Jan 19, 2010
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Wealthy set to splurge on Swiss watches in 2010

Jan 19, 2010

By Katie Reid and Silke Koltrowitz

GENEVA (Reuters) - The wealthy are likely to splash out on pricey timepieces this year, bolstering sales at independent Swiss watchmakers Girard-Perregaux and Parmigiani Fleurier, the groups told Reuters on Tuesday 19 January.

Tourbillon by Parmigiani Fleurier

Girard-Perregaux, whose watches can fetch as much as 650,000 Swiss francs ($629,800), is eyeing a sales rise of 5 percent this year after a small drop in demand in 2009, Chief Executive Luigi Macaluso said in an interview.

"China, Asia is driving demand," Macaluso said at this year's SIHH watchfair in Geneva, adding that many Chinese were buying watches when they travelled to Japan, Europe and the United States.

Signs are mounting that the watch industry is emerging from the most severe drop in demand it has faced in some twenty years as shoppers start to treat themselves again after months of restraint.

Earlier this week, luxury goods group Richemont, which competes with LVMH and Hermes, posted forecast-beating sales over the Christmas period.

A return to lavish bonuses for Wall Street's top earners could also give the Swiss watch industry an extra boost in the coming months as the sector's traditional customers start to feel more prosperous again.

"I think we have reached the bottom. The consumer is getting used to working with a more difficult environment ... It is time to live again," Christian Barbier, sales director at top-end watchmaker Parmigiani, said in an interview at the fair.

Sales at Parmigiani jumped 20 percent in December and the group, whose customers include fashion designer Giorgio Armani and German footballer Michael Ballack, is aiming for growth this year as it expands in China, Russia, Singapore and Turkey.

The group already has 250 points of sale across the world and is looking to add another 50 this year, including six ateliers where clients can see watchmakers working.

Parmigiani, whose watches cost on average 50,000 francs, made 4,000 watches in 2009, down from the 5,000 pieces in the previous year. Nearly half of those sold last year cost more than 200,000 francs, Barbier said.

"The consumer is still looking for the best. There was no decline in demand for unique or outstanding pieces," Barbier said.

($1=1.032 Swiss Franc) (Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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