Horology lovers in India were in for a treat last weekend. The Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) showcased in New Delhi a total of 80 of the world’s most unique and exquisite watches — nominated for awards across 14 categories — in partnership with leading Indian luxury watch retailer Ethos Watches. This is, in fact, only the second time that the Geneva-based foundation has exhibited its nominee watches in India, the first time being in 2014.
During the two-day event that saw some enriching talks and panel discussions, GMT India’s Managing Editor Vidya Prabhu caught up with Yashovardhan Saboo, Founder and Chairman of Ethos Watch Boutiques, for a tête-à-tête. A watch lover himself, Saboo has seen the landscape of the Indian watch market transform over the years and he has been instrumental in bringing the GPHG-nominees to India on both occasions.
Excerpts from the interview:
Vidya Prabhu (VP): Congratulations on hosting another successful edition of the GPHG exhibit in India. Out of the 15 categories in which the winners are announced, which ones would be your favourites? Yashovardhan Saboo (YS): I’m very fond of the artistic crafts category; it resonates with me because our country too has a tradition of craftsmanship. I am also fond of astronomical functions. But to answer your question, I'd say that I like the Petite Aiguille category the most. This is because it doesn’t just include the super expensive timepieces; it has some great watches that are also more affordable.
VP: At the inauguration of the GPHG exhibit yesterday, you mentioned that you look forward to seeing an Indian watch brand participate in GPHG. What do you think about the current watchmaking scene in India and how long before what you hope for becomes a reality? YS: I think we need to clearly distinguish between watchmaking and watch brands. An Indian watch brand can buy a movement, a dial or a case and put together some good designs. But watchmaking is more about being able to create a mechanical watch from scratch. So the two are not really the same thing.
However, there has been a tradition of horology in India. Unfortunately, this tradition died before mechanical watches started getting the respect they deserve. In the ’80s, HMT was a market leader and Titan was launched as well; the latter went the quartz way and became a huge success. So, yes, I am confident that at some point, this tradition of horology will come back. We have to be in it for the long haul, but it will happen.
VP: Do you also see a change in the demographics of the Indian luxury watch market? YS: Oh, absolutely; there has been a huge change. Let’s take a look at my generation; many of my batchmates from B-school have done rather well for themselves and yet very few of them buy watches because they feel there’s no ‘need’ for them to get one. And, interestingly, all their kids are into watches. So, yes, it’s rather common to see youngsters today who know their watches and take great pride in their choices.
VP: In recent times, many leading watch brands have jumped on to the NFT bandwagon, what is your take on this phenomenon? YS: I understand the logic behind an NFT and see the potential it holds and yet, I am not fully convinced that people will live all their lives in a metaverse. Sure, people may spend some time there, but I don't believe that people will choose the metaverse over real-life interaction. Look at how desperate we were to step outside our homes after the lockdown.
VP:That’s true. Several watch brands are also coming up with workarounds of sorts wherein they offer NFTs only to the people who own the physical watches. That way, you own the watch in the real world and in the metaverse. YS: That makes a lot more sense, given how the consumer owns both versions of the watch. This would probably appeal more to the Gen Z gamers. But I still have a rudimentary understanding of this phenomenon and would take my time before I make any more comments about it!
VP: This is the second time the GPHG exhibit has travelled to India; the first visit was around eight years ago. What, according to you, has changed in the intervening years? And how has this exhibition amplified the expectations of the stakeholders in the Indian luxury watch market? YS: I think 10-15 years ago, watch brands expected the Indian watch market to closely follow the growth path paved by China, which saw its luxury watch market grow at an impressive 15% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in the same period. So, between 2005 and 2010, a lot of watch brands made big investments here; those were the days when big stars, such as Shah Rukh Khan, were roped in as brand ambassadors.
But what actually happened was disappointing because well, India is not China. Moreover, in India, the maze of rules and regulations is more complex than that in China.
As a result of this experience, luxury watch brands no longer know what to expect from India. And they're really surprised that Ethos Watches is working with brands that are relatively unknown in India and establishing their presence here well beyond their expectations.
That being said, I want to say that it would have been impossible for us to do this without the evolution of the Indian watch market. Today, the Indian consumer is willing to and, in fact, even seeking to look beyond the top five brands. They are now looking at different watches and their innovations. And events such as this GPHG exhibit reiterate the fact that the watch market is not just about a few leading watch brands. Sure, their timepieces make for great, wonderful collectibles, but it goes beyond them. So, we are now setting — and mostly meeting — realistic expectations.
VP: So watch brands are a lot more guarded now with their expectations from the Indian watch market. YS: Last time around, the independents (independent watch brands) didn't exist in the Indian market; so this has been a rather new experience for them and they have had no expectations. The larger brands, on the other hand, have been very cautious and that's characteristic of being a large company. They now realise that India is not China, but they also understand that India has 1.5 billion people and counting, and that India's wealth is growing, so they can put two and two together.
VP: Can we also expect Ethos Watches to host a watch fair in the near future? YS: We have been doing some thinking along these lines, especially over the past one or two years, when things were quiet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't think there are any plans ready, but I think the time has come for something like this.
VP: And Ethos Watches has the expertise to pull this off. YS: Thank you, but I must say that it requires quite an effort to put this together. And frankly in India, the infrastructure is not quite ready yet, but it's getting there. I am hoping that in the next couple of years, we will be able to put together an India Watch Week, although we haven’t yet zeroed in on the actual name of the event. But yes, it is going to happen. In fact, people are already calling this GPHG exhibit a mini India Watch Week!
VP:It could be called that in a manner of speaking, although a watch week would have many more timepieces showcased… YS: This exhibition has not been brand-focused; it has been more brand agnostic. As a result, the communication that individual brands can put out is rather limited. But coming back to your question, Ethos definitely hopes to put together more such events in the future.