Cautious mood at Basel watch fair

Cautious mood at Basel watch fair

At the end of Baselworld 2014 last week, the organisers of the week-long watch show hailed the event as a success because it had attracted around 150,000 visitors, many of whom were overseas buyers.

But the record turnout at the world's biggest watch fair in the Swiss city of Basel may not translate into another year of bumper sales for the Swiss watch industry, virtually the sole supplier of luxury timepieces which are desired in almost every corner of the planet.

Figures recently released by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry showed that Swiss watch exports rose to a new high of 21.8 billion Swiss francs (S$31 billion) last year, when the turnout at Baselworld 2013 hit a record of 122,000 visitors.

But the increase in watch shipments was just 1.9 per cent above the level in 2012, when exports jumped 10.9 per cent over the previous year. This slowdown has partly led to a more cautious mood among buyers at Baselworld 2014, observers say.

While there were more visitors this year, it was noticeable that the number of novelties dished out appeared to be fewer than the past year.

"Market expectations for Baselworld will be prudent this year," Citigroup luxury goods analyst Thomas Chauvet was quoted as saying in Financial Times as the fair kicked off. "The mood is unlikely to be bullish after a disappointing 2013 performance for the Swiss watch industry."

Consulting firm Deloitte, which is upbeat about prospects for the Swiss watch industry, said in a study, Time for the Future, that watch executives were "cautious about the next 12 months" as customers, in particular the Chinese, had cut back on their spending given the still-shaky global economy.

Despite the bigger turnout, the number of Singapore buyers at Baselworld 2014 seemed smaller this year - and their stay was shorter. At least one major retail chain is said to have trimmed its orders at this year's Baselworld, where up to 80 per cent of global sales of luxury timepieces are sealed.

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