BASEL, Switzerland — Swiss watch makers are hoping to grow in time.
At the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show, which opened last Thursday, watch makers said they expect an uptick in watch sales this year, with much growth opportunity coming from the Asian market, particularly China.
Last year’s edition was plagued by the global economic slump, the war in Iraq and the outbreak of SARS, prompting several key U.S. retailers to nix their travel plans. In addition, because of SARS, the Swiss government barred exhibitors from China, Singapore, Hong Kong Kong and Vietnam.
In light of last year’s exceptional challenges, Baselworld is planning to compare this year’s attendance figures with 2002, a show spokesman said.
Both U.S. buyers and Asian vendors are back in force this year. And while the spokesman said Sunday it was too soon to disclose attendance figures, he noted: “At the moment, we have more visitors than in 2002 — more than the 80,000 we had anticipated before the show started.”
The watch business, particularly at the luxury end, is starting to gather momentum again, vendors agreed.
“This is a phenomenal year for the U.S.,” said Tania Edwards, vice president at Patek Philippe in the U.S. “We have a record number of U.S. buyers, more than ever before.”
Stacie Orloff, president at Corum USA, said: “Many retailers had a chance to sell through their inventory and they’re now buying again, not only to fill in, but also to round out the collection.”
Dario Parrilla, vice president of sales, specialty markets, at Fendi-watch licensee Taramax USA Inc., concurred. “The outlook is optimistic, and we expect to have a good show,” he said.
Asia — and China in particular — presents a major growth opportunity for many at the show.
“Everybody looks at China as an important market,” said Concord president Fred Reffsin. “The power of brands [in China] is interesting, and we are beginning to make significant inroads there.”
With the luxury business picking up again, some lesser-priced fashion watch brands are introducing more exclusive, pricier looks. Case in point: Diesel, which presented a new chronograph collection with retail price points of up to $2,000. Typically, Diesel watches sell for $85 to $290.
“The market is ready for something more special, more luxury,” observed Renzo Rosso, president and founder of Diesel. “We sell jeans for $350, so watches can be more special too.”