IWC's 'panda' watches on sale in China

Updated: 2015-05-08 07:46

By Deng Zhangyu(China Daily)

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Swiss luxury watch brand IWC Schaffhausen launched its products made for the Beijing International Film Festival in April. The limited edition series of 50 timepieces are being sold in Beijing and Shanghai, and have earned the name "panda watches" because of their black and white colors.

Each watch is priced at 97,000 yuan ($15,646).

"Chinese is our largest consumer group and they are buying our products worldwide. It's clear that China is the most important market for us in Asia," Goris Verburg, managing director of IWC Schaffhausen North-East Asia, said at a recent media conference in Beijing.

The Swiss brand has a history of association with film festivals across the world. It sponsored festivals in London, Zurich, Dubai and New York.

In China, it has been a sponsor for the annual film event in Beijing since 2013. The company says that it will extend the sponsorship by another three years.

According to Verburg, watches tell stories and create emotions like films do. This year, the company organized a banquet for stars and moviemakers, and themed it "for the love of cinema".

The limited edition watch by IWC is a sign of the importance they place on the partnership with the festival and the Chinese market, Verburg says.

The ongoing austerity drive of the central government in Beijing has affected IWC's sales, Verburg admits, but most purchases by Chinese buyers are done outside of China.

"It's important how Chinese consumer's behavior around the world changes," he says of the present market situation.

Chinese consumers prefer slimmer and smaller watches because of their relatively leaner bodies, explained Verburg. They also love classic models instead of sports that are more popular in the West. The Portofino midsize automatic, a classic piece issued last October, has gained growing popularity among Chinese consumers, he adds.

But luxury watch brands like IWC are facing other challenges these days, notably from tech companies such as Apple, which launched its gold Apple watch in March costing tens of thousands of yuan. The watches are reportedly meant to target rich Chinese.

But according to Verburg, the segments are different because mechanical timepieces can be kept for hundreds of years and passed down between generations.

He likens it to time-tested jewelry that have a long-term charm.

On Tuesday, IWC announced the launch of its digital device, IWC connect, which can be embedded in the straps of mechanical watches to track fitness activities, a maneuver seen as a reaction to Apple's "smartwatch".