Timeless trade in timepieces

IT’S good to have lasted a long time if you’re in the trade of time — timepieces, that is.

Wizer Industries — a third generation watch distributor in the Philippines — held a press conference last week for the several brands it distributes in the Philippines (Tommy Hilfiger, Tissot, Frederique Constant, and Alpina).

The third generation is led by Wizer’s Marketing Services Manager, Rainier Jacinto. His grandfather, Ernesto, planted the seeds when he began as the exclusive distributor of brands Rado and Citizen with his company, Ercinto, then headquartered in Quiapo. Rainier’s father Ray expanded into retail in the 1990s. “We found a loophole where our dealers did not want to carry some of the higher-end models of certain brands. We couldn’t do justice for the more premium products that brands like Tissot and Alpina came out with,” said Mr. Jacinto during the press conference, held via Facebook Live.

Today the company has 22 company-owned stores and is present in 27 department stores across the country. “I think the most significant contribution I’ve made as the third generation handling Wizer Industries is pushing our brands to be present on e-commerce and to make use of social media as a cost effective way of creating brand awareness,” said Mr. Jacinto in a Viber message to BusinessWorld. Under his guidance, Wizer began to expand its presence through online shopping platforms Lazada and Zalora.

With the help of models Sam Ajdani, Jessica Yang, Hideo Muraoka, blogger Aliza Apostol, and businessmen Mikka Padua and Marco Lobregat, Mr. Jacinto discussed the brands under Wizer’s belt.

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Tommy Hilfiger, the American brand known for its youthful country club vibe, first started releasing watches in 2001, with the cooperation of the Movado Group. Tissot, meanwhile, is known as a relatively affordable Swiss brand that began its story in 1853. It’s talked about for its early efforts to mass-produce pocket watches, and its innovative use of materials, apparently being one of the first to use stone, mother of pearl, and wood to make its faces.

Mr. Muraoka, while wearing his own Tissot timepiece, said during the press conference, “You can never buy back time, especially those spent with loved ones.”

Frederique Constant and Alpina, meanwhile, share a path. Alpina was born in 1883, and had been known for its suitability for mountain expeditions (which its brand name would imply). The watches have been used by pilots as early as the waning days of the First World War. Frederique Constant, meanwhile, was founded by Dutch couple Aletta Bax and Philip Stas in the 1980s, with an aim to make luxury watches at more affordable price points. According to a release, the couple, employed in Hong Kong, were travelling in Switzerland and “were amazed at the beautiful watches on display, much of which they couldn’t afford.” Those days are probably over — Ms. Bax had been rated by French-language Swiss business magazine Bilan as one of the 20 most influential women in Switzerland, and in 2002, they were able to acquire the then-ailing Alpina brand. The company has since been acquired by the Citizen watch group.

In a press release, Mr. Stas said, “We can’t compete with the brand equity that they built up over 200 years. However, we compensate with a beautiful mechanical manufacture product, at a more attractive price range.”

During the press conference, Mr. Lobregat spoke about his own Frederique Constant watch: “It’s really about doing things that matter to you. I know that some people are having a hard time figuring that out. But don’t stop. Just keep going. It’s the reason Frederique Constant appeals to me. It’s battle cry — Live Your Passion — echoes my own personal mantra.”

Meanwhile, watch expert Elias Toledo spoke about a special offering by Frederique Constant, the Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. “There are only 30 pieces in the world, and one is in the Philippines,” he said. The watch is priced at P1.9 million. He elaborates: “When you get a perpetual calendar watch from other established brands, you’ll be paying from P8-P10 million. That’s why it’s amazing to see Frederique Constant’s version, with such complexities at a fairly reasonable price point. I think that’s the come on.”

Speaking of money matters, Mr. Jacinto also spoke about how they performed during this pandemic. In a message to BusinessWorld, he said that “At the onset of the pandemic, business was slow especially during the hard lockdown from March to May, but come September, people started spending more; maybe because they had more money saved up since they could not travel out and buy the products they would normally buy when they take a trip abroad.”

Some of the nicest things we own aren’t of much use now that the only people who see us do so through a computer screen. At the same time, watches have long passed their utility, thanks to digital technology, and except for some cases (in hospitals and the army, for example), usually serve only as accessories. But still, watches remain popular.

Mr. Jacinto explains the continuing appeal of watches. “A watch’s most basic function is still to tell time. I think with people still needing to work from home, they still need to be on time for their online meetings. Another angle could be to create a sense of normalcy for them. There are timepieces that serve as investments and, may I say, timepieces are quite resilient against economic downturns like what we see now. Despite the economies of nations not doing so well, prices for hard-to-find timepieces have remained the same or have even appreciated.

“A personal theory of mine is also because people spend so much time online now and are exposed to so many ads — we have been running a number of ads on social media platforms which redirects to our e-commerce store — that with the bombardment they end up buying out of want instead of need which is actually good for the recovery of the local retail landscape.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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