Where Cash Meets Clout: Editor’s Letter, April 2012

I’m writing this on a plane from Zurich to London, after a five-day trip to ­Switzerland, where I attended the Baselworld fair followed by a tour of the new, impressively high-tech Omega factory in Grenchen, located inside the headquarters of the Swatch Group’s ETA subsidiary.

If you sell watches, then you know ETA. It would take an hour to explain the history of the company—it owes its legacy to nearly a century of mergers and consolidations in the Swiss watch industry—but here’s the gist: In the early 1980s, the late Nicolas G. Hayek built ETA into a parts and movements powerhouse that now supplies the vast majority of Swiss watchmakers with the calibers they need to fulfill their production goals.

Starting this year, Hayek’s heirs—led by his son, Nick Hayek, the current CEO of the Swatch Group—will diminish those supplies in order to focus on production for the group’s own stable of 19 watch companies, from the ubiquitous plastic Swatch to the complications specialist Breguet.

A Chinese New Year display at Las Vegas’ Bellagio is a good metaphor for buying power wielded by Asian tourists.

Talk about power. How independent watchmakers who lack alliances with other movement suppliers will fare in the years to come is one of the big questions hovering over the watch business—and the chief reason we chose to spotlight Nick Hayek, among others, on our first-ever Power List (or lists, as the case may be).

During our many conversations about the complicated webs of power that crisscross the business, we realized that while money is often correlated with power, cash has very little to do with how some of our key influencers came by their clout. You can thank social media and the power of Web 2.0 for those developments.

At a fondue feast in Basel, JCK Events’ Lars Parker-Myers and JCK’s Mark Smelzer and Bill Furman and I succumbed to the power of cheese!

Lavish living, on the other hand, still requires a big ol’ wad of greenbacks. I learned that the easy way on my two-day tour of “luxury Las Vegas,” where I reported on the finest places to go, things to do, and people to see in the area surrounding CityCenter, MGM Resorts’ impressive 2-year-old complex dedicated to sophisticated and sybaritic pleasures (see “High Society”).

I felt more than a little powerful myself on that trip—a reflection of how great service, marked by attentiveness, authenticity, and personalization, can make every one of your clients feel as if they’re spending a million bucks with you, even if they’re only buying a simple bead bracelet.

Here’s another way to look at power in the jewelry business: While men have long wielded it behind the scenes, women have ruled the center stage merely because they make up the majority of jewelry wearers. To carry on with this assumption would be to ignore the burgeoning men’s jewelry category, which is poised to explode this year. Check out “How Retailers Can Crack the Men’s Jewelry Market” and “Priority: Male Jewelry” for a curated selection of super-stylish accessories for the other self-purchasers.

Then consider your own power in the biz. The degree of influence you hold depends on which side of the supply-demand equation you sit: Are you a buyer in a sea of plenty or a seller, like the Swatch Group, with the power to choose to whom—or even if—you sell? Whatever your position, when it comes to JCK, know this: Your power as a reader is absolute. We look forward to hearing your feedback!