PARIS — Swiss watch sales continued to grow in March, though at a slower pace than in the previous two months, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on Tuesday.Foreign sales of Swiss timepieces rose 4.8 percent to 1.7 billion Swiss francs, or $1.7 billion, compared with increases of 12.9 percent and 12.6 percent in February and January, respectively. Dollar rates are calculated at average exchange rates for the period concerned.As a result, the first three months of the year ended with growth of 10.1 percent, the highest quarterly growth rate since June 2012, the federation said.Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said the slowdown in March was due to a higher comparison base and the fact that the month contained two working days less than in March 2017. Adjusted for those additional working days, growth would be around 14 percent, he estimated.Growth in March was driven by a 10.2 percent rise in sales to Hong Kong, the world’s number-one market for Swiss watches, the federation said. China recorded its first drop in 18 months, down 6.9 percent, due in part to an unfavorable base effect. However, this had no significant impact on its general trend, it added.Japan confirmed its recovery, with a 13.3 percent sales bump, while the United States saw a more modest increase of 4.1 percent, in line with the global average, although the federation noted the country was still impacted by an overall downward trend.The picture was mixed in Europe, with Germany and France recording rises of 5.2 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. Conversely, Italy was down 6.4 percent, while the United Kingdom saw sales plummet 22.3 percent.March sales were driven by the performance of steel watches, with sales up 7.2 percent in value terms. Bimetal timepieces posted a 3.1 percent rise in value terms, while sales of precious metal timepieces remained flat. Volumes fell 5.2 percent overall, dented by a 19.1 percent drop in the category of other materials.Watches priced at less than 500 francs declined both in terms of value and of the number of pieces exported. Sales of timepieces in the segment of 500 francs to 3,000 francs rose 13 percent in value terms, but watches costing more than 3,000 francs posted growth of only 1.7 percent.
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