March 27 - Baselworld, the watch industry's biggest trade fair, opens in Switzerland and as Hayley Platt reports years of double digit growth have come to an end.
Titan Black only sells 100 watches a year. But they're no ordinary timepieces. The company specialises in customising some of the biggest brands including Cartier, Patek Phillipe, and Rolex. It's a trend that has helped keep the luxury watch market ticking over despite a tough climate. Luke Waite is the MD. SOUNDBITE: Luke Waite, MD, Titan Black Ltd, saying (English): "We will work with you to essentially customise to your heart's content. There is no limitation. Typically prices start at around £2,000 and can go up to £25,000." In recent years the Swiss watch industry has seen double digit growth. And last year exports still hit an all-time high. But they were only 1.9 percent higher than the previous year and that was a shock to many. Overall the sector grew in 2013 by 5.7 percent despite a slowdown in other high end sectors. Global demand last year was once again fuelled by BRIC markets with the highest year-to-year increases in China ( +59%), Russia (+20%) and India (+12%) Only Brazil bucked the BRIC trend (-3%) Established markets such as Germany (-9%) the US (-8%) and Japan (-5.5%) all saw a decline, although demand was up in Italy (+9%) and the UK (+3%). China is still the biggest consumer of luxury watches. But as its economy has slowed, so too has demand. Its government also wants to move away from conspicuous spending. And has pledged to get tough on so-called gifting to government officials. Though some, like Hublot's chairman, Jean Claude Biver, believes the losses will only be temporary. SOUNDBITE: Jean Claude Biver, Chairman Hublot & President LVMH Watches Division, saying (English): "There was a slowing demand but you can not change human beings and at the end of the day with wealth, people are changing their consumer habits, with wealth the Chinese are even starting to eat now yoghurt, they start to eat cheese. So wealth makes changes and with wealth people will start buying the Swiss luxury watches again." In Europe and America the outlook looks bright as their economies continue to recover, although a number of brands are considering cutting prices. And Hublot expects its sales around the world to rise as this year's official watch makers for the Brazilian world cup. SOUNDBITE: Jean Claude Biver, Chairman Hublot & President LVMH Watches Division, saying (English): "When you imagine the world cup is the biggest TV event with 36/38 billion people watching, we expect a boost all over the world, but of course also in Brazil." Some are predicting a return to timeless and classical watches - bling they say is out. That won't worry Titan Black. They make something that's unique and that's a trend expected to survive the test of time.