Swiss watch industry hurt by crisis

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Swiss watch exports fell 7.6 percent in December 2008 compared to December 2007, and the trend is expected to continue through 2009.

They're arguably the finest watches in the world -- and some wear the finest price tags: over EUR 1.5 million for this one. But the economic gloom of the last few months is making a normally high-flying clientele think twice.

Alexis Meyer, Head of "Les Ambassadeurs" Department Store:
"We're selling products of passion not necessity goods so, today, given the economic environment, people are much more careful."

It's here in this industrial zone a few kilometres away from Geneva that most Swiss luxury watches are made.

Piaget sells 20,000 watches each year, with prices ranging from EUR 3,000 to 2 million. The state of the global economy worries them, but the company is counting on Asia to keep afloat.

Philippe Leopold-Metzger, CEO of Piaget:
"We've been working in Asia for 20 years, since the beginning of the 90's. We've invested a lot in China and today the Chinese market accounts for 25 percent of our sales."

Hublot, the elite watchmaker, is one of the rare companies that doesn't seem affected by the crisis -- they're even building a new factory. Buying one of their watches will set you back at least EUR 8,000 but, they say, navigating through these turbulent times is all about having the right tools.

Jean-Claude Biver, President of Hublot:
"To make sure you succeed, you have to have a good compass, and enough water. Our compass is our concept. We know where we're going. And water is our reserves. Our company has no debt."

Others are not so solid -- overall, unions say that one job in 10 will be cut this year in the industry, affecting up to four thousand people.

But the Swiss clockmakers have seen other crises and survived them all. Will they live through this one? Only time will tell.

Text and video: AFP / Expatica 2009

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