Jan 27, 2022
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Swiss watch exports tick up to record level in 2021

Jan 27, 2022

Swiss watch exports rebounded sharply in 2021, breaking the record set in 2014 by rising to nearly 22.3 billion Swiss francs ($24.1 billion, 21.5 billion euros), the industry federation announced Thursday.

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Amid a strong recovery in the luxury sector, watch exports were up 2.7 percent compared to their pre-pandemic level in 2019, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said in a statement -- and were also up 0.2 percent compared to the 2014 peak.

Compared to 2020, exports were up 31.2 percent, the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security said, in a separate statement.

"Watchmaking follows the movements of the luxury sector," Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the watchmaking federation, told AFP.

With the surge in the stock market, which swelled the assets of wealthy people, very high luxury as a whole experienced a sharp rebound.

The Swiss watch industry felt the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 in the face of store closures during lockdowns, and the freeze in tourism, on which the luxury sector heavily relies. Exports ended the year down 21.8 percent.

Only exports to China held up, with part of the sales shifting to local boutiques.

But watch exports rebounded in 2021, first to the United States and then to the Gulf countries.

Swiss watch exports to the United States rose by 54.9 percent last year compared to 2020, according to the industry federation.

They also increased by 23.9 percent to China; 36.5 percent to Singapore and 31.2 percent to the United Arab Emirates.

- Gulf boom -

This rise in exports to the Gulf is "not a big surprise", Bulgari chief-executive Jean-Christophe Babin told AFP during parent company LVMH group's Watch Week this week.

"This region has a barometer which is very much linked to the price of oil and gas," and the rise in prices has therefore contributed to reviving "great customer confidence in the Middle East", he said.

However, exports were still below their pre-pandemic levels in historically-important export markets such as Hong Kong, Japan, Britain and France, which have continued to suffer from low tourist numbers.

The recovery also only benefited luxury watches -- those costing more than 3,000 Swiss francs when leaving the factory -- with watches under 500 Swiss francs continuing to tumble.

"In 2021 and 2022 we saw a demand for exceptional products, unique products," said Babin, who presented for Dubai some of the most expensive watches ever made by Bulgari.

They included a diamond-encrusted women's watch worth more than 1.3 million euros ($1.45 million), and a men's watch set with diamonds and emeralds for 1.6 million euros.

Pasche hopes that this turn of events will continue and tourist flows will resume.

"It's important that geopolitics does not bring us bad surprises that would disrupt business," he said.

Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox told AFP he expects Swiss watch exports to grow by nine percent in 2022.

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