Some Good News: How The Watch Industry Is Pitching In During The Pandemic

Some Good News: How The Watch Industry Is Pitching In During The Pandemic

We all know that the watch industry has weathered tough times before.  Two World Wars, depressions, recessions, the bygone quartz crisis, and the burgeoning smartwatch disruption are just some of the most recent. And through it all, the ingenuity of watchmakers and the passion of buyers always won the day.

By Rhonda Riche

That’s not to say that the community isn’t suffering. But even with canceled trade shows and postponed productions, one thing we’ve learned from Watchonista’s HOMEtime Live Instagram series is how inventive watchmakers, collectors, and enthusiasts are when it comes to keeping connected during these challenging times.

So with this in mind, we’re happy to share some stories about how businesses and societies are banding together to support each other during these trying times. Please note: the situation is ever-evolving, so we’ll be updating this list in the coming days.

Providing For The Future

The Horological Society of New York (HSNY), has just announced that it awarded $55,000 in financial aid to watchmaking schools and students across the United States.

As anyone with student debt knows, facing economic insecurity can drive many people away from learning the trades. So this investment is good news indeed!

These endowments include the new Howard Robbins Award for watchmaking schools. Howard Robbins (1950-2020) was a professional in the world of timepieces for nearly 40 years and recently passed away in March 2020. In his honor, the award is intended to foster Robbins’ professional rigor, love of people, and belief in education within the watchmaking community.

America's oldest watchmaking guild has also awarded six students the Henry B. Friend Scholarship. This fund is designed to alleviate costs associated with purchasing watchmaking tools and living expenses.

Family Business 

One of the reasons buyers love shopping at WEMPE is the knowledgeable staff. To Rudy Albers, the president of WEMPE North America, the team is family. 

That is why it warmed our hearts to hear that, despite closing down its 35 boutiques worldwide, WEMPE is keeping all staff on the payroll during this crisis. 

As a friend and Toronto-based entrepreneur Meg Sethi recently wrote, “Business is business, but in the face of a global pandemic, kindness is a currency that has a far larger value.”

Switching Gears

Bulgari was one of the first luxury businesses to join the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus. In early March, the maker of high-end watches, jewelry, and perfumes announced (HERE) that it was switching production at their facility in Lodi, Italy, from perfume to hand sanitizer. It took the manufacture just 10 days to get the gel to hospitals in Italy.

As Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin says, “I believe as a major economic actor and symbol of Italy, Bulgari has a responsibility to contribute to the national effort to help prevent, fight and eradicate COVID-19.” The company made the decision quickly after visiting the Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, a hospital at the forefront of the fight. 

Babin and his team recognized that hand sanitizing gel was one of the most vital products in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And after visiting the hospital, they also realized that for staff on the frontlines, working without gel was life-threatening.

Bulgari also made a significant contribution to the hospital to study COVID-19. The donation will allow the research department of Spallanzani to purchase a microscopic image acquisition system.

IWC's Time Well-Shared

IWC has introduced its Time Well-Shared initiative to entertain and educate watch aficionados who are under lockdown. Over the coming weeks, the brand will publish a series of online lectures, speeches, and webinars on digital channels. Sports fans will also be chuffed to learn that the series will include contributions from IWC brand ambassadors like Tom Brady, Fabian Cancellara, David Coulthard, and Maro Engel as well as partners such as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula 1, Tottenham Hotspur, Laureus Sport for Good, Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation, Solaris Yachts, and Orlebar Brown.

Watchers will also get the opportunity to get involved by contributing to Save the Children programs to support healthcare and psychosocial programs for kids and families in countries that are hit by COVID-19.

Direct Donations 

Richemont, the Swiss luxury conglomerate which owns Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and more, have pledged $1.4 million to combat the spread of COVID-19.

And LVMH, which owns Bulgari, Hublot, TAG Heuer, Zenith, and Dior, is also using its facilities to produce equipment for frontline workers.

To date, Kering Group, which owns Gucci, Ulysse Nardin, and Girard-Perregaux, has just announced a $1 million donation to the CDC. This is in addition to donations already made to the Hubei Red Cross Foundation in China to help fight the spread and the Pasteur Institute in France to help fund research for COVID-19. Plus, the conglomerate has turned its some of its facilities in France and Italy into face mask manufacturers. Kering is also shipping 3 million masks from China to France.

A Brave New World

At Breitling, the brand is taking the pandemic as an environmental wake-up call against excessive packaging. Beginning in 2020, Breitling is planning to sell watches without boxes or papers.

In our HOMEtime Live interview, Breitling’s CEO Georges Kern said, “The consumer is changing. We are far away from the 1980s when luxury was something that only the super-rich would wear. Today it is more democratized. Everybody has become more relaxed about luxury.” He went on to add, “Luxury has to be more informal and should not be damaging to the environment. We have to reset.”


Last week, reported that Patek Philippe is postponing its 2020 watch launches until next year, which means that no new models will be entering the supply chain. Although this might seem like bad news for anyone on a waitlist, it does take some financial pressure off of dealers who don’t have to make additional financial commitments during trying times. For the first time, Patek Philippe is allowing authorized dealers to sell its watches online – a big break when so many boutiques are shuttered!


Financial insecurity is a major concern for pretty much everyone. This is why it’s good news that Hermès has announced it will maintain the salaries of its 15,500 employees around the world. 

The luxury house also announced it was donating $22 million to hospitals in Paris.


Oris has extended its Local Heroes initiative in an effort to give back to individuals who are going the extra mile during this crisis. If you follow Oris on social media, you can nominate a local hero in the fight against COVID-19, and the brand will gift select citizens with a watch. As for the rest of us, the initiative raises awareness about the sacrifices we all must make, so we come out stronger on the other side.

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