Consumer

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

Swiss watch sales are finally shining like a diamond-encrusted timepiece. But don't get carried away thinking the sparkle is assured.

Bling Binge
Swiss watch exports have risen for each of the past three months
Source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry

After a decline in April, exports have risen for each of the past three months, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Even exports to the U.S. registered growth in July.

The Rooster Crows
The rebound in watch demand has been led by China and Hong Kong
Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry

Swiss watch sales are certainly in better shape than they were a year ago, but so are the valuations of the watch makers Richemont and Swatch.

Their price earnings ratios are near to 10-year highs. That's partly because of a collapse in earnings. But it also reflects optimism about the strength of the luxury rebound.

Keeping Time
Swiss watchmaker's valuations are close to 10-year highs on expectations of recovery
Source: Bloomberg

This time around, the industry's year-on-year comparison was particularly undemanding, since Swiss watch exports fell 14.1 percent in July 2016. From here, comparisons become progressively more difficult. While the recovery is gaining pace it's still fragile, and demand is vulnerable to a fresh bout of nervousness among consumers or any events that deter Chinese tourists from travelling.

What's more, both Richemont and Swatch have their own issues to contend with. Richemont's highly regarded head of watchmaking, Georges Kern, recently resigned to become chief executive of Breitling. Swatch, meanwhile, is at risk from the decline in demand for lower-priced timepieces as smartwatches gain traction. Exports of watches priced below 200 Swiss francs ($207.2) plunged in July.

High Life
Exports of lower-priced watches slumped in July
Source: Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry

With Swiss watch exports now increasing for four months out of five, there are hopes that the industry is finally turning the corner.

But as Gadfly has argued, this won't be a straight line improvement. With valuations as pricey as a top-of-the-range Rolex, any hiccup in demand could easily dull investors' newfound love of bling.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jennifer Ryan at jryan13@bloomberg.net