The Watch Gallery confirmed yesterday that it faces a future under new ownership after agreeing to be taken over by Bucherer, one of the most prestigious names in global watch retailing.
The landmark deal, which brings one of the giants of European watch retail into the UK market for the first time, will eventually see Bucherer integrate each boutique under its own name as it makes its presence felt in the British watch space.
So what kind of culture and organisation is The Watch Gallery poised to become a part of as it makes its way under the control of its new parent?
For the answer to that question you probably need to go all the way back to 1888. That was the year in which a businessman and entrepreneur by the name of Carl-Friedrich Bucherer and his wife Luise opened Lucerne’s first watch and jewellery store and laid the cornerstone for a successful family company.
While it’s customary for watch brands to make a heavy play on their history and longevity, Bucherer Group truly can lay claim to one of the most established watch empires around thanks to almost 130 years of trading.
But it was the 1920s, during which time sons Ernst and Carl Eduard Bucherer entered the family business, that things really took off. In 1924, Ernst Bucherer entered into a particularly fruitful partnership with Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex.
He decided to include the then little-known watch brand in its range. Today, Rolex ranks as Bucherer’s most important partner. Equally, Rolex regards Bucherer as one of its largest and most strategically significant retail channels in the world.
The third generation of the family came on board in the late seventies and, under the direction of Jörg G. Bucherer, its current chairman, the company expanded into Austria and Germany.
The acquisitions of the Kurz Group, in 1989, and Swiss Lion, in 2001 – both of which targeted the tourist market – bolstered its store footprint and offered the first glimpse of its appetite for growth outside of Switzerland.
Four years ago it opened a store in Paris that ranks as the largest watch and jewellery store in the world. And just last year it opened its northernmost store yet, in the Danish capital of Copenhagen in 2016.
In total, Bucherer owns 16 exclusive stores in Switzerland, 10 in Germany and one each in Austria, Denmark and France. Kurz has 12 branches and Swiss Lion has two stores. Collectively, the business employs some 1,600 staff. Impressively, its growth is understood to be largely internally financed.
Given how things have panned out, it was perhaps inevitable that the business would eventually find its way to the UK. In The Watch Gallery it has found a business that reflects its own ethos around high-end watch retailing and which further enhances its status as a supplier of the largest choice of Rolexes around.
Beyond Rolex, Bucherer is also a major partner of stalwarts of the watch industry, including Chopard, Piaget, IWC; Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, TAG Heuer, Tudor, Baume & Mercier and Longines. It retails its own jewellery range too, with the company’s workshops crafting individual pieces using very rare natural-coloured diamonds, unusual coloured gemstones and much-sought-after pearls.
It has certainly been a busy year for the group so far.
Just a few weeks ago Bucherer unveiled one of its most eye-catching Rolex boutiques yet, at the foot of the Matterhorn in Zermatt – prime affluent tourist country. The complete range of Rolex watches is on display in an Alpine setting supported by service of the very highest level.
And it recently completed an 18-month renovation of its HQ in Lucerne, modernising it from the bottom up as part of a CH15m (£12m) investment. Not surprisingly, the site contains Switzerland’s largest Rolex boutique, spread over two floors.
When contacted this morning by WatchPro, Bucherer declined to add any further comment on its UK plans at this stage. “As a family company we are rather discrete,” explained a company spokesperson. “Our [statement] yesterday is all that we have to say publicly for now about our entry into the market.”
What its owner and president, Jörg G. Bucherer, did say was that the acquisition of The Watch Gallery represents the chance to move the business to a new level by giving it access to the UK’s burgeoning watch market, particularly in the capital. “London is the perfect place to begin this fresh chapter of my family’s business,” he remarked.
If Bucherer can use its heritage, relationships and scale to drive The Watch Gallery’s estimated £75m-a-year business to even greater heights, it could be its most successful story yet.
IMAGE CREDIT: www.bucherer.com