By  on April 23, 2009

PARIS — Following a sharp decline in February, exports of Swiss watches fell again in March, with higher-priced items the worst hit.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported exports dropped by 26.6 percent versus March 2008, to 914.4 million Swiss francs, or $791.3 million at average exchange. The monthly decline contributed to an overall decline of 23.5 percent in the first quarter.

Timepieces costing more than 3,000 Swiss francs, or $2,596, which had proven more resistant to the downturn until now, joined the negative trend last month. Products priced between 200 Swiss francs and 500 Swiss francs, or $173 and $433, respectively, meanwhile, increased by 9.6 percent in volume.

The trade association said almost all markets proved difficult, with its second largest, the U.S., hardest hit. Exports there dropped 49.8 percent. Sales to Switzerland’s number-one market, Hong Kong, fell by 29.2 percent, while exports to China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates all dropped by roughly a third. Europe, where exports to France increased 2.7 percent, registered an above-average performance, the federation said.

Many watch businesses are facing tough times. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, for instance, on Wednesday said its watch and jewelry sales tumbled 41 percent on an organic basis in the first quarter.

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