British designer, Stefan Cooke, along with partner Jake Burt, has been stealthily building up his menswear business. The Crawley-born Central Saint Martins alum won the H&M designer prize in 2017 and has been on the calendar of LFWM ever since.
He has been producing lots of desirable pieces - see the male peplum trend - including this crafty looking embroidered flower jumper with bold, stylish slashes. Wear with a bright base layer.
It also comes in navy.
Below - Stefan Cooke AW20 at LFWM
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Fashion is pretending everything will be alright. And it will be, eventually.
We’ve just finished the latest round of women’s fashion weeks. What would, usually, have been a month of hundreds of shows stretched between the US and Europe, was a skeleton of former schedules with international fashion councils trying to cobble together something that resembled normality and hoping by the time these clothes hit the stores they’ll be some light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Even before COVID, the traditional idea of fashion weeks and shows was being questioned yet fashion weeks seemed to continue to grow exponentially, becoming a bloated calendar of designer egos. They rarely paid their way.
Left - An underwhelming Louis Vuitton womenswear SS21 collection
What this latest round of SS21 shows did was put a spotlight on the product. Without the fashion circus; the celebs on the front row, hundreds of people pushing and hustling for a ticket, and the subsequent social media onslaught and hype, the clothes and accessorises were the main focus. Replaced by fewer brands, a socially distanced frow, if any, and, a hoped for digital audience tuning in, the product had a chance to shine. It didn’t.
A hard-to-believe audience of 5 million was supposed to have watched the much panned Nicolas Ghesquière collection for Louis Vuitton womenswear telling consumers to ‘Vote”. Seeing inside the soon-to-be-unveiled Samaritaine department store was the highlight.
Other mega brands, such as Chanel and Dior, produced critically underwhelming collections. Some brands tried to think differently though. For example, Moschino hired the Jim Henson studio to make puppets dressed in its collection and a complementary characterful front frow. While the concept was great, the clothes weren’t memorable.
It’s not so much that this season was particularly better or worse than previous seasons, it is more the fact the clothes had less distractions to hide behind. For years, fashion brands have flown everybody - press, buyers - to exotic locations or spent millions on expensive sets and concepts which have all add to the spectacle while helping to disguise the fact that many of the clothes or accessorises weren’t very good. This stripping away of the shows for SS21 has exposed what many have thought for a long time; the majority of product no longer stands up on its own.
This is a broad generalisation and there are still some great ideas in fashion, it’s too big for there not to be, but many brands rely on gimmicks, and, what I call ‘design-by-email’, which tries to squeeze as much as it can from a popular line or style. Brands milk a popular style to death. Rockstuds, anyone?
There has also been this attitude, over the last few years, that ‘brand’ is bigger than any product. As the volume of product grew, so it diluted the ideas, but the ‘brand’ got bigger. It sold, so why question it? Those inside the brands didn’t or don’t seem to be.
But, COVID has made many consumers switch off. It has made many people realise they can live without a lot of this stuff and buying new and expensive stuff was just a perpetual habit they didn’t realise they had.
If nobody can see you wearing or holding it, then what is the point? For many, there isn’t one. Also, without social events, a large proportion of fashion is redundant. Sales follow need and without the need, then want starts to wane and sales dry up. Fashion is going to need fantastic product to re-engage this dormant buying audience. Some of these consumers could be lost forever.
The formulaic fashion cycle of collabs., capsule collections and drops, put a veneer of newness onto tired products and exhausted brands. Brands need to make things that people want to shout about from the roof tops and tell all their friends about.
Quality has also become an issue. People are more likely to shout about inferior quality and poor customer service than good. They are quick to social media when complaining or pointing out issues or problems. Many consumers have started to question their last purchases from these ‘luxury’ companies and the inflated price tags for mediocre workmanship. Can they justify the prices? I wrote this last year Gucci: has it sacrificed its quality in pursuit of the quirky? It is going to have to be really good to get people who don’t feel they need something to buy again.
Right - Moschino showed its SS21 collection on puppets
The luxury brands are also humouring the resale market knowing that a strong resell value makes it easier to sell the original item. It’s becoming like the used car market.
