With the same precision and reliability as a Swiss timepiece, you can be sure that there is always one glaring omission in the annual statistics supplied by Switzerland’s watchmaking industry federation, the Fédération Horlogère (FH). Since the organization only publishes export figures for the watch industry based on customs statistics, the size of the industry’s home market, where countless Chinese, Russian and many other tourists come to buy their watches in the country where they are made, remains consistently unquantifiable.
Estimates put the size of the Swiss market at around 5% of the total Swiss watch industry exports. For 2014, this figure was 22.2 billion Swiss francs, according to the statistics published by the FH last week. So that puts Switzerland on a par with the United Arab Emirates, France, Singapore or maybe even Germany, Italy or Japan in terms of the size of its market. In any case, the home of fine watchmaking is unquestionably one of its top 10 markets as well.
Industry observers need little reminding that China and Hong Kong, as two of the three biggest export markets for Swiss watches, are fundamental to the health of the industry. After a drop in exports to China of 15.2% over the past two years and 5.7% in Hong Kong over the same period, some brands with a greater dependence on such markets have suffered. And yet the industry nevertheless managed a modest 1.9% increase in exports last year. How is this possible?
The top 10 watch markets in 2014*
- Hong Kong
- United States
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
*Based on the export statistics of the Swiss Watchmaking Federation for 2014
One reason is Japan, which, despite the austerity measures of “Abenomics”, has increased its imports of Swiss timepieces by over 20% over the past two years, jumping from the bottom of the top 10 list to fourth place in 2014. The Land of the Rising Sun imported 1.3 billion Swiss francs’ worth of watches last year, less than 70 million francs behind the huge Chinese market.
Another South-East Asian country accounts for a remarkable rise in exports. South Korea has imported 32% more watches over the past two years, putting the country in 11th place, ahead of Russia and Saudia Arabia. European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and even Greece posted significant increases, although these are unlikely to be maintained in 2015, given the “tsunami” on the currency markets at the start of the year and the recent regime change in Greece.
As with the countries, there are clear winners and losers within the industry itself. The Swatch Group last week published its results for 2014, posting a 4.6% increase in gross sales, despite the difficulties experienced by the industry throughout the year. The LVMH group published similarly upbeat results at the same time, indicating growth in sales of 4% without adjusting for currency effects. Since both groups posted sales well above that of the industry as a whole, the logical inference is that other brands or groups must be suffering losses. Analysts will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the results of other big players with interest.