The British Watch & Clock Makers’ Guild has met with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to discuss the Swiss watch industry’s restriction of supply of spare parts.
The Guild’s Industry Action Fund, headed up by former chairman of the Epping Forest Horology Centre Steve Domb, met with senior officials at the government department at the beginning of November to discuss what it describes as the ‘anti-competitive practices’ of the Swiss watch industry.
A number of Swiss brands such as Rolex prohibit the supply of spare parts to independent watchmakers which prevents all but authorised service centres from working on certain watches with official parts. Achieving brand authorisation often requires a significant investment in specific tooling and equipment required by the brands. While the equipment check lists issued by the various brands frequently feature equipment of similar specification, the brands often require equipment from differing manufacturers, which might result in an independent watchmaker or service centre having to purchase several different pieces of equipment capable of the same job if it wishes to work on watches from more than one brand.
The brands argue that by keeping servicing and repair work in-house or with an authorised service centre they can guarantee a level of quality and better protect the image of their brand.
The situation has been exacerbated by Swatch Group’s recent decision to restrict the supply of its branded spare parts to only authorised service centres for all of its brands, a measure which comes into force on January 1. But a senior figure within Swatch Group recently told WatchPro that despite the general perception that the Swiss powerhouse is not approachable on such matters, in reality it is ‘not inflexible’ and open to discussion should anyone have issues with the policy.
Before the meeting Domb provided the BIS representatives with a background briefing document on the situation and then handed over an information pack relating to how the situation will impact ‘both the consumer and the independent repair trade’.
“When we arrived for the meeting, it was clear that the officials had studied the briefing and were well prepared,” Domb stated. “We knew within the first minute of the meeting starting that we had a sympathetic and knowledgeable audience, because one of our hosts opened proceedings by removing from his wrist a vintage Swiss watch. He then told us about his recent experience of getting an exorbitant quote for service from the manufacture, and subsequently having the work done at an independent watchmaker for about one eight of the price.”
During the meeting Domb raised a number of issues including: parts supply, barriers to entry created by specific tooling and product training requirements of the brands, current EU court proceedings and the worldwide nature of the parts restriction, which no doubt relates to US antitrust legislation.
Domb also discussed the results of The Watch Guy Christian Danneman’s survey that aimed to discover the levels of consumer satisfaction with both independent and in-house service centres and generated 700 responses.
The meeting concluded with the BIS officials providing ‘very helpful’ advice on the next steps needed and contacts at the Competition and Markets Authority.
The news was revealed in an Industry Action Fund Progress Report issued eight months after the Guild hosted an extraordinary meeting of the British horology trade in Watford to discuss the supply of spare parts and other pressing matters such as training.