Luxury watch makers struggle as market demand for traditional luxury watches has been hammered by a Chinese government crackdown on bribery, a drop in tourist shoppers to Europe and, at lower price points, the rise of smartwatches. David Pollard reports.
Making the world's top timepieces takes time too. Nine months for one of Zenith's best-known models - needing 300 pairs of hands and 2,500 precision operations. But after that long gestation, its products are being born into a scary world. To contend with China's slowdown - and its anti-bribery crackdowns - a drop in tourist shoppers in Europe, and the rise of smartwatches. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ZENITH CHIEF EXECUTIVE ALDO MAGADA SAYING: "Before what they called the "crisis", a lot of watchmaking brands were totally crazy with prices, because of course some of the clients never challenged the value of the product they were buying. Now time is changing, we have to adapt." That means lower prices for luxury watches - and trouble for matchmaking towns. At over 8 per cent, La-Chaux-de Fonds has one of the highest jobless rates in Switzerland. Overall, 1,000 jobs have been lost in the industry. Here at Horlyne, they follow a tradition - with a modern twist - of engraving watch parts. It's bracing for a sales drop of up to 40 per cent this year. It's the same story for other suppliers as they get squeezed. Metalem in Le Locle make dial faces - some brands are asking them to drop prices by 15%. Workers here could face shorter hours later in the year. (SOUNDBITE) (French) WATCH DIAL MAKER METALEM'S CO-OWNER ALAIN MARIETTA SAYING: "It's already damaging suppliers. And there will be more damage, in my opinion, yes. I just hope there won't be too much." Others in the trade are sure that bad times will, eventually, lead to better. But right now an industry where things have ticked along nicely for years is missing a beat.