BEIJING: Luxury Swiss watches have become the latest must-have accessory for newly-affluent Chinese consumers, who invariably shop by brand rather than model, says TNS China.

The most aspirational brand is Rolex, cited by 31 per cent of Chinese consumers living in households with a monthly income in excess of $1,300 (€883; £785), followed by Omega, Vacheron Constantin, Longines and Cartier.

“This is the early stage of luxury consumption and a watch is a must,” says Sandy Chen, research director, TNS China. “People start with a luxury watch, next comes the luxury car, and finally the luxury apartment and they need a watch of a certain quality to be part of the social circle.”

China is now Asia's largest end-destination for elite watches, having knocked Japan from the top spot last year, and despite a highly-sophisticated ‘fakes' market, the new trend is for authenticity.

“Many of the affluent still buy watches in Hong Kong where it is cheaper,” says Jessica Lo, managing director, China Market Research Group (CMR). “But there is also a shift away from the pirated watches that are everywhere — people now want the real thing.”

Hong Kong is now the world's biggest buyer of premium watches, but it has been estimated that 30% of them end up being bought by mainland Chinese counsumers keen to avoid the 20% luxury tax imposed on brands priced above $1,200.

Ad expenditure on top-priced watches more than doubled in China last year, with poster sites at international airports doing particularly well.

Data sourced from Brand Republic; additional content by WARC staff