FHS – Swiss watch exports in 2009 | General decline – modest end-of-year recovery

Bienne, February 4 2010 – The strong growth recorded previously by Swiss watch exports was interrupted in 2009. For the year as a whole, the result totalled 13.2 billion francs. This level is 3.8 billion francs below that registered in 2008, corresponding to an annual decline of 22.3%. The sector was hit by a general fall in demand linked to the world economic crisis and suffered on all of its markets and in all segments.

The value of Swiss watch exports began the year 2009 with very marked rates of decline which held steady at between -20% and -33% until October. A recovery was evident in November and December, which months recorded single digit declines.
Signals perceived on the markets indicate that 2010 should see a turnaround for Swiss watch exports. It will however be modest and will only really be felt in the second half of the year, when the annualized variation will return to positive rates.


Wristwatches comprised the major part of exports. They saw their value fall by 22.3% compared to 2008, at 12.3 billion francs. Their volume meanwhile fell to 21.7 million units in one year, a decline of 17.0%. As a result, Swiss watch manufacturers exported 4.4 million fewer timepieces in 2009.

All materials registered a downturn. The overall value was affected by gold watches, as well as steel products. Bimetallic timepieces, most often a combination of gold and steel, also had a major negative impact on the annual result. In volume terms, steel watches were responsible for a large part of the overall decline. The category of other metals, mainly aluminium, also fell back sharply. For the category of other materials, the decline was considerably less pronounced.

Wristwatches costing less than 200 francs (export price) saw their value and their volumes decline by 17%, accounting for most of the total fall in volumes. The 200-500 francs segment achieved the best result, even though it remained negative. Here the value fell by 4.7% and the number of units by 3.9%. Watches costing more than 500 francs followed a uniform pattern and recorded the steepest rates of decline. Their value was 23.7% below that of 2008. In parallel, the number of units fell by 25.7%.

Of the other finished products exported by Switzerland in 2009, alarm clocks and clocks in general were among the very few to record growth. The rate of increase here was 6.2%, albeit accounting for a relatively small value in relation to the sector as a whole.
Exports of components recorded a decline. The value of movements leaving Switzerland in 2009 fell by 8.4%. Bracelets (-20.1%), watch cases (-36.0%) and dials (-25.0%) fared no better.


During the year 2009, the fifteen main markets showed the following trend (total value in million francs and % variation by comparison with 2008):
1. Hong Kong / 2,167.9 / -19.7%
2. USA / 1,470.4 / -37.9%
3. France / 968.7 / -14.4%
4. Italy / 900.0 / -13.9%
5. Germany / 794.0 / -13.0%
6. Japan / 768.4 / -33.5%
7. China / 700.4 / -15.2%
8. Singapore / 673.9 / -13.9%
9. United Kingdom / 544.5 / -15.1%
10. United Arab Emirates / 438.0 / -34.9%
11. Spain / 318.9 / -29.5%
12. Taiwan / 244.2 / -15.7%
13. South Korea / 223.0 / +35.7%
14. Saudi Arabia / 190.9 / -20.2%
15. Thailand / 161.7 / -39.0%

Despite some changes at the end of the year and in particular several markets that did register growth, the main outlets in 2009 saw no significant changes to their situation compared to the first half-year. Recording a less pronounced decline than the United States, Hong Kong confirmed its position as the leading destination for Swiss watch exports, thanks in particular to a very good result in December.

Starting from a much lower base, the United States also benefited from a recovery at the end of the year, albeit less marked. This market finally recorded one of the steepest declines of 2009.

The main European markets experienced a slight delay factor and therefore ended the year with slightly less acute downturns. The downward trend recorded by Japan accentuated as the months went by and reached very low levels. While recording an annual result close to that of France and its neighbours, China proved a more attractive proposition for Swiss watch manufacturers.

It is in fact one of the rare markets, with Singapore, to have recorded a second half-year of growth. The Middle East was divided between the mixed performance of Saudi Arabia and the consistently low level of the United Arab Emirates, such that no clear trend is yet apparent. Finally mention should be made of the excellent result achieved by South Korea, a destination for watch exports that continued to show very strong growth in 2009.


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