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The pavements of London’s Bond Street are still quiet. The one-time UK center for international tourists willing to drop huge sums on luxury watches has been reliant on a much smaller native market, with shoppers more likely to search for that one special purchase than splash liberal amounts of cash around.
Despite being concentrated in a specialist niche, the luxury watch world had always been outward-facing, its brand names a language understood wherever you were in the world. But Covid-19 has changed that, perhaps for the long term.
Faced with lockdowns last year, many high-profile brands, including Audemars Piguet, Hermès, and Rolex, halted production altogether to focus on shifting existing stock. Swiss watch exports plummeted.
But a lot can change in a year. In June 2021, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the industry’s leading trade association, reported that exports were at almost CHF 2 billion ($2.15 billion), exceeding the 2019 baseline by 12.5 percent and representing an increase of 71 percent over June 2020. Richemont Group (whose brands include Cartier, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Montblanc) has seen its share price rise significantly. Swatch Group (Omega, Hamilton, Tissot, and more) saw its share price return to pre-pandemic levels. Watches of Switzerland, the UK-based retailer that has expanded into the US market and is listed on the LSE in 2019, is trading at a record high, with its price up 78 percent in the last six months.
It’s not just the usual names that are doing well. The pre-owned market, previously a pariah of the luxury watch world, is booming. One of its biggest players, Chronext, was expected to launch an IPO in October in hopes of raising $247 million but has since postponed these plans, citing unfavorable market conditions. Chronext joins European companies across a range of sectors in putting plans on ice amid volatility in worldwide equity markets, thanks to soaring energy prices and faster-than-expected inflation. Once the company does list, however, rival pre-owned watch marketplace Chrono24 is expected to follow suit.
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