry is hurting in China, the jewelry market continues to do well. Bain reports that it was up 5 percent in 2013, with 2013 revenues hitting RMB 8 billion ($1.32 billion).

“China’s luxury market has quickly changed from land-grab to steady focus on consumer experience and ‘like-for-like’ sales,” said Bruno Lannes, a Bain partner in Greater China and lead author of the Chinese edition of the study. “The mindset among global brands here is changing from men’s categories and accessories to women’s categories and fashion. Brands are preparing for this major shift.”