Swiss watch industry posts growth

Whilst sales of quartz watches declined last year, demand for more expensive mechanical timepieces grew significantly. Keystone

After two years of decline, the Swiss watch industry grew by 2.7% in 2017, according to the figures released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) on Tuesday. 

This content was published on January 30, 2018 - 15:08

Exports grew by 2.7 % to CHF19.9 billion ($21.3 billion) on 2016. “Growth returned sooner than expected,” said the FH in a press release. 

The biggest driver was the Asian market, which experienced the biggest growth (+4.8%) and generated half of all export sales. The largest market was Hong Kong, with exports worth CHF2.5 million. 

Different rates of recovery

“A growing number of markets returned to growth, but several of them are still lagging behind” said the statement. China was the first to recover from the decline and experienced the highest rate of growth at 18%. In the United States, by contrast, sales fell for the third year in a row (-4.4%). 

There was a general trend towards more expensive watches, hence the value of exports grew despite a decrease in number of watches exported (down 4.3%, at 24.3 million pieces, the lowest figure since the 2009 watch crisis). Demand for mechanical timepieces grew but sales of quartz watches declined - exports of these watches fell to a 33-year slump.

+ Find out more about the watch crisis here

Swatch, the world’s largest watchmaker, is also feeling the upswing. The Swiss-based company said it expected “very positive” growth this year after revealing a 28% rise in profit on Tuesday.

Job cuts in the industry

The employees working in the industry, however, were not yet able to benefit from this slight increase in exports. According to Ludovic Voillat, the spokesperson for the Swiss employer's confederation of the Swiss watch making industry (CP), 3% of jobs were cut last year within the industry, which amounts to 1700 positions. According to Voillat, this number was not alarming: "All in all, the employment rates have weathered the crisis pretty well". He said that the 4000 jobs which were lost during the last three years must be seen in the context of the 10'000 new jobs that had been created between 2009 and 2015. Voillat was also optimistic about the employment outlook for the coming years. "This year should should bring good news for watchmakers. Employment rates are rising once again, particularly temporary positions are increasing so that we expect an overall rise in employment for 2018", he said. 

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