High-end watchmakers have signalled a shift in strategy with an expanded range of more affordable products to counter a severe downturn. As Hayley Platt reports, the industry is having to adapt to a market with fewer Russian, Middle Eastern and Chinese buyers.
It's not been the best of times for high-end watchmakers. Some of those taking part in a fair in Geneva have had to adjust to a market with fewer buyers from Russia, the Middle East and China. Parmigiani's Marc Gaudreault has had to fire 20 staff in recent months. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PARMIGIANI'S OPERATIONS DIRECTOR, MARC GAUDREAULT, SAYING: "The problem is the momentum. Everybody is talking about crisis, everybody is talking the bad momentum, and that's the most difficult thing, you know, to convince people that even if it's tough it will come back." Swiss watch exports dropped 3.3 percent in the 11 months to November, a loss of almost $700 million. Some firms are now making more affordable styles. Cartier, Richemont's main source of profit, has a new men's watch priced at 5,000 euros. In the past prices for new designs would be double that. Tim Sayler is from the Independent brand Audemars Piguet's. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AUDEMARS PIGUET'S CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, TIM SAYLER, SAYING: "We have a good response to our novelties, so we are confident but prudent, because we know that the environment continues to be very difficult economically, politically." A government crackdown in China on gift-giving is still being felt by watchmakers. And there are other worries, says Audemars Piguet's CEO. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INDEPENDENT BRAND AUDEMARS PIGUET'S CEO, FRANCOIS-HENRY BENNAHMIAS, SAYING: "If there are, let's say two months in a row of bombings in London, Paris and Milan, then it's going to affect travel obviously in Europe. Huge. And that will affect the business." But many are still cautiously confident. Swiss watching makers have seen it all before - the industry was founded more than 600 years ago.