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Swiss Watch Industry Already in Crisis. Now Geneva Show Is Off

Swiss Watch Industry Already in Crisis. Now Geneva Show Is Off

  • Baselworld show evaluating options as coronavirus spreads
  • Industry is reeling as Chinese buy half of its production
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past an Omega SA store in Hong Kong.

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past an Omega SA store in Hong Kong.

Photographer: Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks past an Omega SA store in Hong Kong.
Photographer: Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg

The Geneva watch show was canceled and the rival Baselworld trade fair is considering whether to go ahead amid the outbreak of coronavirus, further complicating a year to forget for the Swiss watch industry.

Swiss watchmakers are bracing for fallout from the viral disease that has killed more than 2,700 people in China and led to the quarantine of some 50 million of its citizens. The country’s consumers buy about one of every two timepieces Switzerland produces.

“Some markets are decimated, like Hong Kong, mainland China and Switzerland,” said Brian Duffy, chief executive officer of Watches of Switzerland Group Plc, the biggest watch retailer in the U.K.

The outlook for the Swiss watch industry is worsening after export growth slowed to its weakest pace in three years in 2019 as smartwatches eroded demand. As brands open more boutiques to get closer to clients and sell more online, they have questioned the value of annual trade fairs.

Shares of Swatch Group AG fell as much as 2.9% to 228.30 in Zurich. A close at that level would be the lowest in more than a decade. Richemont, whose brands represent the bulk of the stands at the Geneva watch fair, dropped as much as 2.8%.

The Geneva show had been scheduled for April 25-28. Swatch also canceled a Zurich show of luxury timepieces earlier this month, saying it wants to protect the health of clients. The company set up its separate event last year after abandoning Baselworld.

The 7% surge in Switzerland’s currency against the euro adds to the industry’s woes, as it reduces the value of timepieces sold in Europe when converted into francs.