It’s been a tough few years for the world of watches, even with more luxury brands embracing technology. But as fans flock this week to Basel world, the Swiss watch industry’s annual showcase, leaders are predicting uplift in sales.
Last year, sales of Swiss watches fell nearly 10% to about $19.7 billion, François Thiébaud, told attendees in prepared remarks, driven by “uncertainty on political, security- related and financial levels, a downturn in tourism in Europe, and a persistently strong franc.”
But China sales have been strengthening in the last six months. Luxury powerhouse LVMH, says sales in its watches and jewellery division grew by 5%, with TAG Heuer gaining share, in part because of its connected watch. And Richemont, the Swiss parent of brands like Cartier and Piaget, also reported a 5% gain in sales. Swatch’s CEO recently told Bloomberg he predicts sales increases of between 7% and 10% in the year ahead.
Many of the season’s launches are based on innovation, including the new Movado Connect, with a touchscreen powered by Android Wear, and 100 dial configurations. Swatch recently unveiled the world’s tiniest Bluetooth chip, is introducing Swatch Skin, its thinnest-ever.
The show represents how important watches are to the Swiss economy. They are the country’s third-largest export, and while they account for only 3% of the world’s timepieces, they amount to 60% of its value.
But there have been widespread layoffs throughout the industry, as watches struggle to find wrists that love them in a tech-dominated world. And in fact, tech—and digital marketing—may be what saves them. “Following declining sales and profitability from 2014 to 2016, performance divergence between online and offline channels in watches and jewelry is growing, While 2016 holiday sales at brick-and-mortar stores were disappointing, online jewelry sales were up double digits and Amazon sold a watch every 1.5 seconds.