Mar 18, 2010
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Americans, Asians buy more Swiss watches in February

Mar 18, 2010

By Katie Reid

ZURICH, March 18 (Reuters) - Demand for Swiss watches jumped in February as consumers in Asia and North America splurged on timepieces, data showed, adding to evidence that the industry is bouncing back from a steep slump during the financial crisis.

Watches from Vacheron Constantin, a Richemont timepiece brand

Exports rose 14.2 percent in February to 1.2 billion Swiss francs ($1.13 billion) after rising for the first time in over a year last month, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on Thursday 18 March, hitting a positive tone as the world's biggest watch and jewellery fair gets under way in Basel.

"Swiss watch exports showed steady growth in February, providing clear confirmation of the trend of previous months," the federation said in a statement, adding that so far this year watch exports are up 8.6 percent on the same period last year.

The industry -- home to Swatch Group (UHR.VX), the world's largest watchmaker, and rival Richemont (CFR.VX) as well as independents Rolex and Patek Philippe -- is recovering from its most severe slump in over two decades.

Consumer spending on luxury items tumbled during the global financial crisis, and retailers ran down their stocks.

But there are more and more signs that watchmakers are back on the growth path, and the latest set of data is likely to boost the mood at this year's Baselworld, where scores of watchmakers are displaying their latest models.

Hublot Chief Executive Jean-Claude Biver told Reuters on the eve of the fair that he expected his brand, part of luxury goods group LVMH (LVMH.PA), to chalk up record sales this year after seeing strong demand in January and February.

Swatch Group Chief Executive Nick Hayek has also said he expects 2010 to be a record year for his group, which includes brands such as Omega, Blancpain and Breguet.

Investors will be closely watching comments from watchmakers at Baselworld for more clues about the health of the industry.

At 0902 GMT, shares in Swatch Group were trading 1.3 percent higher, while Richemont shares were up 1.1 percent, outperforming a small rise in the STOXX European personal and household goods index .SXQP. (Editing by Will Waterman) ($1=1.058 Swiss Franc)

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