The Swiss watch industry reported that the value of its exports fell 3.3 percent to 21.5 billion Swiss francs ($21.75 billion) in 2015. However, compared to the more than 20 percent increase in exports for the five prior years, it isn’t all that bad. However, François Thiébaud, president of the Baselworld Swiss Exhibitors Committee, and Sylvie Ritter, managing director of Baselworld, described the current environment for the industry as “gloomy,” during the annual press conference Wednesday at Baselworld, the world’s largest watch and jewelry fair. The eight-day international show officially begins Thursday. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was smart watches. It was the major topic at last year’s press conference. There are a number of geopolitical and economic issues around the world affecting Swiss watch sales. They include: the turbulence in the Chinese economy, conflicts in the Middle East and the slowing of the Russian economy because of Western economic sanctions. The Chinese economic problems resulted in a drastic decline in the sale of watches in Hong Kong, the world’s largest market for the Swiss watch industry. Perhaps the biggest issue was the depegging of the Swiss franc to the Euro in January 2015, which led to an approximate 20 percent appreciation of the franc compared to other currencies, Thiébaud said during his presentation Swiss watch industry figures for 2015. By country, Hong Kong had by far the largest decline in the value of Swiss exports, down 22.9 percent. The US market (the world’s second largest) experienced an 0.8 percent decline. In terms of the other top markets, China saw a 4.7 percent decline, Italy was the lone bright spot in major markets with a 6.4 percent increase, with Japan down 1.9 percent. The rest of the world, which accounts for nearly 56 percent of total Swiss watch exports saw a 2 percent increase. In terms of materials, steel timepieces experienced a steeper than average year-over-year decline in value at 4.9 percent. These watches accounted for half the overall fall in export sales. Gold watch exports declined by 4.8 percent. Bimetal timepieces fell by 2.6 percent. In terms of the number of pieces, steel products fell by 5.7 percent, while still accounting for one out of two exported watches. The press conference was also the opportunity to introduce Eric Bertrand as president of the Baselworld Exhibitors. He replaced Jacques J. Duchêne who died suddenly and unexpectedly a day before Baselworld’s 2015 press conference. Bertrand took extra time to note his experience in the watch, jewelry and gemstone and said will represent all exhibitors equally. In the past few years, Baselworld has become more dedicated to luxury, renovating the Baselworld fairgrounds and charging more for exhibitors to enter. This has led to the angry jewelry exhibitors. This also led to a decrease in the number of exhibitors from 2,000 in 2010 to 1,500 this year, which Bertrand said was planned. “I am equipped to represent Baselworld across the board,” he said.
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