Swiss watch exports reached their highest level ever in 2021, hitting 22.3 billion Swiss francs (about $24 billion), a 31.2% jump from COVID-19-addled 2020, according to the annual statistics compiled by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FHS).
That number also represents a 2.7% jump over pre-pandemic 2019.
The industry’s previous annual record—22.2 billion Swiss francs—was set in 2014.
The United States was 2021’s biggest star, with sales soaring 54.8% over 2020, and 27.8% over pre-pandemic 2019. It remains the world’s leading market.
Still, the FHS noted that the good results were not across the board, and the strong performance was driven more by a “set of brands” than by overall category strength. While the big names did well—so well that they often couldn’t service demand—”others are proving less successful and in some cases, suffering significant declines,” the FHS said.
The growth was almost all at the top end of the market. Exports of watches priced below 500 francs (export value) fell 21%, and watches priced between 500 francs and 3,000 francs dropped 3.5%. It was the high-end watches priced at over 3,000 francs—that showed all the growth, jumping 9.7%.
As a result, the overall volume of watch exports fell, with the total number dropping 24.1% from 2019. This growth on the high end, and continued weakness in the middle and low ends of the market, are “structural changes, to which the sector must respond and adapt,” the FHS said.
Nevertheless, the FHS predicted “luxury personal goods should see increased demand in 2022” and said it had “cautious optimism” for the coming year.
Among the various markets, China had a strong year, with sales rising 49% over 2019. Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea all saw sharp declines, but sales grew in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Exports to Europe fell 3.4%, with numbers dropping in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain but rising in the Netherlands.
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