The United Kingdom ended 2016 as the fifth largest export market for Swiss watches in the world after notching annual growth of 3.7%.
The UK was the only country in the top 10 largest countries to register growth for the whole of 2016.
Globally, the total value of Swiss watch exports shrank by over CHF 2 billion (-9.9%) to CHF 19.4 billion, according to the end of year report by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
The biggest four markets, Hong Kong, USA, China and Japan, have all seen imports of Swiss watches fall for the past three years.
In stark contrast, the UK has grown every year.
Britain’s biggest European rivals have seen consistent falls over recent years. While imports of Swiss watches have risen in the UK by 18.4% since 2014, they have plummeted by 14.8% in Germany, 19.4% in France and 21.6% in Italy.
If both trends continue, the UK will leapfrog both Japan and China to become the third largest market in the world for Swiss watchmakers.
There are signs that the global slowdown for Swiss watchmakers is coming to an end. World-wide exports in December were down 4.6%, but this was one of the shallowest falls of the year.
Britain is leading the world for the quality of its multi-brand luxury watch retailers. Family-owned independents such as Chisholm Hunter, George Pragnell, Rox, David M Robinson, Laings of Glasgow, Laings and Parkhouse, Michael Spiers, Prestons, Berrys, Harrington and Hallworth and many more have invested fortunes in developing luxurious in-store environments across the UK.
The world’s most powerful brands, particularly Rolex, Patek Philippe and Omega, are driving these independents to constantly upgrade the experience they give to customers.
Competitive pressure also comes from Britain’s major multiples. Watches of Switzerland, Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths – all Aurum Holdings companies – have invested millions in the best locations, store interiors, staff and stock. Beaverbrooks and Ernest Jones are slugging it out for the upper mid-market.
In addition, London has the finest luxury watch department stores in the world with the Selfridges Wonder Room run by The Watch Gallery and Harrods Fine Watch Room constantly working to out-perform each other.
Even our international airports are catching up – although it is hard to argue that investment in Heathrow compares to Dubai, Singapore or Hong Kong. But the price advantage enjoyed by British duty free boutiques this year has made them world-beaters.
One of the greatest strengths of all these retailers is their customer understanding. There is no one-size-fits-all model to attract customers to buy watches priced at four figures or more, but they all bring people into their stores, make them feel comfortable and in the mood to buy, reassure them with expert advice on Swiss watches, and ultimately close the sale.
They say we are nation of shopkeepers, and in few markets do we demonstrate such global superiority as in the sale of luxury watches.