Swiss luxury watchmakers report rapid growth in 2011


BRUSSELS, Belgium – Time seems to be on the side of Swiss watch manufacturers. Despite Europe’s economic gloom, the industry opened its annual showcase exhibition Geneva this week showing record sales.

Exports were up 19 percent over the first 11 months of 2011, reaching 17.4 billion francs ($18.2 billion) according to latest figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Luxury models led the way. “Growth in total value was clearly driven by watches costing more than 3,000 francs ($3,143), which showed an upturn of 20.6 percent,” said the industry statement. Gold watches accounted for almost half of the total increase.

In China, demand for Swiss watches rose 57.4 percent to 170.4 million francs ($178.5 million). Hong Kong remains the biggest market, up 37 percent, at almost half a billion francs.

US sales were up just 6.1 percent, but at 198.5 million francs ($208 million), but the United States remains the industry’s second largest market.

The biggest increase however came in the German market, a rise of 57.5 percent. Reflecting the mixed fortunes of the European economy, sales in France and Italy recorded significant declines.

As the glittering Geneva Time exhibition opened Monday, the Richemont group which owns some of the world’s most prestigious watch brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget and Baume & Mercier also announced solid growth of 24 percent in the final quarter of 2011. Asia-Pacific sales again led the way with a 36 percent rise.

The good times may not be rolling quite so much this year however. “I’ll be happy if the new year brings growth of around 5 percent,” said Franco Cologni, Richemont director and president of the federation’s cultural council.

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