Geneva luxury watch fair returns under shadow of Ukrainian war

Switzerland’s top luxury watch fair will
resurface this week in Geneva after two years of pandemic-induced virtual
shows, but Ukraine’s raging conflict and Covid lockdowns in China could dampen
the mood.

The Watches and Wonders show, taking place from Wednesday until April 5,
will this year see 38 of the biggest high-end watch brands, including Rolex,
Patek Philippe, Cartier and Tag Heuer, gathered under one roof.

«We are extremely happy to have succeeded in setting up this major
fine-watchmaking event in a difficult health and human context,» Emmanuel
Perrin, head of the Foundation High Horology (FHH) said in a statement.

«After two years of pandemic and 100 percent digital editions, it was
important to be able to gather again the main actors of our industry.»

High-end watch fairs have long been a fixture in Switzerland, where nearly
57,500 people work in the country’s world-renowned watchmaking industry.

Many retailers make an annual trip to Switzerland during the fair season to
put in orders for the year.

But in the digital age, this show has also become a precious communications
tool for reaching watch fans, with videos and presentations from the event
available to all online.

Triumphant return?

The 2022 edition, being held in Geneva’s Palexpo conference centre, had
been expected to signal the triumphant return of in-person hobnobbing over
exquisite timepieces, and booming business for their creators.

After taking a beating during the first pandemic year in 2020, when exports
plunged 21.8 percent, the Swiss watchmaking industry saw a spectacular rebound
last year.

Watch exports soared 31.2 percent in 2021, according to Swiss customs,
surpassing not only their pre-pandemic level, but also the record-high of 2014.

And during the first two months of this year, exports swelled nearly 15.7
percent compared to the same period last year, according to the Federation of
the Swiss Watch Industry.

But the devastating conflict in Ukraine has put a damper on the jubilant

At first glance, Russia’s invasion should not have much impact on the

Russia represented only 1.1 percent of Swiss watch exports last year, and a
number of brands halted their exports to the country even before luxury goods
were included in the European sanctions imposed over the war.

Strong shape

However, the sector is heavily dependent on tourism and on consumer
confidence, both now dealt a fresh blow after two years of Covid chaos.

And Russia also happens to be a major supplier of diamonds, gold and other
precious metals used by high-end watchmakers.

Ongoing large-scale Covid lockdowns in China — one of the biggest markets
for Swiss watches — has also cast a shadow over the industry and this week’s

Some analysts have already lowered their 2022 forecasts.

Jon Cox, a top industry analyst with the Kepler Cheuvreux financial
services company, recently slashed his outlook for the year from eight-percent
growth to five, pointing to the drop in sales in Russia and on wealthy
Russians travelling abroad — plus the conflict’s impact on European clients
as a whole.

«Psychologically, when you have a war on the doorstep you are probably less
likely to go out and buy luxury goods,» he said.

However, he insisted Swiss watchmakers still had a lot to celebrate.

«Excluding what’s happening in Ukraine, the watch industry is in very
strong shape,» he said, «probably the strongest it’s been for decade or so».(AFP)

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