The world's largest watch-making company, Swatch, has announced a 20 per cent leap in turnover in the first quarter of the year, compared to the same period last year. Swatch says the prospects are good for the luxury end of the market.
The figures come on the back of excellent results for 1999. In March, the group announced it had made net profits last year of SFr441, an increase of 23.5 per cent on 1998. Sales rose 11 per cent to SFr3.6 billion.
The head of the Swatch group, Nicolas Hayek, says that 1999 can only be described as an "extraordinary" year - " a year of records in all respects".
Commenting on last year's financial figures, Hayek said the group had expanded at a much greater rate than the rest of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
"Our leading brands - Swatch, Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Rado and Longines - and our other brands have established a strong foothold in the luxury segment," Hayek said in a letter to shareholders.
"From now on, the Swatch Group, as the world's most important watch manufacturer, will be among the leaders in this segment.
Hayek said the market valuation of the Swatch Group on the stock exchange rose from SFr6.1 billion at the end of 1998 to SFr11.5 billion at the end of last year.
"Although the increase in valuation from 1998 to 1999 represented an improvement of 89 per cent, it still certainly does not indicate the real value of our Group - which is a good deal higher," Hayek said.
Under the current expansion phase, Hayek cited the Group's 42 factories in Switzerland which would bring continuity. "They will ensure that the watchmaking tradition inherited from our ancestors and derived from our own innovations will be preserved and developed," he said.
He added that the Swatch Group would be setting up a research laboratory at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, as well as working on joint projects with other industrial research departments throughout the world.
"This collaboration strengthens and reinforces our dominant position in everything to do with technology and watchmaking in Europe, even in the whole world," he said.
He added that the Swatch Group had achieved a strong global presence through its Internet appearance, with 50 million people visiting the Swatch Watch site every month.
by Robert Brookes