Swiss luxury watchmakers say they're confident, yet cautious about the market after an economically and politically turbulent year. Roselle Chen reports.
High-end watchmakers have expanded to more affordable products to counter the most severe downturn the industry has faced since the 2008-09 financial crisis, executives at a watch fair in Geneva said. The industry is having to adapt to a market with fewer Russian, Middle Eastern and Chinese buyers than a year ago, feeling the combined effects of record low oil prices and signs of economic weakness in China. Parmigiani Fleurier's director of operations Marc Gaudreault said he had to fire 20 people in the past few months. SOUNDBITE: Marc Gaudreault, Parmigiani Fleurier's director of operations, saying (English): "The problem is the momentum. Everybody is talking about crisis, everybody is talking the bad momentum, and that's the most difficult thing, you know, to convince people that even if it's tough it will come back. I mean, there are crises all the time, every four, five years now, it is quite you know, we are used to. So, don't worry, there is a crisis, but of course, people want to buy, people want to have nice watches and it will come back, we don't have to panic." Despite this difficult downturn, independent luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet managed to make $800 million (USD) in sales in 2015, compared to a $700 million the year before. SOUNDBITE: Tim Sayler, Audemars Piguet's chief marketing officer, saying (English): "We are confident because we've seen already in 2015 that there is a very strong demand, and a very strong desirability for the brand, and we have a good response to our novelties, so we are confident but prudent." The watch industry as a whole did not fare as well, as exports dropped by 3.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2015 compared to 2014, a loss of almost $700 million. The International Salon of Luxury Watches continues in Geneva until January 22.