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Swiss Watch Exports Slowing After a Record Run

At Geneva Watch Days 2023, CEOs of Bulgari and Breitling fuelled the fire of an ongoing rivalry with Watches and Wonders.
Watch buyers are reining in spending amid economic and geopolitical concerns and the soaring value of the Swiss franc is pressuring producers. (Breitling)

Swiss watch exports hit record levels last year as watchmakers raised prices and shipments of cheaper quartz watches jumped, though the pace of growth tapered off in the second half.

Exports of timepieces hit 26.7 billion Swiss francs ($30.9 billion) in 2023, but the rate of sales growth slumped to 3.6 percent in the second half of the year from 11.8 percent in the first half, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Tuesday.

Watch buyers are reining in spending amid economic and geopolitical concerns. At the same time, the soaring value of the Swiss franc is pressuring producers.

“Subcontractors and suppliers, particularly, are expecting a less positive outlook this year,” the Swiss Federation said in a statement.

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“Although the sluggish economic situation has only appeared to have a partial impact on the luxury goods market so far, it is nonetheless affecting consumer confidence at all levels and several brands have already indicated that they intend to be cautious in their forecasts.”

Bloomberg News reported last year on the slowdown hitting the industry after demand for pricey timepieces from brands including Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet soared to unprecedented levels during and coming out of the pandemic.

The industry group said the strong franc was expected to keep pressuring watchmakers in 2024, particularly in the entry-level and mid-range segments. Swiss National Bank President Thomas Jordan recently said the high value of the Swiss currency hurts exporters.

Despite the slowdown, exports rose 7.6 percent to a record high in 2023, the Federation said. Volumes rose 7.2 percent to 16.9 million units as shipments of the popular Omega MoonSwatch collaboration pushed exports of quartz watches above 10 million units.

The US remained the top destination for Swiss watches with exports rising 7 percent during the year to 4.1 billion francs, accounting for about 16 percent of total exports. Shipments to China rose almost 8 percent during the year to about 2.8 billion francs, accounting for about 10 percent of exports.

Expensive watches from top makers continued to drive gains with timepieces priced above 3,000 francs accounting for 92 percent of the overall value growth.

Watches with wholesale prices of 200 francs or less, such as Swatch Group AG’s Omega MoonSwatch, were responsible for 83 percent of the volume increases, the Federation said.

By Andy Hoffman

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