Italy was the main European customer of Swiss watchmakers in 2014. She bought that year for a whopping 1,23 billion francs Swiss Luxury watches. Their exports to the Transalpine have not even increased since 2009 while in France and Germany, the other major customers of the continent, sales are decreasing.

Astonishing The Italian economy is doing worse than that of its northern neighbors: its GDP contracted by 0.4% last year after falling by 1.7% in 2013 and 2.8% in 2012. Three years of recession that has pushed unemployment to heights that even the French do not know. Italy is also less populated. Each Transalpine spends on average more than the Germans, the French and the British.

Italy is in crisis

Do they prefer cheaper models? Admittedly: 30,764 kg of quartz watches went to Italy last year, while the total weight of the high-end mechanical models they imported did not exceed 7431 kg, according to Swiss customs. In other words, Verdi compatriots crack more for Swatch than for Patek Philippe.

In value, it is the opposite: 980 million francs were disbursed in 2014 in this country for mechanical calibres, against 201 million for their cousins ​​quartz. Proportions found in other major customers of the continent. They explain all the new sales in Italy less than in the mechanical segment where this country remains the most expensive.

The Mafia Wrong path. The Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta and other sponsors have been involved in watch traffic, but counterfeits traveling the other way: from Asia to the European ports of Naples to Hamburg via Piraeus.

“The purchasing power of the rich does not always vary like that of the average consumer. We have seen cases where luxury watches were a safe haven in times of crisis “, according to Jean-Daniel Pasche, President of the Swiss Watch Federation. The number of rich is not so high in Italy: 281 000 millionaires have made their home, according to a ranking of the Boston Consulting Group. Which places the country among the ten nations to welcome the most millionaires, in front of France. But far behind Germany and the United Kingdom.

The love Of Appearance

Last year, Italy was the fourth-largest supplier of watch products to Switzerland – mainly exporting wrist watch boxes. But France (3rd) and Germany (5th) are also among its key partners. Shipments from a parent company to its branch are considered exports, but watchmakers do not have more subsidiaries in Italy than in France and Germany, according to Swiss customs. These new links do not explain anything.

Are we dealing with a transit land?

Not that we know: “No data identifies this kind of trade, whether official and not, and there is no indication that this transit is important and more developed in Italy than elsewhere,” according to Mario Peserico. The president of the Italian Watchmaking Association explains differently the success of the small Swiss caliber in his country: “Italians like to dress and wear beautiful watches, even in the less prosperous regions of the south. We buy it, we receive it as a gift, at our wedding, at retirement, much more than in the countries of the North. ”

Monobrand shops dedicated to our watchmaking, we hardly find in the Scandinavian countries. In the South, they abound. The Transalpines are inundated with outlets with Swiss Luxury watches. Their love for these beautiful miniatures does not date from yesterday. From 1988 (Swiss customs have no previous data) to 2007 , the country has almost every year been their first European importer. The Transalpines are now only taking the hand, which in these times of crisis is still not explained.

Chinese tourism Tourism is on the rise, however, is not trivial. “Luxury watches are often bought when people have time when they are on vacation,” notes Jean-Daniel Pasche. A Credit Suisse study confirms that single-brand watch shops favor tourist regions. It is found in the Caribbean Islands, Barbados, Las Vegas, Miami, New York. But also in Rome, Milan and Florence.

Chinese visitors, who are said to be the biggest spenders in the world in front of the Americans, are crazy about Swiss Luxury watches. These two nationalities are still more represented in the south of the Alps. In Italy, a country of shopping, they would let loose on luxury goods. “We do not have precise figures, but we say that on some known brands especially in China, 90% of sales are Chinese,” according to Mario Peserico. But it is also the case in France, first tourist destination in the world and other privileged land of the purchases, where the exports of Swiss Luxury watches decline however. The Italian success remains a bit mysterious.

The compatriots of Mao are also more and more numerous in Swiss shops, where they often take advantage of tax refunds. After the Alps, the Chinese generally leave for Venice, Milan or Paris, and at the border, their acquisitions are cleared. But not counted as exports.