Swiss watchmakers waiting for China to wake up
The major luxury watch brands are banking on the re-opening of China to ensure their growth in 2023 without claiming victory too quickly, as the return of Chinese tourists to Europe is not going to happen overnight.
- 中文 瑞士制表业静待中国复苏
China is a key market for watchmakers, who are meeting this week in Geneva, but watch exports there contracted by 13.6% in 2022 with the country’s zero-Covid policy and the surge in infections at the end of the year. In February, however, exports began to rebound, recovering by 8.2% on an annual basis, according to statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH).
“China will regain a positive dynamic,” predicted Jean-Daniel Pasche, the federation’s president, at the Watches and WondersExternal link trade fair, which brings together 48 brands, including Rolex and Patek Philippe.
With the re-opening of China, many financial analysts have significantly raised their growth forecasts for the luxury sector in 2023. During the lockdown, consumers have built up significant savings, with HSBC analysts pointing out that some estimates suggest 6.6 trillion renminbi (CHF880 billion) of savings have been accumulated over the past three years.
Morgan Stanley analysts expect Chinese consumer spending on luxury goods to increase by 20% in 2023. According to its estimates, luxury goods lovers in China contributed to about 60% of the sector’s growth between 2000 and 2019. Almost three-quarters of their spending was overseas, providing a financial windfall for luxury shops in Europe, although they have become more accustomed to buying directly from China since the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, at a press conference during the watch show executives of Swiss luxury giant Richemont remained cautious. “We’re seeing people coming back to the shops with an appetite to buy,” said Cyrille Vigneron, head of Cartier, the group’s flagship brand, noting that “when such an important market changes its trajectory, it has an impact on the whole of Asia”.
But the evolution of the market in the short term remains difficult to predict, warned Richemont’s financial director, Burkhart Grund, even if he remains optimistic about China “in the medium term”.
Grund saw a “good level of activity during the Chinese New Year” in China but also in Hong Kong and Macao, an upturn that he said extends to Thailand, Japan and Australia and “first signs” of the return of Chinese tourists to Dubai.
“But in Europe, we’re not seeing it yet,” he said.
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