Switzerland's fabled watch industry is bracing for a grim year as the economic crisis bites at the livelihood of small watchmakers, experts said on the eve of the Baselworld watch fair.
The annual trade show in the northern Swiss city of Basel, which opens on Friday, is the largest global showcase for the watch and jewellery industry, bringing together companies from around the world.
Executives in the industry travel every year here to view new products and to place orders for the year.
But the host country's watchmaking industry, the world's biggest and a barometer of the global sector, has been struggling in recent months after the bottom dropped out of a booming market towards the end of 2008.
In February, exports plummeted 22.4 per cent year on year.
Major names in the normally steady luxury end of the market, such as Rolex, Girard-Perregaux, Corum, Raymond Weil, Roger Dubuis, HGT, and Cartier's Swiss plants have announced plans to cut work hours or reduce jobs in recent weeks.
About 1,000 jobs have been lost in the watchmaking belt in the northwestern Jura hills, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps estimated.