Swiss watches rebound to beat the pandemic blues

Swiss watch exports rebounded sharply in 2021, breaking the record set in 2014 by rising to nearly 22.3 billion Swiss francs ($24.1 billion, 21.5 billion euros), the industry federation announced Thursday.

A factory making components for Swiss watch brand Rolex.
This picture taken on May 9, 2020 at sunrise in Geneva shows a sign of the Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Rolex above above a factory. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Amid a strong recovery in the luxury sector, watch exports were up 2.7 percent compared to their pre-pandemic level in 2019, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said in a statement — and were also up 0.2 percent compared to the 2014 peak.

Compared to 2020, exports were up 31.2 percent, the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security said, in a separate statement.

Feeling the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, Swiss watch exports plunged in April and May 2020 in the face of the tourism freeze and store closures.

They ended the year down 21.8 percent. The only good news was in China, where sales shifted to local boutiques. But watch exports rebounded in 2021, first to the United States and then to the Gulf countries.

Swiss watch exports to the United States rose by 54.9 percent last year compared to 2020, according to the industry federation.

They also increased by 23.9 percent to China; 36.5 percent to Singapore and 31.2 percent to the United Arab Emirates.

However, exports were still below their pre-pandemic levels in historically-important export markets such as Hong Kong, Japan, Britain and France.

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