The trend remained very pronounced throughout the year, with each month showing two-digit rises except for June, which nonetheless posted a 9.2% increase. While the steepest increases (above 30%) were apparent in April and May, the fourth quarter was the most favourable period since it contained the three biggest months in the history of Swiss watch exports.
These excellent results were penalised however by the strength of the Swiss franc, which put strain on margins and selling prices. However the sector drew strength from steady demand and a greater presence worldwide, particularly on high-potential markets less affected by exchange rate fluctuations.
In a partially unfavourable context, prospects remain very good for the Swiss watch industry. The appeal of its high-quality products, growth potential on important markets and investments made by watchmaking firms to ensure their development offer grounds for confidence in the future. In line with this dynamic, the year 2012 is expected to show significant growth and therefore exceed the already very high level of 2011.
Wristwatches accounted for the major share of exports, generating 94% of their total value. This important contribution by timepieces determined the sector’s overall development. Their value rose to 18.1 billion francs, an increase of 19.3% compared to 2010. The number of timepieces exported also showed a remarkable upturn. In twelve months, 29.8 million watches left Switzerland (+13.8%). This is the highest level since 1999 and well above the average figure of 25 million units over the past ten years.
More than one in two watches exported were manufactured from steel. This material showed a positive trend (+12.8%) to exceed 15 million timepieces, on a par with their value at +13.9%. The category of other materials, which includes all non-metallic finishes, saw volumes rise to nearly 8 million units (+18.8%). Among the important materials, the category of other metals, mainly aluminium, registered more than 4 million units (+8.1%). In value terms, gold watches recorded the highest increase (+26.5%), linked to an upturn in volumes of 24.2%. Bimetallic timepieces were not far behind with an increase of 24.7%.
All price segments made excellent progress in 2011, denoting interest among consumers for the entire range of Swiss watches. Timepieces costing less than 200 francs (export price) greatly influenced volumes with an increase of 2.2 million units (+11.7%). Between 200 and 500 francs, growth was close to 20%, both in value and volume terms. The 500-3,000 francs range saw its value increase at a slightly lower rate (+14.9%) but nevertheless played a significant role in the general upturn. Watches costing more than 3,000 francs recorded the highest rate of growth in value terms (+21.8%) generating two-thirds of the overall increase.
Other products exported by Swiss watchmaking firms, mainly components, also experienced a sharp upturn in value (+18.1% to 1.2 billion francs).
The main markets of the Swiss watch industry all gained ground in relation to 2010. Absorbing more than 20% of Swiss watch exports by value, Hong Kong recorded a very strong increase, indirectly illustrating the dynamism of markets supplied by its re-exports. The United States confirmed their gradual recovery by maintaining a high level of growth throughout the year. China moved up one place in the ranking, thanks to the biggest increase among the main markets. European markets all registered below-average performances.
hile France, Germany and the United Kingdom recorded two-digit growth, Italy and Spain failed to match this level. Singapore also moved up one place, following the same trend as Hong Kong. Japan offered concrete signs of recovery, but from a particularly low base.