Luxury watches do time and getpopularity boost

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Luxury watches do time and getpopularity boost

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Employees of Galleria Luxury Hall show off the 5131G World Time watch from Patek Philippe exhibited at the Masterpeice Zone. Provided by the department store

As bribes targeting government officials get increasingly diverse and sophisticated, delivering a wad of cash in an apple box just doesn’t cut it. Instead, luxury watches, luxury bags and expensive paintings have emerged as gifts of choice for those seeking to buy influence.

In particular, the prosecutor’s latest investigation of the CJ Group lobbying scandal, in which a former chief of the National Tax Service (NTS) took bribes from CJ Group in return for favors during an tax audit in 2006, put the spotlight on watches.

The food and entertainment conglomerate allegedly held secret meetings with Jeon Goon-pyo, former chief of the NTS, and Heo Byung-ik, former deputy chief of NTS, and presented the officials with Franck Muller watches worth tens of millions of won.

Franck Muller watches are considered among the best luxury watches from Switzerland and are famous for their unique dial design.

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“In the recent years, watch lovers have turned to Franck Muller, saying Cartier is out of fashion,” says a luxury watch store owner.

Park Yeon-cha, former chairman of shoe manufacturer Tae Kwang Industry and SLS Group Chairman Lee Kook-chul also have used luxury watches such as Piaget and Cartier in lobbying.

After luxury watches were in the media as the new bribe item for high-ranking government officials, consumers also started buying them, mostly as wedding gifts.

Even unaffordable, extremely pricey watches are steadily growing in popularity among men as symbols of success.

Piaget, which was used as a bribe to former President Roh Moo-hyun, recently released a limited edition watch priced at 8 billion won ($7.2 million).

Roger Dubuis has marketed a 300 million won of watch.

“The prices of these watches released as limited editions, of which only about a hundred units are manufactured worldwide, rise continuously as time passes,” says one timepiece expert. “There are also artisans who resell luxury watches of generally known brands such as Rolex at two to three times higher prices by modifying them.”

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Left: Patek Philippe Celestial 6102P Right: Piaget Limelight Rose Inspiration Secret Watch

At Galleria Department Store’s Galleria Luxury Hall, signs of economic downturn can hardly be seen.

Galleria’s high-end jewelry and watch store carries 21 brands including Cartier, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Harry Winston, Chronoswiss, Mauboussin and Boucheron and saw average annual sales growth of 27 percent from 2010 through last year.

The department is located in the posh Apgujeong, southern Seoul.

At Lotte Avenuel, demand for Swiss luxury watches increased 14.9 percent in the first quarter of 2012, 24.4 percent in the second, 17.5 percent in the third and 25.5 percent in October.

The average purchase price also rose from 5 million won to more than 10 million won.

“In a particular difference from the past, male professionals in their 30s tend to shop for luxury watches with substantial expertise in high-end watch brands. They try to purchase better watches, if possible, and the purchase price has also risen accordingly,” said a spokesperson for Lotte Avenuel.

In response, Lotte Department Store’s main branch Avenuel store plans to strengthen its high-end watch section, discussing carrying such brands as Omega, Blancpain and Vacheron Constantin.

By KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]
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