Following the pandemic, the watch industry’s biggest players have made a number of acquisitions that show there are already significant strategic retail/real estate changes happening.
Immediately following the Bucherer acquisition both Swatch Group AG, which owns Rolex’s biggest brand rival Omega, and Watches of Switzerland, which similarly is Bucherer’s biggest retail rival — both publicly traded companies — felt the need to issue official statements (as reported by WatchPro and JCKOnline, respectively) suggesting business would continue as usual. Both statements mimicked Rolex’s official statement and were seemingly made to quell any sell-off of each company’s respective, London and Swiss stock market shares.
Following the initial news, the Swatch Group CEO, Nick Hayek Jr., has further stated that the amount of business that the Swatch Group AG does in Bucherer boutiques is relatively small compared to the Swatch Group AG’s total annual revenue, which suggests perhaps there may be more to the Bucherer acquisition than meets the eye. “After it became known that Rolex was taking over the watch and jewelry retailer Bucherer, a financial blog described how bad that would be for the Swatch Group — because we would make a billion francs in sales with Bucherer. In fact, our 2022 sales with the Bucherer Group worldwide were just 30 million francs or 0.4 percent of our sales,” stated Hayek when speaking to Handelszeitung.
Interestingly, just this month, Swatch Group AG acquired a property on London’s prestigious New Bond Street, which currently houses Harry Winston and is over 6,000 square feet. In the same announcement, Swatch Group also mentioned that they acquired a space on Old Bond Street (which is 3 minutes away on foot), that exceeds 14,000 square feet. It’s unclear what the larger location is intended to be used for, though, considering the size, and that Rolex is opening its biggest store in Europe next door, an Omega or a multi-brand boutique would make sense. Additionally, Swatch also mentioned the acquisition of a third building, from earlier in the year, at the prestigious Champs-Elysées in Paris. Further adding fuel to the idea that a retail/real estate war of sorts is brewing.
Fast forward to today, and multiple news sites (Bloomberg, Perpetual Passion, MoneyWeb, Livemint) have reported that Rolex, via a separate entity (Marconi Investment SA), has acquired the building in Geneva’s most expensive shopping district (Rue du Rhone) for CHF 120 million (approximately $133 million) — which houses rival Omega’s largest brand boutique. Meaning, that Rolex will now be collecting rent from Omega, and at some point could raise the rate or terminate the lease.
This means, that Rolex now profits from the lease at Omega’s largest watch boutique, and is also profiting from all Omega sales, (as well as other Swatch Group brand sales) within the Bucherer retail network.
It’s unclear if any of these acquisitions are strategic moves against primary rivals, or whether they were investments made by cash-rich companies based on opportunities that were too hard to pass up — but the more acquisitions that happen, the more it looks like the playing field is being reconfigured by the luxury watch industry’s two largest players (and longstanding rivals).
Photo by Antoine Antoniol for Bloomberg News.