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The global luxury shopper is in love with Swiss watches

Demand for Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe timepieces continues to increase despite inflation

A Patek Philippe wristwatch displayed at Christie's New York on 1 June, as part of an exhibition. (AFP)

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Swiss watch exports rose again in July, increasing to near record levels and notching their highest value in eight years as demand for pricey Rolex, Omega and Vacheron Constantin timepieces booms.

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Exports rose 8.3% in July compared to the same month in 2021 to 2.2 billion Swiss francs ($2.3 billion), the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said last week.

That’s the highest value for exports of Swiss watches since a record performance in October 2014.

Demand for luxury watches has been soaring after many cash-flush consumers discovered Swiss brands from Rolex and Omega to Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe while stuck at home during the pandemic.

Exports to the US increased 13.5% from the year before and it remained the biggest market for Swiss watch exports after overtaking China last year. 

Demand in China is recovering as covid-19 lockdowns ease with exports rebounding during the period to hold its position as the second biggest market for Swiss watch exports. 

The export figures were “much better than expected,” said Jean-Philippe Bertschy, an analyst at Vontobel who was expecting a slight decrease.

While prices for luxury watches on the secondhand market have been dropping, in part because of the cryptocurrency crash and falling equities, the July exports are “rather reassuring statistics from the Federation,” Bertschy said. 

The trend of high-end pieces driving the industry persisted with watches priced over 500 francs accounting for more than a third of volumes and 95% of value. 

Exports of watches priced between 200 francs and 500 francs plunged by 29.2% in value, continuing a downturn that began in early 2020.

Likely due in part to the success of Swatch Group’s Omega MoonSwatch collaboration, exports of watches priced at under 200 francs rose 5.3% by value, the sixth positive month of the year.

With the exception of Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, Swiss watch exports in July to most major markets in Asia and Europe increased by double digit percentages. 

“The post-pandemic high-end demand wave continues,” Bernstein analyst Luca Solca said in emailed comments.

Solca cautioned that any slowdown in demand will be seen first through retailers as Swiss watches are primarily sold through wholesale channels and there is a lag between orders and deliveries. 

“If and when there is a slowdown, watch exports will not see it first,” Solca said. 

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