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China Demand Rebound Boosts Swiss Watch Exports

Amid a recovery in the luxury sector, watch exports were 2.7% above their pre-pandemic level and 0.2% higher than the previous record

A Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Moon, among the kind of high-end watches that have seen sales rise. Photo: Jaeger-LeCoultre.


Swiss watch exports rebounded sharply in 2021, breaking the record set in 2014, thanks to rising demand from China and the US, an industry association reported on Thursday.

The global market totalled 22.3 billion Swiss francs ($24.1 billion), the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said in a statement.

Amid a strong recovery in the luxury sector, watch exports were 2.7% above their pre-pandemic level in 2019, and 0.2% higher than the previous record in 2014.

“Overall, luxury personal goods benefited from the sharp increase in demand in China and the US,” the federation said.

The Swiss watch industry has felt the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 in the face of store closures and the freeze in tourism.

Watchmakers said the use of savings accumulated during lockdowns and more significant restrictions on tourism-related activities also boosted sales.

“While travel retail suffered from the decline in tourism, an increase in domestic purchases, a switch to digital channels and the development of the duty-free market in [China’s] Hainan [province] offset losses to some extent,” the federation said.


Marked Declines in Asia

In Asia, where sales rose 1%, growth in China was offset by often marked declines in most other markets on the continent. Its overall market share was 52%.

Sales to Hong Kong, a historically important market that has imposed a ban on most arrivals, fell 20.7%, while exports to Japan dropped 11.9% and South Korea saw an 18.7% fall. Singapore sales rose 0.6%.

Europe fell 3.4%, with a market share of 29%. Exports to the US rose 21.7%, which absorbed 17% of Swiss watch exports.

Exports were still below their pre-pandemic levels in historically important export markets such as the UK 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.

“Watchmaking follows the movements of the luxury sector,” Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the watchmaking federation, said.

Richemont, the French luxury group, on Thursday reported a 32% rise in fourth quarter sales.

The same day, LVMH, which  includes the Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine fashion brands as well as Moët & Chandon champagne, took in a record 64.2 billion euros ($71.5 billion) in 2021, a rise of 44% from last year.


  • George Russell, with AFP





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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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