Price wars: the brands putting value for money first

The race is on to cut the cost of Swiss watches and keep the pulse of the industry alive and ticking.

Frederique Constant Perpetual Calendar watches

Finding culprits for the current slump in the export of Swiss watches was a marked trend at Baselworld 2016. Everything from the “Swiss franc tsunami” to “falling oil prices” and from the “softening Chinese economy” to the phenomenon of “smartwatches” was invoked as a potential agent in the very real 3.3% drop in Swiss watch exports during 2015 -  the first full-year decline since annus horribilis 2009. 

Be it one overarching cause or a bubbling cauldron of multiple factors, some Swiss watch brands have had the foresight to react. A bountiful time for watch hunters, top-tier brands are beginning to offer more bang for your buck, especially in the complications department.

Perpetual Calendar watch in stainless steel
Frédérique Constant’s Manufacture Perpetual Calendar watch will need no adjustments until 1 March 2100.

Frédérique Constant’s enticingly-priced perpetual calendar generated a lot of buzz at Baselworld 2016. Priced at just £7,120, this handsome model, built entirely in-house, is even more keenly priced than Montblanc’s Meisterstück perpetual calendar introduced in 2014, which rocked the market with its attractive £8,500 price tag. Two years of R&D went into developing the in-house movement on these Frédérique Constant watches, joining the ensemble of 19 calibres that the family-owned company has created since 2004.

Presented in a slim 42mm rose gold-plated or stainless steel case, with a choice of three different coloured dials, the midnight blue model is by far my favourite. The display of the months, date, day and leap year indicator is classic, elegant and surprisingly legible, and the Moon phase indicator and the striated onion crown are a lovely touch.

If you keep the Manufacture Perpetual Calendar perfectly wound, it will be the task of your grandchildren’s children to make the only foreseeable adjustment to the calendar on 1 March  2100 - due to a glitch in the Gregorian calendar.

Carrera Heuer-02T watch
At £12,100, TAG Heuer’s Carrera Heuer-02T is on the podium as the least expensive flying tourbillon and chronograph.

The big news for watch fans at TAG Heuer’s stand at Baselworld wasn’t really about its much-touted connected watch, but rather the arrival of the Carrera Heuer-02T chronograph tourbillon. With a price tag of £12,100, this watch is on the podium for the least expensive Swiss tourbillon chronograph on the market today. Although that might not seem like a everyman price, most complications combining a flying tourbillon with a chronograph cost at least four times the price of these TAG Heuer watches.

Synonymous with sports timing and the world of car racing - picture Steve McQueen on the set of the 1971 film Le Mans with his Monaco watch - TAG Heuer has reacted with record speed to the current situation. With larger-than-life business maverick Jean-Claude Biver at the wheel, TAG has undergone a radical exercise in repositioning, with “accessible luxury” being the new company mantra. Biver is steering the product offer to a new market with value for money, as many of the brand’s signature chronographs are priced at under £5,000. Along with the reduction in prices, the age of its brand ambassadors has taken a plunge with ‘it’ girl Cara Delevingne now the new face of the brand.

Housed in a muscular 45mm lightweight titanium case, the black skeletonised dial and rubber details on the crown of these Swiss watches give the Carrera Heuer-02T a hardcore industrial edge. What’s more, Calibre Heuer-02T is COSC-certified and has a robust power reserve of 65-hours, to keep the chronograph functions and the flying tourbillon flying.

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