In Switzerland where the world’s finest watches are made, there is a city called Lucerne that sits amid snowcapped mountains and a beautiful lake.
Here in the Philippines, Lucerne is also associated with watches for it is a retailer of timepiece brands that range from affordable to fashionable, and to admirable and enviable.
Breaking into the retail industry in 1982 via a single mall inside Ali Mall in Cubao, Quezon City, Lucerne is now a group of companies headed by the third generation Yao family. With three decades in the business, the company has witnessed how Filipinos have appreciated different forms of watches throughout time.
In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Lucerne Group Managing Director Emerson Yao observed how the once timekeeping tool has now become an “object of passion” by Filipinos who appreciate the finer things in life.
“During the time of my grandfather, who started the business way before 1982, watches were just a necessity. They were not really objects of passion unlike how many Filipino now view watches today,” Yao explained.
Because of this, he then deduced, “I guess watches before were a tool and it’s one of the businesses that you want to get into besides shoes and bags.”
The executive also noted that Filipinos four decades ago were not aware of luxury watchmakers from Switzerland. The only people who could afford such timepieces were “kings and queens.”
“We didn’t know these products existed. All we knew of were the inexpensive mechanical watches made in the US and then later on in Japan, because we were buying them as timekeeping tools to mark our day,” Yao elaborated.
US mechanical watches and Japanese quartz watches brought about tough competition for Swiss watches in recent history, rendering them almost obsolete for a time. But, as the managing director put, the luxury timepieces “lived on” for what they are and what they symbolize. At Lucerne too, these watches never left the shelves until the Philippine market finally realized their value.
Yao noted, “What happened was that the market gradually diverged into two distinct areas. One for the functional watches, and the other as a showcase of the craftsmanship and skill of watchmakers creating these pieces of art.”
When exactly Filipinos did began appreciating high-end watches? According to Yao, “It just became more obvious in the last few years when mobile phones and smartwatches were coming out.”
Considering how luxury watches will compete with the surge smartwatches today, Yao admitted he is not sure how the situation will pan out, but what he has noted so far is that “smartwaches are ‘threatening’ the lower-end watches.”
“The high-end ones from Switzerland seem to be unaffected,” he added
The executive also proudly reported that there finally is a following for luxury—and even heritage—watches from Switzerland just like Vacheron Constantin, which recently launched its 260th anniversary collection in the Philippines via Lucerne as its local distributor.
“We do have collectors who appreciate these types of watches,” he enthused. “There is so because in the last couple of decades luxury watches have shown that they can appreciate overtime.”
Yao gave two reasons why Filipinos have come to buy expensive watches over the years: “Besides proving to be very good investments, they can mark very significant moment in one’s life—and this one of the biggest motivations for a consumer to buy a luxury watch, after all, the watch is also the only jewelry for men.
“The second reason is those who buy these kinds of watches have the intention to pass them on to next generation. That’s always the first thing that our customers ask us in the store, if they can do that. And that is why we pride ourselves with excellent after-care service. We help consumers maintain their watches,” Yao added.
With all these advantages to luxury watches, Yao had no qualms ending the interview with a definitive statement: “I believe a Swiss luxury brand is the one watch that all Filipinos must aspire for in their life.”
Besides luxury watches, which called the Lucerne Luxe line, the retail company also caters to other segments of market through its four distinct shops Chronos, L Time Studio, Swiss Gear and Wrist Pod.
With about 60 brands of which 12 are exclusive under its name, Lucerne currently has four showrooms in Glorietta 4, Shangri-La Mall, Ayala Center Cebu, and Solaire, latest addition.