Swiss watchmakers set to clock up best year ever
Amid the gloom surrounding Switzerland’s hard-pressed exporters, smarting from the soaring franc, one sector stands out as a glaring exception.
While foreign sales of machine tools and electrical equipment have fallen sharply and paper products plunged, watch exports have soared.
Sales of Rolexes, Omegas and Parek Philippes – just three of Switzerland’s best-known brands – climbed
16 per cent in November year on year to SFr2.06bn ($2.17bn). For the first
11 months of last year, sales were up by 19 per cent at SFr17.4bn.
The figures follow a more than 22 per cent rebound in 2010, when exports recovered from the credit crunch, with 2011 set to exceed
the previous 2008 peak.
“This year is expected to be a record and we are also confident about 2012,” says Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Swiss watch industry federation.
Export data tell only a partial story. Most watchmakers are privately owned and guard their information as fiercely as their counterparts in private banking.
Even Swatch Group and Richemont, the two biggest, which have to be more transparent as quoted companies, are sparing when it comes to individual brands, such as the former’s Breguet or the latter’s Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Swiss customs statistics provide the only aggregate data available.
The watchmakers’ story is different for three reasons. First, and most obvious, Switzerland has a virtual monopoly, especially for top-priced mechanical watches.
At lower prices, China, India and Russia produce millions of pieces a year. But few are sold outside the home market. Further up the price band, Swiss brands dominate, whether for “mid-priced” watches, such as Swatch Group’s Tissot, or top names, such as independent Audemars Piguet. Even the two best known non-Swiss prestige brands – Germany’s Lange and Glashütte Original – are Swiss-owned.
Recognition of changing demand has been the second Swiss trump. Most brands have latched on to booming Asian demand – predominantly from China, where Swiss watches are male status symbols.
Swatch Group, which has a glitzy multibrand showroom on Shanghai’s Bund, was one of the early movers, and is now reaping the benefits.
Adjusting retailing has been the third factor. Traditionally, watches are sold via independent distributors, which then forward them to individual retailers.
While distributors remain important for smaller brands, the biggest watchmakers have progressively taken over their own distribution, increasing flexibility and boosting profits.
去年11月份，劳力士(Rolex)、欧米茄(Omega)和百达翡丽(Patek Philippe)——只是瑞士众多知名品牌中的三个——的海外销售额同比增长16%，至20.6亿瑞士法郎（合21.7亿美元）。去年头11个月的海外 销售额则增长19%，至174亿瑞士法郎。
即使是斯沃琪集团(Swatch Group)和历峰(Richemont)在谈到旗下各品牌（比如前者的宝玑(Breguet)和后者的积家(Jaeger-LeCoultre)）的情 况时也惜字如金。斯沃琪和历峰是钟表业的两个巨头，作为上市公司，它们必须有更高的透明度。
在低端市场上，中国、印度和俄罗斯每年生产数百万块手表，但这些手表没有多少能销售到本土市场以外。中高端市场则是瑞士品牌的天下，中端品牌如斯沃 琪的天梭(Tissot)，高端品牌如独立品牌爱彼(Audemars Piguet)。就连两个最知名的非瑞士名表品牌——德国的朗格(Lange)和格拉苏蒂(Glashütte Original)——其所有者也是瑞士人。