Swatch Group (SWGAY) and other Swiss watchmakers may be facing a sea change in the global time piece market as a steep decline in exports suggests Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and other tech-sector challengers are continuing threaten the dominance of conventional European crafters.
The export value of Swiss watches has fallen 10.4% in the eleven months through November, compared with a 3.2% drop in 2015, according to data published Tuesday by The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry thanks in part to a 22% decline over the past two months. Overall Swiss watch exports fell 5.6% last month, the Federation said, narrowing from the 16.4% decline in October. Wrist watch sales fell 4.6% after a sharp 15.9% October decline.
The sales slump has been played out in the share prices of Switzerland's two biggest watchmarkers -- Swatch and Richemont (CFRUY) -- both of which have significantly underperformed the wider luxury market. Swatch has fallen 12.1% so far this year while Richemont has fallen 6.9%, both outpacing the 2.1% decline for the benchmark S&P Global Luxury Index.
The Federation's figures and the market reaction mirrors a cautionary note from UBS analysts in September, which said the Apple Watch is posing an increasing threat to the Swiss luxury sector - particularly the cheaper quartz-based potion of the iconic industry.
UBS also said Apple Watch sales will pose more of a challenge to Swatch's mid-range models such as Tissot and Longines than the higher-priced time pieces from domestic rival Richemont.
The Apple Watch comes in three models and price ranges: the Apple Watch Sport, priced between $349 and $399, the Apple Watch priced between $549 and $1,049, and the more expensive Apple Watch Edition. It has also collaborated with Hermés (HESAY) on a watch worth ranging between $1,100 and $1,500.
Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook disputed analyst reports that sales of the Apple Watch dropped 71% year on year in the third quarter of 2016, saying he expects the product to be one of the most popular holiday gifts this year.
The world's biggest tech firm does not break down its Apple Watch sales figures. In the fourth quarter of 2016, during which the Apple Watch Series 2 was released, Apple saw sales of "other products," which includes the Apple Watch as well as Apple TV and iPod, dropped 22% year on year to $2.4 billion. The Apple Watch was initially released in April 2015.
Cook's words were supported, at least by some, in response to a question posed on Twitter by TheStreet's Jim Cramer, who asked for anecdotal evidence to support Apple Watch demand.
However, a strong Swiss franc, as opposed to pure product challenges, may be partly to blame for the tough export results in the early part of this year, as even the head of the Swiss National Bank has vowed to weaken the currency with market interventions to combat what he calls "significant overvaluation".
However, parts of that trend are starting to turn, and even though the franc traded as high as 1.047 against the US dollar in early November, it fell more than 6.4% against the greenback for the remainder of the month as the dollar posted record gains on foreign exchange markets in the wake of Donald Trump's election victory.
The franc's decline helped boost overseas shipments, particularly to China and the U.K., but did little to entice American buyers, as U.S. export volumes fell 18% to Sfr196.5 million ($190.6 million).
What remains to be seen is whether the more competitive export landscape boosts appetite for the old-school 'spring and cog' time pieces or merely confirms that tastes have moved to the more high-tech offerings from Apple and others.