The sales of pricey Swiss watches such as Rolex, Breitling and Omega have risen for the first time in eight years, defying the tough consumer market.
Steel luxury watches were the most bought, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
“Watches priced at over Sh62,000 export price, which account for over a third of volumes grew uniformly in both value and number of items. The Sh25,000 to Sh62,500 range continued on a significant downward trend that has persisted almost uninterrupted since early 2020. Conversely, watches priced at under Sh25,000 recorded their sixth positive month of the year,” the federation said.
Total exports rose 8.3 percent in July compared to the same month in 2021 to Sh276 billion ($2.3 billion).
Africans have so far bought 88,941 pieces of Swiss luxury timepieces this year, representing a small market as Americans remain the top buyers, followed by Chinese, Hongkongers and Japanese.
Africa represented only one percent of the luxury watch market. Last year, Africans bought 176,788 pieces compared to Asians who purchased 6,970,939 units.
Demand for luxury watches has been soaring after many cash-flush consumers discovered Swiss brands from Rolex and Omega to Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe while stuck at home during the pandemic.
So why are Swiss watches expensive? The watches come in different types; chronograph, chronometer, and complication.
A chronograph is a timepiece containing two independent measuring systems: one tells the time, the other records short times. Second, minute and hour counters can be started and stopped on demand to directly measure the precise duration of a phenomenon.
A chronometer is a watch whose movement has been tested for accuracy by an official timing bureau. The demands are very high: only a few seconds of variation per day under the most difficult temperature and position conditions normally encountered.
A complication is an additional indication that differs from the simple timekeeping function. The chronograph, striking mechanisms, repeaters, perpetual calendars, phases of the moon and multiple time-zones are all examples of complications.
Swiss watches cover the entire price range, from entry-level models to high-end luxury timepieces. Some have a price tag that can seem high, but which is justified for many reasons.
“Generally speaking, because of the nature of their movements, mechanical watches are more expensive than quartz watches. However the other components of the watch can also be decisive in terms of price,” says the federation.
The production of quartz or mechanical movements is at the cutting edge of technology. Mechanical movements are manufactured with meticulous care. In some cases, finishing is carried out by hand: steel is polished, bridges are decorated and chamfered. Components of the highest quality are scrupulously monitored to meet very strict manufacturing standards.
Many different kinds of material may be used to manufacture the case, including in particular plastic, steel, ceramics and precious metals. In most cases, the metallic composition of the case is indicated on the case back or in accompanying documents.
Plastic cases are comparatively less expensive and can be found most frequently on economical “fashion” watches. Steel, which is not a precious metal, is often used in the manufacture of sports watches.
The price of gold-plated watches varies according to the fineness (14 carat, 18 carat for example) and thickness of the plating, which can range from five microns to 40 microns or more.
Meanwhile, the price of watches manufactured entirely from precious metals varies according to the cost of the metal itself (gold, silver, platinum) and the difficulty of working it.