The extent to which the global supply chain for Swiss watches froze during the pandemic is laid bare this week as export figures show values slumping by 86.4% in April and 79.2% in May.
Across the two months, watches with a wholesale value of $342.6 million (based on parity between the US dollar and Swiss franc) were lost.
In 2019, watches worth $413.8 million between April and May. This year, that figure is down to just $71.2 million.
One crumb of comfort is that exports rose by 60% from $27.9 million in April to $43.3 million in May.
Because the United States had such a strong start in Q1, the value of Swiss watch exports to the country is down by just 25.6% for the first five months of the year (2019: $954.7m compared to 2020: $709.8m).
For the year to May, the United States was the biggest market in the world for Swiss watches, overtaking China and Hong Kong for the first time in many years. Whether that continues will largely depend on the comparative success of countries reopening their economies. Hong Kong and China were both back above the USA in April and May.
April’s figure is certain to be the low water mark for this year because manufacturing has been opening up in Switzerland since the end of May and distribution restarted for most brands in June.