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Watch makers gear up for world's biggest fair

AFP · 5 Mar 2012, 15:01

Published: 05 Mar 2012 15:01 GMT+01:00

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The world's biggest watch event opens in Basel this week on the back of a bumper year thanks to Asian demand for luxury timepieces.

Whether this hunger will extend to the expected star of the show -- a $5 million diamond-laden model by Hublot -- is unclear but with 1,815 exhibitors from 41 countries, high-range watch devotees can expect to see something they like.

The watch and jewellery event brings together names such as Rolex, Dior and Chopard who will present their most prestigious collections to around 100,000 visitors over eight days.

The watch industry, dominated by the Swiss, has largely been spared the effects of the financial downturn and eurozone crisis which have hurt other sectors.

Swatch, the world's largest watch group, posted record sales of 7.1 billion francs ($7.4 billion) in 2011 and saw a 18.1 percent jump in net profit to 1.3 billion francs

The Bienne-based giant, owner of numerous brands such as Omega and Tissot, said 2012 had got off to a similarly good start with double-digit growth in January in February, although for the full year the figure is expected to even out to between five and 10 percent.

Group director Nick Hayek said he hoped to create 1,000 new jobs worldwide this year.

The main reason for the healthy business across Swiss brands is Asian demand, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

"After a fantastic year in 2011 -- a new record year for the Swiss watch industry -- the growth will continue in 2012, said president Jean-Daniel Pasche.

"This is mainly down to Asia -- our first market ahead of Europe and America.

"We profit off the general growth of the economy in the region -- there are many people who have the means to acquire a Swiss watch. They find our products very attractive.

"Despite the turbulence I would say that our industry is resisting very well," said Pasche.

"We hope that Baselworld will open in a rather good atmosphere for the Swiss watch industry -- generally speaking we are in a positive mood."

Hublot, a subsidiary of French luxury goods group LVMH, will use the high-profile event to unveil "The $5 million", a watch comprising no less than 1,282 diamonds.

"This is the most precious watch ever created by Hublot and its long-standing partner, Atelier Bunter in Geneva," said Hublot.

The piece is the result of 14 months work, including that of a "master-cutter" from New York who fashioned the largest stones.

Story continues below…

The watch will be displayed under very tight security, a company spokeswoman said, and only select Baselworld attendees will even be allowed to view it.

Swiss police only last month revealed they had identified the man responsible for organising a spectacular eight million franc diamond robbery at last year's event.

Thieves made off with a set of four diamonds from a window after distracting booth staff. They have not been recovered.

Investigators believe the heist was the work of an Eastern European group specialising in stealing jewellery and valuable antiques.

An international arrest warrant is out for a 54-year-old Croatian man.

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