AC­QUI­SI­TIONS

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ AS THIS YEAR SEES TWO STO­RIED WATCH BRANDS UN­DERGO A CHANGE IN OWN­ER­SHIP. By Fran­cis K

24-7 (Singapore) - - Contents -

Harry Win­ston and Co­rum find them­selves with new own­ers this year

Per­haps re­strained by tra­di­tion, changes in the world of high-end watch­mak­ing are usu­ally mea­sured, slow­burn­ing af­fairs. But once in a while, a sin­gle oc­cur­rence re­shapes the land­scape, for bet­ter or worse.

This year has seen two such events, both in­volv­ing ac­qui­si­tions of iconic brands. One sees the in­dus­try’s dom­i­nant force add a daz­zling jewel to its crown; the other up­ends the tra­di­tional East-West re­la­tion­ship of the horo­log­i­cal world.

By sheer num­bers alone, the US$1 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Amer­i­can jew­eller Harry Win­ston by the Swatch Group would ap­pear the more sig­nif­i­cant, yet this pur­chase by the Swiss be­he­moth is merely the lat­est ex­pres­sion of its grow-at-(al­most)-all-cost strat­egy.

Founded by the brand’s name­sake in 1932, Harry Win­ston ven­tured into watch­mak­ing in 1989, and is best known in this arena for its Opus se­ries. Launched in 2001, this se­ries pairs the brand with an in­de­pen­dent watch­maker each year to push the bound­aries of horol­ogy.

The brand’s ad­di­tion to Swatch – the world’s big­gest sup­plier of fin­ished watches and watch move­ments – will add an­other layer to the group’s dizzy­ing port­fo­lio of brands that range from mass-mar­ket of­fer­ings to pre­mium cre­ations.

An­other ac­qui­si­tion com­pleted in April in­volved the takeover of Swiss watch­maker Co­rum by China Haid­ian. As part of the deal, Co­rum chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer (CEO) An­to­nio Calce was also ap­pointed CEO of Eterna, an­other Swiss watch brand owned by the Chi­nese group.

While smaller in scale – 86 mil­lion Swiss francs changed hands – this lat­ter deal could turn out to be of greater sig­nif­i­cance than Swatch’s ac­qui­si­tion of Harry Win­ston, as it could be a pre­cur­sor to more Chi­nese watch com­pa­nies buy­ing Swiss know-how and cred­i­bil­ity to com­pete at the very high­est lev­els of the mar­ket.

In­deed, Hon Kwok Lung, chair­man of China Haid­ian, said that it may con­sider fur­ther ac­qui­si­tions “to grow our busi­ness if an op­por­tu­nity arises”. China Haid­ian plans to use its re­tail net­work in China to help dis­trib­ute and mar­ket iconic Co­rum time­pieces like its Golden Bridge line.

Yet, in­dus­try watch­ers are doubt­ful that the Chi­nese play­ers are go­ing to chal­lenge the gi­ants of the in­dus­try any time soon.

“I don’t see a dan­ger for Richemont and Swatch Group,” said Pa­trik Sch­wendi­mann, an an­a­lyst at Swiss bank ZKB.

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