But executives at most Swiss timepiece firms shrug off any omens of gloom. On the contrary, they say the industry is healthier than ever and that emerging markets like China and Russia should outstrip the effects of
any drop in demand in the U.S. and Europe. "Brands that are well presented in emerging markets will flourish," said Bernard Fornas, chief executive officer of Cartier International. "We've opened recently in Russia, Baku [Azerbaijan], Siberia, China....We didn't have those shops in 2001. China is growing. Hong Kong is strong. We are in a position today that we can amortize [the effects of a slowdown elsewhere]."
Exports of Swiss watches grew 25 percent in January thanks to strong demand for the most expensive pieces, according to the Swiss Watch Federation. Industry growth has been spectacular over the last couple of years, with 2007 a record year for most Swiss firms.
"This year we hope for more than 25 percent growth," said Fawaz Gruosi, ceo of De Grisogono, who said he remained bullish thanks to strong sales in his shops through the first few months of 2008, as well as demand for new watch models.
Francesco Trapani, ceo of Bulgari, said, "Emerging markets such as China, Russia, India and the Middle East, which are more and more interested in high-end watches, are creating a strong basis for the future growth of this business."
Piaget ceo Philippe Léopold-Metzger, said, "Sales continue to be excellent, including in March. Two-thirds of our sales come from Asia, the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe. This should protect us to a certain extent from a slowdown if it were to materialize. Sales are great in Asia, and in northern Asia in particular."