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