Important watch producing nations

October 2003

When we look at export figures for the Swiss watch industry by country, we make a surprising observation. The nations to which the Swiss industry exports the most watches are precisely those countries that are watch producers themselves!

By decreasing order of Swiss exports, we find the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, France, Great Britain, and Germany. With the exception of Great Britain, all the other countries are watch produ-cers, beginning of course with Hong Kong, the outlet for China and the world's largest exporter in terms of volume, followed by Japan with its four large brands that are formidable players in the mid-range and watch instrument categories.

Germany's watch industry is in a renaissance phase and is a direct competitor to the Swiss industry, namely with its brands Lange & Söhne and Glashütte, but also with a rising new generation of young and dynamic independent German watchmakers. France is also an important manufacturer and is present mainly in the mid-range, although it is traversing a delicate period right now. Italy, a flagship importer country, possesses today a very active watch producing sector specializing in fashion and design. Finally, the United States has a watch industry that manufactures mostly for its local markets but one that is growing every year in terms of niche brands (often in the sports and leisure categories).

During the BaselWorld 2003 Fair, the division of exhibitors by country corresponded closely to the division of watch importing and exporting countries. We should note that these statistics mix watches and jewellery, which explains the particular position of Italy. The importance of Japan should not be minimized by the small number of exhibitors represented.

Italy: Italy is one of the world's leaders in design and is the benchmark country where leading brands often judge their latest collections on Italian consumer reaction.

Panerai is unquestionably the leader and an horological myth in the haut de gamme sector with its 'Big is Beautiful' concept. The style remains popular, so much so that a new Italian brand called Anonim and producing military-style technical watches was recently launched by ex-Panerai employees in Florence.

In the mid-price range Breil is enjoying a particular marketing success with its slogan 'Don't touch my Breil', and Vyler Vetta is trying to position itself in this segment. Perhaps the most popular brand in this range is Locman which produces large colourful quartz watches that have proved to be a genuine phenomenon in Italy. The company has now also moved into the mechanical watch sector.

The most popular brands, however, remain the Italian-origin fashion brands such as Emporio Armani, D & G Time, Diesel, Moschino, Valentino and, of course, Gucci which was 'born' in Italy. These fashion brands have a tremendous appeal for Italian women since they are both affordable and the collections are seasonally renewed to keep up with the developing trends. In Italy fashion watches are a popular and inexpensive alternative to the Swiss brands.

Germany: Germany counts about forty watch brands. Besides Lange & Söhne (of the Richemont group), Glashütte (Swatch Group), Chronoswiss and a few rare independents, the great majority of these brands are active in the mid-range segment of the market.

The uncontested heavyweights in this category are Egana and Junghans. Many other high quality independents are showing advances, however, even if somewhat slowed by the current economic situation, and the domestic market remains quantitatively very important.

Germany has a large potential reservoir of watchmakers and young firms active in the mechanical timepiece sector as well as in design and sports watches. This should help the nation's industry to gradually gain presence and market share, especially in markets that are 'culturally' close to Germany such as the Eastern European countries, or even Russia.

France The French watch industry is in a fragile situation. Historically positioned in the mid-range, long supported and protected by a favourable interior market, traditional French watchmaking is now confronted with new challenges. The explosion of the 'fashion' offer, new distribution networks, the impact of global brands, the qualitative advances of Asian competition in the low-end of the market and Swiss competition in the high to mid-range sectors (Tissot, for example) have all contributed to an increasingly difficult situation for French watch producers.

Often made up of family-run businesses, the French watch industry is now faced with the large groups and their incomparable 'fire power' as well as their superior means of communication .

On the other hand, French watchmaking also counts among its members a certain number of impressive players such as Alain Silberstein and Givenchy, which demonstrate that the potential for development does exist.

The luxury brands, mostly belonging to the large groups, produce in the 'Swiss Made' category and only retain their prestigious headquarters in France in order to maintain a strong foothold in the fashion world as well as an image associated with excellence and the famous art de vivre.

Japan: Japan is a very important watch producer although it has only four major brands: Seiko, Citizen, Casio and Orient. These companies are highly industrial in nature and are completely different from the small to mid-sized brands that have long reigned in Europe, particularly in Switzerland. They are vast conglomerates that operate not only in the watch field but in electronics. Backed by large resources and powerful Research and Development departments, Japanese companies nearly wiped out the Swiss watch industry during the quartz revolution.

Today, they are concentrated in the vast mid-range segment where they are formidable competitors, even though they have not yet succeeded in raising their image in line with their ambitions. Having said that, we cannot ignore the potential of these groups whether in terms of product, quality, research or commercial distribution. Although handicapped by their cumbersome centralized structure, the Japanese giants nonetheless continue to improve their 'reactivity' to the marketplace and have made amazing strides in design. History is never written in advance.

United States: The U.S. market is seen by many Swiss brands as the 'promised land' to be conquered at any price. To find one's place there is not easy, however, since this immense and competitive market requires having to set up a very active sales network. To the many brands looking to establish themselves in the USA, we must add that the American watch scene is in full development.

Many brands have visited or revisited the landscape over the last few years. Most are niche brands, whether in the sports field, aeronautics, or in the nostalgic 'revival' arena.

In addition to the powerful groups like Fossil (which grew globally from its strong American base), the most important U.S. brands are tied to the world of fashion, such as Diesel, DKNY, Nike, Oakley, etc. Some new companies are enjoying definite success in the domain of the 'leisure' or 'glamour' watch such as Michele. Attention must be paid to this phenomenon in the years to come because the American market remains relatively unpredictable as to its likes and dislikes.

Hong Kong: More than 75% of Hong Kong's watch manufacturing is what is termed as OEM or private label production. Nevertheless, in the last five years, the Hong Kong manufacturers have progressed quite dramatically in their development of branded goods. In terms of quality/price ratio they offer an excellent alternative to European-based brands - who often turn to Hong Kong for the manufacture of many of their parts such as watch cases and stainless steel bracelets.

The leading names today, such as Voilà, Jacques Farel, o.d.m, Giordano, Triumph, Latitude, Wowi, Tunlees, Momo Design, Renley and Kentex to name just a few, all offer quality workmanship and creative design work in sports, fashion and dress watches and merit the increasing attention they are receiving throughout the world.