Luxury brands need new IT bags and products. Products that stick and become classics and tropes in their repertoire of styles. For example, Dior has been pushing its Saddle bag over the last couple of years, for both men and women. It is a design with a price tag of £2,500 from over 20 years ago. Where is the new Saddle bag for that house?
Brands have become obsessed with newness, but it’s also made the whole business feel more disposable and it needs the brands to stand behind designs and give consumers the confidence to buy. Gucci has done it with its bag collections. Most have become like the fragrance market; continual launches, usurping previous versions with very few lasting more than a few years.
It doesn’t look like things will be much different come next February and March when the next round of AW21 shows are due. Fashion is reactionary but it also needs to go back to the basics of product. While it’s harder to create classic styles, they can do something about quality.
They’ll still be a physicality to showing fashion, whatever happens, and, while brands are concentrating on stemming their losses atm, post-COVID, it has to be about product, product, product. And it needs to be good.
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Money greases the wheels of our consumerist society. Without this continual flow of finance the economy contracts and many people lose their livelihoods, especially in retail.
It is completely natural, and prudent, to want to save in periods of uncertainty. Talk of entering the worst recession for over 300 years would make even the most optimistic of people think twice about a big purchase or being frivolous with their cash.
COVID 19 has been a tale of two working economies; those, generally, white collar workers working from home, whose wages weren’t affected, saving money on travel and lunches, and those reliant on these workers being made redundant or having their hours reduced. Many workers on furlough have been in an economic form of limbo, and while they have not seen most of their income disappear, this is quickly coming to an end and some will be made redundant. Many of these jobs will not be deemed ‘viable’ in the short term.
Left - Results of website loveMONEY poll
A small poll by the website loveMONEY, in June, found readers say their finances have actually improved under lockdown. A remarkable 23% said they were significantly better off, while the biggest amount, 36%, said things had improved slightly.
At the other end of the scale, 13%, more than one in eight, reported that their finances had been hammered since the lockdown came into effect, while a similar percentage (14%) said they were slightly worse off. Finally, 14% of respondents said their bank balance looked largely the same at the end of each month.
The vast majority of people spent less during lockdown because they had less things to spend money on and most not leaving the house.
According to a study by AA Financial Services, 85% of UK adults spent less during lockdown. The average Brit saved (per month) £49 a month on petrol, £57 by not going to pubs or restaurants, £53 by not going to shops, and significant savings in other areas, totalling £617 a month on average for those still receiving their full income.
The report also found that 31% of people with savings accounts had increased their monthly deposits since the start of lockdown. This was confirmed by Bank of England data, which found that personal bank deposits had grown by three times the recent average. The Bank revealed that consumer debt was down by £7.4 billion, to just half the level seen in February. Those who are benefiting from excess income are in many cases using their spare money to pay down debts, while choosing not to take out new loans due to increased uncertainty.
According to Aviva, women seem to have been affected more strongly with 38% of women vs 29% of men saying they have less money to spare at the end of the month than they did pre-lockdown. This could be due to the types of jobs women do, like part time and in customer-facing roles.
Young adults have also been hit hard. Almost a third of 25- to 34-year-olds (32%) are concerned about their ability to save. This age group is also the most worried about losing their job due the impact of COVID-19 (28%).
Aviva Head of Savings and Retirement Alistair McQueen says: “Female savers look to have been disproportionately affected during the lockdown, as workers in sectors like hospitality and retail are more likely to be younger females. Younger people across the board also face a significant challenge. Those under 34 typically struggle to save under normal circumstances, but the current conditions have exacerbated this. For example, this age group typically spends a greater proportion of their budget on housing, and bills, which remains unchanged.”
In August, there was a big government push to get white collar workers back to the office. Then a recent u-turn, telling people to work from home again with positive COVID 19 cases rising. Many commuters don’t want to go back to that lifestyle and it’s easy to understand why.
DJ Sinfield @BigSino on Twitter said, “I am WORKING from home. I am saving £500+ a month and getting an extra 3 hours a day family time. This money and time is being spent at farm shops, local butchers etc and not Southeastern Trains. Why would I want to go back to commuting? Why?”
