Philippine Daily Inquirer

SUBDUED GENEVA WATCH SALES DUE TO MORE CAUTIOUS CLIENTELE

- —AFP

GENEVA—The 2024 Geneva watch fair opened on Tuesday amid slower demand in China for fancy Swiss timepieces and timid consumer spending across the board on luxury items.

The Watches and Wonders salon, which runs until April 15, sees 54 major watch brands display their latest creations, including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Chopard, Hermes and Chanel.

Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen and Chinese actor Wang Yang were among the stars checking out the timepieces on show at Swiss watchmakin­g’s landmark event.

Last year, Swiss watch exports broke records for the third straight year, hitting 26.7 billion Swiss francs ($29.5 billion).

The 2020 downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was quickly reversed by what financial analysts called revenge buying, with consumers splashing out with savings accumulate­d during lockdowns.

However, the growth in Swiss

watch exports has slowed, with exports up 7.6 percent in 2023, having risen 11 percent in 2022 and 31 percent in 2021.

“I don’t want to say it’s a bad time; it’s a little calmer,” Thierry Stern, president of luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe, told AFP.

“Maybe we’re coming back to reality.”

Popular with collectors

Stern says he remains confident about the prospects for his own brand, which remains ever-popular with auction room collectors.

Per year, “I make 72,000 watches and they will almost all be sold here in one week,” he added, with the salon being an opportunit­y for retailers to stock

up their boutiques.

Formerly reserved for industry players, the salon is trying to seduce a new generation of buyers by allowing in the public on the last three days, with guided tours and an interactiv­e zone focusing on watchmakin­g of the future.

The average age of visitors during previous open days was 35, “which is extremely encouragin­g,” said Matthieu Humair, chief executive of the foundation that runs the salon.

Jon Cox, an industry analyst with Kepler Cheuvreux financial services, told AFP the mood at the salon might be “subdued” this year rather than “despondent.”

“Given the environmen­t, you may see a back-to-basics approach by watchmaker­s: more steel, less bling,” he said.

Cox is forecastin­g a “soft landing” for manufactur­ers this year with four percent market growth.

However, after touring the displays, Oliver Muller, founder of the watchmakin­g consultanc­y company LuxeConsul­t, said: “I’ve been positively surprised by the new innovation­s. I expected a lot more caution.”

“I didn’t see any crazy stuff but lots of very beautiful things,” he told AFP.

This slowdown is not affecting all brands equally. The most high-end names, like Patek Philippe, rely on a very wealthy clientele who are not particular­ly exposed to the vagaries of the economy, meaning those brands have continued to grow.

According to a study by US bank Morgan Stanley, models with price tags above 25,000 francs account for 69 percent of growth in the Swiss watch industry.

Overall slowdown

“We are seeing an overall slowdown,” said Karine Szegedi, the consumer industry lead in Switzerlan­d at the auditing firm Deloitte.

“The situation is tougher than anticipate­d for a certain number of players in watchmakin­g,” she told AFP.

“The clientele is more cautious,” she said, with consumptio­n in China and Hong Kong having “not returned to preCOVID levels.”

She said revenge buying has peaked and inflation, rising interest rates and even layoffs in the technology sector are affecting the consumer base for luxury goods.

In an early sign of the slowdown, subcontrac­tors who supply watch components saw orders reduced or postponed, said Szegedi.

 ?? —PHOTOS BY AFP ?? BIG TIME Visitors check out the stand of German watchmaker Nomos Glashutte during the opening day of the Watches and Wonders Geneva luxury watch fair in Switzerlan­d on April 9. The 2024 event noted slower demand for pricier Swiss timepieces including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Chopard, Hermes and Chanel.
—PHOTOS BY AFP BIG TIME Visitors check out the stand of German watchmaker Nomos Glashutte during the opening day of the Watches and Wonders Geneva luxury watch fair in Switzerlan­d on April 9. The 2024 event noted slower demand for pricier Swiss timepieces including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, Chopard, Hermes and Chanel.
 ?? ?? RICH MAN’S TOY Watches of Swiss luxury watchmaker­s Parmigiani are on display.
RICH MAN’S TOY Watches of Swiss luxury watchmaker­s Parmigiani are on display.
 ?? ?? GOLDEN MOMENT A watch stand features the latest design of Swiss watch manufactur­er Patek Philippe.
GOLDEN MOMENT A watch stand features the latest design of Swiss watch manufactur­er Patek Philippe.

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