Swiss watch exports top 11 billion francs, set new record

The value of Swiss watch exports in 2004 set a new record, topping 11.1 billion Swiss francs ($9.2 billion) for the first time. This represents 9.2% gain (up 932.3 million francs or $775.3 million), says the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry in a report issued Thursday.

There were “very strong” increases in June and August, it notes, as well as “two successive records with the highest monthly values ever achieved, in October and November.” The export decline of 2003 has been “effaced” thanks to “a more stable world geopolitical situation and a sustained economic recovery in the United States and Asia.” The Federation, which represents more than 90% of all Swiss watchmakers, expects the “pleasing growth recorded by Swiss watch exports should continue in 2005.”

Products. Exports of finished watches made stronger gains than the sector as a whole, with a 9.9% gain in value to 10.2 billion francs (almost $8.5 billion). The number of watches exported also increased to 25.1 million units (up 2.1%, 510,000 pieces).

In terms of materials, the value of exported stainless steel timepieces rose 10.9% and that of gold timepieces by 10.2%. Bimetallic and platinum watches also performed above average, by 11.4% and +15.4%, respectively.

Gains in numbers were due mainly to steel timepieces, which accounted for more than one in two watches exported. These increased more than a million units compared to 2003, rising to a new level of 12.8 million pieces (up 8.7%). Bi-metallic timepieces rose 3.5 percent and gold timepieces by 3%.

Other watchmaking products (movements, cases, dials, hands, and bracelets) exported by Switzerland also saw their value increase, while large volume exports, such as clocks and alarm clocks, posted a steep decline (down 15.6%).

Markets. The United States “remains securely in first place” among major markets of the Swiss watch industry, says the report. It saw a 12.9% increase in the value of it Swiss watch imports to almost 1.9 billion Swiss francs (more than $1.5 billion), “reflecting the good economic climate that held sway in the country in 2004.”

In Asia, Swiss watch exports to Hong Kong, the second biggest market, rose 15.6% to more than 1.6 billion francs ($1.3 billion). “The former British colony has recovered from the difficult situation caused by the SARS epidemic in the second part of 2003,” notes the report, “and the economy experienced renewed growth throughout 2004, to the benefit of Swiss watch manufacturers.”

On the other hand, despite an economic recovery in Japan, watch exports there were unchanged, showing only a 0.5% gain. China also registered “a more moderate increase, albeit well above the average (up 41.7%).

In Europe, 2004 was “a fairly stable year” for Swiss watches manufacturers, with exports increasing by 2.7% on average. Italy, the leading market there, increased the value of its exports by 5.7%, though “situation is more difficult in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.” Russia, on the other, increased the value of its Swiss watch exports by 17.1%, pushing Saudi Arabia (up 1.2%) out of 14th place.