BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — In an age when many people carry smartphones that can tell the time — on top of hundreds of other applications — watchmakers are increasingly focused on selling their goods as luxury items.
The world’s biggest trade fair for watches, Baselworld, opened to the public last week and runs through this Thursday, offering a spectacle of bling and highly crafted gadgetry.
Tissot CEO Francois Thiebaud told reporters that the trends for 2013 are mechanical watches, timepieces adorned with gold, diamond and pearls and “neo-classical trends, which probably reflect a certain calm in the atmosphere.”
Jacques J. Duchene, chairman of a committee representing 1,460 watchmakers, jewelry traders and exhibitors from 40 nations, acknowledged the luxury watch industry is out of step with the financial challenges felt by many people and industries around the world.
“In a worldwide business environment, in which there is often no tranquility, solidity or continuity, we are forced to be frank in admitting that the watch industry constitutes an exception,” Duchene told a news conference. “Nonetheless, even in the face of all the economic imponderables, we remain optimistic for the current year.”
He had good reason for optimism: the Swiss watch industry had another record year, with exports totaling 21.4 billion francs ($22.6 billion) in 2012, up almost 11 percent from the year before.
Business is generally good, but it’s still a tough environment in Europe and the United States, said Ulrich Herzog, executive chairman of 109-year-old Swiss watch making firm Oris, which targets what it sees as the growing ranks of affluent middle-class buyers who are willing to spend in the $1,000-$5,000 range.
In emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil “a product in that gap can still attract a lot of people,” Herzog said in an interview. “We have people who really look for something which is in their reach, and represents a value.”