It has been anecdotal until now: hugely successful American watch and jewelry retailers complaining that Watches of Switzerland is getting preferential treatment when it comes to unicorn watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
Now it has been confirmed directly by Watches of Switzerland in its end of year report for 2019 that ended April 30 and in a subsequent conversation with the group’s chief executive Brian Duffy.
“The view in Switzerland is that the UK is a very good market — disciplined, growing well and consistently high quality of presentation. As a market overall, I think we are favored. Within the market, investing and expanding is the only reliable thing you can do to positively influence availability,” Mr Duffy told WatchPro when asked about how the big three brands are responding to global shortages of their key steel sports models.
“It continues to be an important subject for all retailers of Rolex, Patek and AP world-wide. What we need to keep doing is investing, expanding and elevating. As you do, you are more likely to get support from these brands. That is the only thing that we have found to be reliable. Overall, the brands are very fair in how they allocate stock,” Mr Duffy adds.
American retailers are frustrated when they have to tell long-standing customers that there are massive waiting lists for unicorn models like Patek Philippe’s steel Nautilus, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oaks, and Rolex Submariners, GMT Master IIs and Daytonas, only to hear that these same customers have been able to walk into one of Watches of Switzerland’s new stores in New York and Las Vegas and buy the models immediately.
When Tourneau completes the transformation of its New York flagship Time Machine, with the power of Switzerland-based Bucherer behind it, the challenge could become even more acute.
From the brands’ perspective, the insatiable demand for its watches is creating a virtuous circle where allocations can be used as incentives to make retailers invest more in the size and environment of their stores. This in turn stimulates additional customer demand.
That is driving more retailers to allocate more space to Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet in the form of larger shop-in-shops, branded frontages and monobrand stores, often at the expense of lesser watch brands and jewelry.
Whether America’s independent multibrand jewelers will be prepared to go as far as The Watches of Switzerland Group, which now generates 81.6% of group sales from luxury watches, remains to be seen.