Swiss watch exports swelled to a record high in 2014, customs data showed Tuesday, but the data doesn't augur well for the future as they slowed in December, in particular in the key Chinese market.
Swiss watch exports last year ticked in at a historic 22.2 billion Swiss francs ($23.9 billion, 21.1 billion euros), the Customs Administration said.
The 1.9 percent increase from 2013 matched the growth rate that year.
After a sharp slowdown in 2009, Swiss watch exports have hit new heights year after year, with the sector long seeming immune to the economic and financial crises rocking the globe thanks to Chinese consumers' appetite for luxury goods.
But after three years of double-digit growth, exports to China took a hit amid efforts to crack down on corruption in that country by banning extravagant gifts like prestigious watches to public officials.
The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FHS) noted that despite reaching a new record last year, 2014 closed on a negative note for watch exporters,
"In December their monthly value was 1.8 billion francs, down 2.5 percent on the previous year despite one extra working day," the federation said.
Exports to Hong Kong, a key market for Swiss watchmakers, fell 10.3 percent as the city continued to feel the impact of widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in the preceding months.
"Hong Kong failed to get back on track after the month of November, indicating low levels of new stock in the wake of the autumn demonstrations," FHS said.
And exports to the vital Chinese market meanwhile fell 27.2 percent in December.
"Following over a year of destocking, there have been no major signs of improvement in Swiss watch exports, in particular into Greater China," Citigroup analyst Thomas Chauvet said in a note.
The comparative weakness in December is at least partially linked to the Chinese calendar, since watch shops in the country were stocking up at the end of 2013 for the Chinese New Year, which fell on January 31 last year, he said.
This year, the holiday will be celebrated later, on February 19, so the demand was lower at the end of 2014.
The analyst meanwhile noted with concern that the FHS had not yet provided any outlook for exports in 2015.
This year got off to a tough start for the watch industry, after the Swiss central bank suddenly decided to allow the Swiss franc to float, sending it skyrocketing nearly 30 percent against the euro in a matter of minutes.
As exports account for most sales, this could hit Swiss watchmakers hard. They must now sell far more many watches or raise prices in euros and dollars to cover their costs at home.
Investors, who have shunned many watchmakers since the central bank move, were enthused by Tuesday's news, with timepiece making giant Swatch seeing its share price jump 1.50 percent. Shares in luxury group Richemont, which counts Cartier and Piaget among its brands, soared 2.73 percent in midday trading.