espite a challenging global context, the Swiss watch industry has shown remarkable resilience. It has absorbed the financial hit from the loss of shopping tourism, and successfully reoriented itself towards local customers, in China as well as in the United States and Europe.
2021 was not just a year of catching up; it was also a record year for exports, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH). 22.3 billion francs is 2.7% more than 2019 (+31.2% compared to 2020) and 0.2% better than the previous record set in 2014.
The FH notes: “Luxury personal goods benefited from the sharp increase in demand in China and the United States, additional opportunities created by digitisation, the use of savings accumulated during the various lockdowns and more significant restrictions on luxury experiences, particularly tourism-related activities.” It predicts that “luxury personal goods should see increased demand in 2022.”
The listed groups also managed to make up their losses, and some even broke records. After experiencing the first loss in its history, the Swatch Group made a strong recovery, posting a net profit of 774 million francs in 2021. LVMH, the world leader in luxury goods, reported record turnover of over 64 billion euros, and a net profit of 12 billion euros, a significant increase on pre-pandemic levels. As for Richemont, the group announced that revenues were up 35% for the quarter ending December 2021.
But outside the groups, another strong signal of this period, driven by the success of independent brands (both small and large), is the deconsolidation that seems to be emerging after two decades of takeovers by the luxury giants. Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux, now out of the Kering group, will be able to make the most of the premium that seems independent brands seems to be enjoying. Others, perhaps, will follow.
Clearly, post-Covid watchmaking is not the same as it was in 2019. We’re seeing ever more marked polarisation towards the market behemoths, whose desirability has dramatically increased; a significant structural decline in volumes (15.7 million units exported in 2021, a drop of 4.9 million compared with 2019), particularly in the entry-level segment; and an increase in the average watch price.
The entire ecosystem, starting with the subcontractors, will have to adapt to this increasingly less “industrial” industry. It is up to everyone to find their own creative formula if they are to stand alongside the winners of the recent shakedown. The 2020s will almost certainly be defined by this newly created landscape.