John Bye @_johnbye said, “The fact is many of us have enjoyed working from home, and companies have realised they're wasting money on big offices they don't really need. I save £300 a month and 2.5 hours a day by not commuting. Why would I want to go back to a London office full time?” and Paul Chapman @Paul_C-Chapman said, “I am saving around £30/day on rail fares and food, I have 3 hours/day of my life back, I have a much better work/life balance and my health is better. Why on earth would I want to go back to daily commuting?”
With interest rates dropping like a stone for savings, for example, the government backed NS&I just reduced its ‘Income Bond’ from a paltry 1.16% to an almost zero 0.01%, the incentive to save has been reduced. What we need is people to spend our way into a U shaped recovery. We need the people, on the positive side of the COVID recession, with this additional monthly money, to spend it.
This is a call to arms for work-from-homers to spend. It’s not about people spend their savings, it is also not about people spending more money than they would usually, it’s about those with this worker windfall - what they would have otherwise have spent on lunch and travel etc.- to inject that into the economy. It’s tempting to save it, but it’s money they wouldn’t have had on a monthly basis.
Put it into retail and services worth supporting, and retailers and brands they don’t want to see disappear and are rewarded with their custom. This isn’t about lazily rewarding shops or travel companies that aren’t very good or really are past their peak, it’s about supporting new or established businesses which resonate with you and make or provide great services or products.
It could be ethical or green products or services. It could be new business, crowd funding and start-ups. Look at it like an investment in the future you want to see. It’s time to put this bonus money to good use.
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When designer Raf Simons was announced as the new ‘co-creative director’, working alongside Miuccia Prada, at Prada, it was welcomed as a meeting of two intellectual fashion minds. His first show, SS21, shown last week in Milan, in a digital format, was a return to Prada’s minimalist carpeted and matching curtained 1990s aesthetic. It was the most anticipated show of the new womenswear season.
Left - Prada SS21
Prada has had a growth problem in recent years, so, will this new creative impetus make a difference to a luxury group that is in danger of being left behind within the luxury segment?
The Prada S.p.A. group owns the Prada, Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe brands and produces and distributes luxury leather goods, footwear and apparel, benefitting from a supply chain which includes 22 owned industrial sites. It also operates in the food sector with Marchesi 1824 and in the eyewear and fragrance industries under licensing agreements. The group employs nearly 14,000 people and its products are sold in 70 countries worldwide through 641 directly operated stores as of December 31, 2019.
Prada has been trying to inject growth in recent years by reducing wholesale and discounting, but it is trailing its rivals. For example, Prada and Gucci were once neck and neck as brands, both creatively and financially. They were the juggernaut fashion phoenixes of the 1990s. When one was name checked, the other wasn’t far behind. What changed?
In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2019 revenues at Prada S.p.A. totalled €3.22 billion, up +2.7% compared with €3.14 billion in the same period a year earlier. Retail sales grew +4.1% to 2.63 billion euros. This is for the entire Prada Spa group which also includes Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe.
For the same year, 2019, Gucci revenue was €9.63 billion, revenue climbed by +13.3% on a like-for-like basis (+16.2% reported) and operating income leapt by +19.8%. The brand now accounts for over 60% of it owner Kering's revenues.
Right - Prada 1997
All of Gucci’s growth stems from 2016 when it was comparable in size to Prada in terms of revenue. Over the past 4 years, Gucci has grown its revenues to be three times that of Prada. Admittedly, Gucci has had unusually meteoric growth, but the Prada brand has been pretty much flat over these past 4 years.
While the Prada share price, listed in Hong Kong, has increased recently, it has bobbed along the 24HKD- 35HKD range over the past 5 years. Its highs were back in 2013, when the stock hit around 75HKD. During the five years over which the share price declined, Prada’s earnings per share (EPS) dropped by 18% each year. The TSR (Total Shareholder Return) gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of Prada, it has a TSR of -23% for the last 5 years. While the Prada share price has struggled to rise, Kering’s and LVMH’s has soared.
Prada is in that predicament where it is big, but isn’t quite big enough. It’s luxurious, but not luxurious enough and, while it was once a leader, it hasn’t produced much that has stuck in recent years. It felt like Miuccia Prada had checked out, creatively, of the brand years ago. The last show by Miuccia Prada, AW20, before Simons arrived, put the signature triangular logo centre stage and was its most commercial for years.
