The last quarter of 2005 produced significant signs of recovery in the Italian eyewear manufacturing industry located in the Belluno region, with positive indicators for both turnover and employment, according to a survey conducted by the local industry association, SIPAO. There were also further signs of concentration around the industry's majors, which are subcontracting jobs to the smaller companies mostly at peak times, thanks to better production planning and to more flexible production schedules.

Belluno's eyewear industry ended the year with employment in the district's leading companies (Luxottica Group, Safilo, Marcolin, De Rigo and Giorgio Fedon & Figli) up by 2.3 percent as compared to the end of 2004, when it had already risen by 0.4 percent. There were, however, 5.3 percent less jobs in the small and medium-sized companies and 12.5 percent less employment in the smaller eyewear workshops of the region. The rates of decline for these two types of companies had been much higher at the end of 2004, when decreases of 12 and 28 percent had been recorded, respectively.

In the last few months, orders reached peak levels not seen in years among small, medium and large companies. The luxury market, where the «made in Italy» label is greatly coveted, is back in force, with the sunglass sector leading the current recovery. By the end of 2005 the wave of temporary layoffs was practically over throughout the Belluno region. In fact, the problem is now the opposite: both small and large firms are scrambling to find skilled and unskilled workers to help cope with increasing demand from many parts of the world including Germany, whose market seemed to have dried up altogether.

Activity at the MIDO fair in Milan later this week will show whether this trend is still on. In any case, two major international shows where Italian producers had collective stands earlier this year ? SIOF in Shanghai in February and Vision Expo East in New York ? confirmed the trend, with reports of good contacts and new orders.

As reported in the last issue, Italy's eyewear exports grew by 9.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2005, driven by sunglasses, including a 30.6 percent increase in the fourth quarter. Eyewear was in fact the fastest-growing item on the list of Italian fashion products.