The Swiss watch market took a tumble in 2020, as Covid ravaged the luxury market in general and led to the closing of several watch factories, some for up to six months. Exports of watches from Switzerland reached an all-time low – equivalent to the drop seen during the 2008 recession. But now a recovery is firmly underway. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), exports are back on the rise, particularly to the U.S., which has recovered its position as the world’s number one market for Swiss watches – a position held by Hong Kong from 2015 to 2019.
Worldwide exports of Swiss watches rose 2.7% to CHF 22.3-billion (about $24.089-billion) in 2021, according to the FH, just ahead of the all-time high of CHF 22.25-billion ($22.04-billion in 2014. The U.S. had a stellar year, with exports up 55% over 2020, and 28% over the pre-pandemic year of 2019. The total of exports to the U.S. in 2021were valued at just over CHF 3-billion ($3.3-billion), a new record high. In the month of December alone, exports to the U.S. shot up by 44.2%, a stronger than usual performance for what is always a positive month for exports because of the holiday season.
In January 2022, exports to the U.S. stayed strong, with a 37.5% increase in the value of watches exported, compared to the same month in 2021. According to the FH, three-quarters of the growth was in the category of steel watches. And although rising prices accounted for some of the increase in value – the total number of watches sold in 2021 was about 24% lower than in 2019, the last comparable year – the reduced volumes occurred mainly at the least expensive end of the market, in the $200 to $500 range.
The recovery is a significant accomplishment considering the sharp decline in 2020, when exports hit a historic low – they fell off by -21.8% worldwide, to CHF 17-billion ($18.4-billion), a low point not seen since the 2008 recession. During the second quarter of 2020 alone, exports worldwide dropped by -61.6%. In America, they fell by 20%. The recovery is also significant considering the growth of the pre-owned watch market, which reached $18-billion in 2019 and flourished during Covid.