Above - A sign of things to come? adidas Consortium + Prada Superstar 450 Leather Sneakers - £400 from MRPORTER.COM
In a statement up to June 30th 2020, Prada CEO, Patrizio Bertelli talks of ‘growth trajectory temporarily interrupted’ due to COVID 19. He said, “The first half of 2020 saw a temporary interruption of our growth trajectory which, in a situation of progressive control of the pandemic, we are confident will gradually resume from the second half of 2020, when our store network will again be fully operational. The excellent response of local consumers after the re-openings, confirms the desirability of our products and the strong relationship with our customers, which has been further strengthened by our continued focus on digital technology. The recent positive trends in all markets, combined with our solid balance sheet and financial position, allow us to look to the future with confidence today.”
On average, 40% of Prada’s retail network was closed from February to May 2020, reaching a peak of 70% in April. Its wholesale channel was heavily reduced, following the strategic decision taken in 2019 to strictly control all distribution channels to protect brand positioning and discounting. Prada said e-commerce had delivered triple-digit sales growth during and after the global lockdowns, while retail sales were down 32% and wholesale sales were down 71%.
Prada has seen double-digit sales growth since April in Mainland China, while South Korea and Taiwan, which didn’t experience store closures, showed a consistent double-digit trend throughout the period. Thanks to the contribution of these markets, the entire Asia Pacific region reported double-digit growth in June. The rest of the world was negative. In April 2020, Prada’s Board of Directors withdrew its recommendation to pay a dividend for 2019.
Prada’s difficulties during the COVID lockdowns aren’t unusual and will have been replicated by other luxury brands, but it doesn’t help its desirability and also the inability for Raf Simons’ new show to make an impact during this difficult time. According to the Business of Fashion, just 10,000 viewers tuned into the Prada Instagram live feed of the SS21 show and, according to analytics firm Tribe Dynamics, the show’s earned media value in the first 48 hours, an industry measure of third-party social media engagement, was 59 percent lower than the Spring/Summer 2020 show a year ago.
Many people have switched off from fashion, currently, and this will not have helped Prada make a splash with Simons’ collection. His first collection received warm reviews in a season without much competition. But, his return to the pared pack 90s Prada doesn’t answer the problem of growth. One good shoe is not enough, you need hundreds, and they need to roll over many seasons like the Gucci model. Gucci’s lack of seasons and huge choice of product shows how maximalism in fashion increases venues. Looks that have more accessories than a Christmas tree are going to generate more sales. More choice is the answer for growth. It also appeals to more customers.
Prada has followed this model too, previously. Prada only really started to make money and get bigger when it moved from mink trimmed nylon to colourful striped fox fur scarves and crystal embellished dresses in the noughties. When the ‘Pradasphere’ exhibit opened in Harrods in 2014 it illustrated what really sold to the contemporary Prada customer and it wasn’t minimalism. Minimalism hasn’t really made big money for any fashion business. Less isn’t more revenue.
Unfortunately for the brand, the planned Design Museum exhibition in London, planned for 2020, has been cancelled, which would have given it a boost. Details of a new collaboration between the Design Museum and Prada will be revealed in 2021.
Simons is a good designer and an influence, but his track record at Dior and Calvin Klein shows a limited understanding of what is commercial. When commercial, as illustrated with the collab with adidas above, it verges on the repetitive and boring.
Prada CEO, Bertelli’s relationships with past designers, such as Helmut Lang and Jil Sander, once owned by the Prada Group, was turbulent and Simons won’t hang around if the going gets tough (again).
Prada was once one of the world's coolest brands, but it didn’t innovate when the likes of Michael Kors started copying its famous saffiano leather. Simons is undoubtedly cool, but will he be enough for Prada to catch up with its rivals?
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The words 'Tax Free' is music to any shopper's ears. Many brands and retailers, in tourist hot spots, were looking towards 2021 with optimism. With the UK finally severing ties with the European Union, there was an expected boon for duty free shopping. High spending visitors from the EU would join the rest of the world in being able to claim back VAT from many goods purchased. While they still will be able to, HM Treasury has announced changes to Tax Free Shopping, and they are proving to be deeply unpopular within the retail industry.
