Saturday, November 17, 2007
Watches: Korean Status Marker
One theme of this Blog is looking at Korea's status conscious society. Although some might see this as a modern trend, social status has deep ties linked to the past. In fact, Korean society during the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) was highly stratified and hierarchical. In today's society watches have become a strong status marker. This article notes the recent trend. BTW The Korean workplace is one of great conformity and uniformity--for example, men in similar dark suits, white shirts etc. Watches are one of the few signs of distinction and achievement.
The boom of mobile phones, MP3 players and blackberries _ all of which are automatic time-adjusting gadgets _ has been taking a toll on the popularity of wristwatches over the years, but a new consumer trend is giving hope to the once-fading business.
Luxury watches, local retailers say, are enjoying brisk sales lately, which are pushing up the high-end market to new heights.
Various department store-operated multi-shops specializing in wristwatches say sales of timepieces over five million won have seen about a 20 percent increase since last year.
Lotte Department Store's specialty shop Chronodigm said sales of watches over 30 million won ( $30,000) have jumped 30 percent since last year and the figure amounts to more than 20 percent of the shop's total revenue.
Likewise, Hyundai Department Store's The House of Fine Watches, which retails timepieces ranging from five million to 170 million won ($5,000- $170,000), said its last two months' sales totaled 300 million won ($300,000).
Why the splurge? Watches not only make a fashion statement, but a status statement, experts say.
Sporting pricey watches is a subtle and fashionable way to show off your financial status, said Kim Hye-ran of Swatch Group Korea.
She added that the lavish consumer trend is apparent within the Swatch Group _ comprised of various price-ranged brands, including the economical Swatch and high-end Breguet and Omega.
Brequet pieces are priced around 10-20 million won ($10,000-$20,000) and Omegas at around three million won are selling strong even in times of the industry-wide slow down, she said, admitting that a worldwide dip in watch sales resulted from the introduction of various time telling devices.
A survey by Seiko Watches in Japan said that the number of people aged between 16 and 29 wearing wristwatches dropped almost 30 percent since 1997.
A similar downward trend has been witnessed here pushed by the large number of cell-phone owners, but retailers don't seem to mind it as much thanks to the heavily-priced pieces.
Those getting hurt by this trend are the mid-ranged watch sellers, said Kim, explaining that people these days either want to buy a really nice watch or just use their mobile phones to tell the time.