By  on April 4, 2011

BASEL, Switzerland — Explosive demand from China is set to fuel strong growth in the watch sector in 2011, but will leave the market increasingly polarized between large groups with the critical mass to expand and smaller independent players with less financial firepower.

That was the message from this year’s edition of the Baselworld fair, the watch industry’s most important annual gathering, which ran from March 24 to 31.

Swatch Group, the world’s largest watchmaker, said momentum remained strong in the first three months of the year after a record 2010, a sentiment echoed by brands including Chopard, Hublot, TechnoMarine, Tag Heuer and Frédérique Constant.

“So far, the first part of the year has been terrific,” reported Cindy Livingston, president and chief executive officer of Sequel, which holds the licenses for Guess and Gc Watches.

“In the Middle East, we have our issues, as everybody in the world does right now, but we’re getting very big growth in Asia with what’s happening with the Chinese consumer, so that is counteracting the tension in the Middle East,” she added.

The top end of the market was equally buoyant.

Hublot ceo Jean-Claude Biver said he expected to close the fair with sales of 100 million Swiss francs, or $109 million, up from 85 million Swiss francs, or $80 million, in 2010. All dollar figures are calculated at average exchange rates for the periods concerned.

The brand sold hundreds of six-figure timepieces, in addition to a one-of-a-kind $3 million watch and two priced at $1 million.

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