So, what’s changing? From January 2021, VAT refunds for overseas visitors in British shops will be removed. Overseas visitors will still be able to buy items VAT-free in store and have them sent direct to their overseas addresses, while the costly system of claiming VAT refunds on items they take home in their luggage will be ended. HM Treasury is also ending tax-free sales in airports of goods such as electronics and clothing for passengers travelling to non-EU countries, following concerns that the tax concession is not always passed on to consumers in the airport. In some instances these tax-free goods are brought back into the country by UK residents, putting high street retailers at a disadvantage.
HM Treasury is clearly expecting duty free shopping to be busier and is therefore no longer willing to incur the expense of running a scheme that ultimately costs them even more money. Tourists with a permanent residence in a non-EU country have been able to claim their VAT back on goods over £30 on production of their receipts. Many department stores and airports installed lounges where shoppers could claim back the value added tax on production of proof of identity and a completed tax form.
Currently, you can get a VAT 407 form from the retailer when buying your purchase They might ask for proof that you’re eligible, for example your passport. You show the goods, the completed form and your receipts to customs at the point when you leave the UK or EU. Customs will approve your form if everything is in order. You then take the approved form to get paid.
Companies, such as Global Blue or ChangeGroup, partner with stores worldwide, and offer a service for tourists to claim back the tax. The refund paid is the VAT minus the company's 'service fee'. Many people have complained about these high fees and hidden costs like service fees, currency conversion fees, payment fees etc.
According to Visit Britain, international tourists spent £6bn on shopping in the UK in 2018. Of those transactions, £3.5bn were registered as tax free sales, although VAT was only reclaimed on £2.5bn. From January 2021, visitors will be able to buy the same goods, but will no longer be able to take them away with them there and then if they want to claim back the VAT. They will have to be sent or couriered by the retailer to their home address, wherever they live in the world. Retailers are worried that this new system will put many tourists off buying. Being able to take your purchase away instantly is one of the joys of shopping. It also means that many will be liable for import duties or taxes in their home countries rather than smuggle it through in their luggage. Some countries have very high import taxes negating the VAT saving. For example, in China, the ‘Table of Tax Rates on Personal Luggage of Passengers and Personal Postal Parcels Arriving in China” is 50% for watches and timepieces valued over 10,000 yuan (About £1150). Under 10,000 the rate is 30%.
Walpole, an organisation representing 270 of the UK's finest brands, has sent a letter to the UK Chancellor this month and has joined forces with New West End Company along with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Association of International Retail (AIR), to express their deep concern and shock over the decision.
It said “it is extremely concerned by the decision’s inevitable impact, not only in London and other key UK shopping destinations for affluent international visitors, but also on the sector’s nationwide manufacturing hubs, where otherwise sustainable skilled employment will be affected by a further contraction in sales.
Right - ChangeGroup at Bicester Village
“The Covid-19 crisis has already dramatically reduced numbers of international visitors to Britain, and other European cities, and the removal of tax-free shopping for anyone visiting the UK will leave Britain at a profound competitive disadvantage post-Brexit.”
Walpole CEO, Helen Brocklebank, said “International visitors are fundamental to the UK luxury sector’s recovery. Right now, the Government needs to be doing all it can to underline the allure of UK PLC and accelerating efforts to encourage affluent visitors to return to our shores rather than actively discouraging them with rulings like this. Globally famous brands like Burberry, Johnstons of Elgin, Harrods, Glenfiddich whisky and Hendrick’s Gin created a ‘jewel in the crown’ sector that was growing at nearly 10% each year before the pandemic, worth £48 billion to the UK economy. £4.5 billion in sales was generated by international visitors alone. Paris ranks as number one destination for luxury shoppers, closely followed by London. We will have no chance of retaining that position or becoming number one unless this decision is reversed.”
The important thing to note is that the government has not removed tax-free shopping, it is just making it harder for people to avoid import duties and avoid tax in their own jurisdiction.
The UK has already lost vast amounts of tourist spending and anything that looks like it could diminish it further is being met with shock and negativity. The UK will become the only European country not to offer VAT-free shopping for international visitors, but it is hard to argue a case without admitting that many tourists take part in tax avoidance. HM Treasury is expecting a higher number of tax claims when EU tourists join those outside of the EU in being able to claim and doesn’t want to shoulder the increased costs of administering this scheme.
