The story of Swiss watches and India is an age-old and a fascinating love affair. Imagine one of these watches on your mantel or in your showcase. A Swiss-made watch known for its exquisite design, precision and craftsmanship. With a new generation of sophisticated collectors clamouring for the unique and the pricey, the sale presented the quintessential Swiss watch known for its timeliness. The top lot, a Patek Philippe chronograph fetched CHF 722,500. Maharaja, a gold enamel and minute repeating watch Swiss circa 1920 featuring a painted portrait of His Highness Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891-1938), the ruler of the princely state of Patiala in Punjab from 1900 to 1938 was sold at CHF 122,500 Swiss Francs (INR 6.19 million) at four times the estimate (in picture, maharaja seen in light blue dress). Another rare gold enamel ruby and diamond-set watch, a Seeland with a painted portrait of His Highness Sawai Mahendra Sir Pratapsing Bahadeer, Maharaja of Orchha, Tikamgarh, Bundelkhand, circa 1890 went for CHF 74,500, at twice the high estimate (maharaja in dark green tunic). A third lot in the India series was a Charles Frodsham, an 18K yellow gold hunting cased minute repeating watch made for the Indian market with enamel portraits, circa 1890 (Maharaja in light green tunic).
A telling image of Hollywood star Cindy Crawford sitting atop an elephant at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi to celebrate Omega’s 150th anniversary in India was a testimony of the West’s acceptance of India as a legit luxury watch market.
The latest celebrities who endorse Swiss watches are the Bollywood stars. In an admission in its own website, luxury watches major Omega admits, “Abhishek Bachchan has been a true fan of OMEGA watches since childhood and has been an official part of the OMEGA family for more than 10 years. The trend continued with Lisa Ray endorsing Rado watches and Mohammed Azharuddin, Tissot watches. Badshah of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan has also endorsed Omega as well as Tag Heuer at various points in time. The consistent endorsement by leading celebrities depicts India’s evolution as an evolved market for luxury watches.
Experts admit that the growth in Indian market, post liberalisation, was due to two primary reasons. India and Indians had more expendable income to spend on luxury watches and the proliferation of service centres in India allowed brands to stabilise in the country.
According to independent watch and brand consultant Sunil Grover, “It was a brand transition of the market from the fly-by-night operators to established brands groups like Swatch and Richemont coming to India with a reliable after-sales service promise that gave Indian market a matured outlook.”
Others believe that the reduction of custom duty on luxury watches from 120% in 1998 to 18% GST in 2018 also had a role to play in instilling confidence in brands to set foot in India.
Leading sellers of luxury watches like the Johnson Watch Company in New Delhi have seen the evolution happen for over more than seven decades. The owners say that despite the increased number of buyers of luxury watches the business is still a much personalised affair operating through a bond cultivated over the decades.
“It is the third generation who is buying their watches from me. It is almost like selling our souls and building a lifelong relation. The making of exclusive boutiques was also necessitated as brands prefer separate space and representation. We also offer the entire collection under one roof,” explained Mr. Anil Madan, Managing Director, Johnson Watch Company.