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America rises to dominate global Swiss watch sales in 2022

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A visitor snaps a picture with his mobile phone at the stand of Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe during the press day of Baselworld watch and jewellery show on March 22, 2017 in Basel. The world's biggest watch fair will open in Switzerland this week, even as slumping exports of luxury Swiss timepieces appear to dash hopes of a market rebound. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Before the Chinese government’s 2013 crack down on high value gifts being given to officials to grease the wheels of commerce, the Asian republic was not only the biggest watch market in the world, it was dominating attention from Swiss watchmakers, leading to preposterous products designed to appeal to only the newest of new money.

For five years after that crack down, Chinese customers continued to dominate global purchasing.

At one point, over 50% of watches sold by the whole of Swatch Group were going to Chinese buyers, at home, in Hong Kong, or other overseas destinations.

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Chaos in Hong Kong as China subsumed the former British colony, and then the two years’ of rolling lock downs and international isolation brought on by its zero covid policy, have seen growth in Swiss watch exports slow in both markets.

Annual exports to Hong Kong were above CHF 3 billion from 2015 to 2018 before plunging to under CHF 2 billion in 2020.

Exports to China have grown throughout the past 20 years, but that growth has been slowing, and the country was overtaken last year by the United States for the first time since 2019.

These trends have accelerated in 2022.

With data in for the first six months of the year, Swiss watch exports to the United States have grown by 31.4% to CHF 1.86 billion while exports to China have shrunk by 26.3% to CHF 1.1 billion.

Hong Kong is down 11.5% to CHF 973 million.

In other words, the US market is almost as big as China and Hong Kong, combined.

That has not happened since 2005.

The latest data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry shows America accelerating and Asia continuing to slow.

Swiss watch exports to the USA in June were up 17.5% to CHF 324.6 million. China was down 6.4% to CHF 230.5 million for the month and Hong Kong shrunk by 31.3% to CHF 144 million.

For the first half of 2022, total global Swiss watch exports rose by 11.9% to CHF 11.9 billion with the top three global markets being the United States, China and the UK.

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