In the new scheme, the VAT will be taken off by the retailer at the till. This new scheme requires added logistics, which adds extra costs for the retailer or seller.
One of the big questions will be, who will pay for carriage to the purchaser’s destination? Plus, installing a trusted form of delivery, in what could be very expensive goods, and making sure they arrive where and when they are supposed to arrive and making the consumer comfortable with that. It will surely have added insurance costs.
As for the change in ending tax-free sales in airports of goods such as electronics and clothing for passengers travelling to non-EU countries, the once bright spot of retail, pre-COVID, the airport, will no longer be as attractive to fashion retailers who can’t promote these duty-free savings. Airports have, over recent years, become shopping centres with runways and this will surely dent sales.
The retail industry could offer to pay the costs of running the tax refund system. It could add a surcharge to each purchase where the VAT is reclaimed. Unfortunately, due to the drop in tourists numbers, it will be harder to compare the effects of this new scheme with the old and whether this is reducing spending overall. When tourists are explained the new scheme, will they decide to buy elsewhere? Pay for the goods and have them shipped to get the VAT back? Or, simply swallow the full retail price?
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Britain recently lost one of its retail and design kings, Sir Terence Conran, who was famed for his love of cobalt blue. From his shirts to his socks, this knight loved his French blue workwear or 'bleu de travail’. He actually has his own blue called Pantone 072 C, aka Conran Blue.
It help you celebrate this giant of British style, Drake’s has a thick suede ‘Chore’ jacket in this striking blue primary. Made in Italy with horn buttons, it also has a touch of the Hockney’s about it, which I’m sure Terence would have appreciated even more. Wearing this will never be a chore.
Left & Below - Drake’s - Chore Jacket - £1195
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Even though a lot of things have been put on hold in 2020, there are some brands that are always ready to tackle more challenges. With that in mind, Omega has released a few new watches in 2020 that will intrigue anyone interested in precious timepieces, no matter if you’re a collector of precious watches or getting ready for an important event. With a brand new watch on your wrist, you’ll feel as the red carpet has been rolled down under you.
Join us on a ride through the new eye-catching portfolio of exquisite watches and you might just find a piece that meets your needs. We’ll present our top three picks from this year’s releases, focusing on the ones with a fascinating background.
Omega has decided to recreate their legendary Omega 321 calibre watches that have been worn by the Apollo 11 crew 51 years ago. For the July anniversary of the moon landing, the watch giant came out with the Omega Moonwatch — the second generation of the 321 calibres. The original watch is known as the Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Stainless Steel, and it holds a special place in the prestigious family of Omega watches.
The timepiece is not a limited edition, meaning that you can get the true connection to space history it offers anytime. The Apollo 11 mission holds a special place in the hearts of many space enthusiasts, meaning that the second generation of the Moonwatch is a cherished timepiece around the world.
Seamaster Diver 300m
Another significant timepiece in Omega’s collection is the Seamaster Diver 300m. The new edition of the Seamaster Diver 300m has been advertised along with the latest James Bond film that is set to be released in November 2020. Although we got a sneak peek of the watch when it was showcased during the 50th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we’re surely looking forward to seeing it on Daniel Craig’s wrist.
Omega watches have been a part of the James Bond franchise since 1995, especially the Seamaster collection, as Bond is portrayed as a Royal Navy commander. Until the film hits the theatres, you can enjoy both the gold and the platinum edition of the Seamaster Diver 300m.
Seamaster Planet Ocean America’s Cup
We wouldn’t want to leave out an outstanding new timepiece available around the world — Seamaster Planet Ocean 36th America’s Cup Limited Edition. The latest edition of the timepiece first raced in 1851 is ready to continue the tradition as a source of rivalry and fantastic sailing duels. In March 2020, the 36th edition of the watch was presented in Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour.
The newest edition of the Seamaster Planet Ocean America’s Cup is manufactured from 2,021 pieces of the finest materials and quality. The polished white ceramic dial is positioned above an Omega Master Chronometer 8900 movement. The red, blue, and white design perfectly embodies the patriotic spirit, as you can see red and white liquid ceramic inserts perfected for the regatta countdown. The brand’s capabilities are impeccably illustrated in the engineering of this timepiece.