Bad times for watch biz as Basel trade fair opens


The world’s biggest watch fair opened in the Swiss city of Basel on Thursday as a slumping luxury market and the soaring popularity of connected timepieces cast gloom over the industry.
Baselworld is the highlight of the year for watch and jewellery makers, with retailers flooding in to snap up the latest eye-candy for their showcases.
The show this year boasts around 1,500 exhibitors, including leading watch brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breguet and Omega, alongside high-end jewellers like Graff and Harry Winston, and is expected to draw some 150,000 visitors.
But this year’s 44th edition is opening on a sour note, after global exports of Swiss watches plunged 3.3 percent — marking their first fall since 2009.
“The atmosphere is not great,” Tag Heuer chief executive Jean-Claude Biver acknowledged on during a media preview of the show.
“In general, I think (this year’s) Baselworld will not be that bad, but it won’t be one of the best,” he said.
The industry legend who also leads the watch division of TAG Heuer’s owners LVMH, meanwhile voiced confidence for his own watch brand, which he said had seen double-digit growth during the first two months of the year.
This, he said, was mainly thanks to the fact that the company is not among the most exposed in China. After years of euphoric growth, the market there has suffered a severe hit since Beijing in 2013 began cracking down on corruption by banning extravagant gifts like expensive watches to public officials. And since then, the storm clouds have multiplied, with the volatility around the Russian ruble and the pro-democracy Umbrella protests in Hong Kong — the biggest market for Swiss watch exports — also chipping away at sales.

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