Swiss Watchmakers Close U.S. Center

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) has closed its information center in the United States after 15 years.

The decision to close the center, located in Rochelle Park, N.J., was made by the FH board of directors at its annual general meeting on June 28. The Federation wants to “adapt its structures to the changing trend of the U.S. watch market,” said an official announcement. Peter Laetsch, longtime president of the Federation’s U.S. operations, was not immediately available for comment.

The Federation, founded in 1982 with the merger of two major Swiss watch groups and headquartered in Bienne, represents 90% of Swiss watchmaking companies (about 500 companies). The FH has had an information center in the United States for most of that time. It represented and promoted Swiss watches and served as Swiss watchmakers’ liaison with the U.S. market.

The Swiss watch industry has been active in the United States for many years, but in the past decade, its position has strengthened considerably. Last year, the value of Swiss exports to the United States topped 2 billion Swiss francs ($1.1 billion), a record.

Because of this “dynamic growth” in the U.S. market and recent “structural changes” (i.e., consolidations, acquisitions, and mergers) in the Swiss watch industry, watch conglomerates and individual companies have “effective representation” here and “no longer need” the support of the Federation to conduct their U.S. business, according to the Federation’s June 28 report.

This “changed reality” as well as the “significant increase” in operating costs due to the strong dollar means the “continued existence of our center is harder to justify,” says the report.

However, the Federation isn’t completely leaving the American market. It plans to work more closely with the American Watch Association, based in Washington, D.C., which represents many of the major watch brands sold in the United States.

The Federation hasn’t said what, if anything, will happen to its information centers in Hong Kong and Tokyo.