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Collectors angered as brands turn watch servicing into profit centre

Dubai Watch Week (5)

Swiss watchmakers are tightening controls on who can repair and service watches, driving independent service companies out of business and limiting choice for consumers, a discussion with British watch expert James Dowling at Dubai Watch Week revealed.

Mr Dowling, considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on Rolex and co-author of The Best of Time — Rolex Wristwatches, said that the transparency brought to the market by ecommerce sites such as Chrono24 means brands can no longer dictate what people should pay for their watches.

“The market is setting the prices of watches today,” he described.

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Watches with too much supply and too little demand are selling at discounts on the secondary market, while those where demand outstrips supply are listed above recommended retail prices.

However, while freedom and transparency is increasing in the sale of watches, it is being eroded in the after sales market, according to Mr Dowling.

“The thing that irritates me most right now is the way brands are tying service into a profit centre. Brands are pulling parts accounts from independent service centres and that is irritating customers that want choice,” he stated.

A major secondary market watch platform executive, speaking to WatchPro on the sidelines of Dubai Watch Week, said that small family businesses have been driven to the wall when parts accounts are pulled by major manufacturers.

This is a human tragedy for the business owners and is also driving up the price of servicing a watch. “Where we used to pay $250 to have a watch serviced at an independent authorised service centre, now it is $850,” WatchPro was told. “It is also taking far longer to get watches serviced directly with the brands, so the customer is losing out on time and money,” he added.

10 Comments

  1. It’s never been any different, when I started as a watchmaker in 1986 the salaries were so low that codes were used to disguise the cost of the repair from the customer.

  2. Great article Rob. Yes, this has been going on now for at least 5 years. I had been going to my local watch guy here in Miami for decades to get my watches serviced as needed. then one day about 2 years ago, he informed me that he lost his Rolex parts account. after almost 20 years. it was devastating to him. no reason was given. and apparently its happening everywhere. not just miami.

    1. The problem of course is that watch companies have been petrified of attributing a cost to their service departments. Mostly they have hundreds of thousands of parts from their history that cannot be computerised, therefore to turn it into a cost centre makes sense. Also as someone who has been in the watch industry for nearly 40 years I’ve had more trouble with poor quality independent watch service companies than anything else

  3. It’s not even as if some of the Swiss manufacturers do a decent job. I’ve had watches back from servicing by the manufacturer that ran worse than when thay were sent in – and one which had visible damage to the main plate of the movement.

  4. Once again the analogy of a motor car works well in comparison…

    I’m guessing you’ll get the shutters drawn down if you name and shame but could you praise the ‘good guys’ in public? Who are the most ‘user friendly’ watch manufacturers for through life costs?

    1. That is not a fair analogy,motor vehicles are production by independent companies, watches are now mostly produced under the Swatch umbrella. Swatch owns 90% of the industry, so by their limiting parts distribution,people are forced to return their watches back to the manufacturer if their watch needs parts. Can you imagine owning a 20,30,40 year old car and have to take it back to Ford to have a starter motor replaced?.

  5. If the Motor industry did the same then there would be intervention by the office of fare trade. can you imagine BMW Mercedes or VW restricting the supply of parts and the necessary software for there vehicles, and they have tried, then customers would turn away from those manufacturers. this is what is needed to make the watch-houses change their policy. It may be too late for many independents. I know watchmakers who have retired because of restriction of spare parts.

  6. I’ve been banging on about this situation for years. I too have worked in a Major brand service center. and have seen what some “hacks” have done. We always pointed out to the customer to check qualifications of the repairer. However in the days after I have left the “Company” and set up on my own in the days when it was only a matter of sending an order to the relevant company to get parts repairs were not only successful but also profitable but since then I am spending lots of time trying to source parts often getting then from Fleebay and questionable origin. My customers are desperetly dissapointed. And often come back after their watch has been serviced at the service center complaining about the time delay and COST

  7. Well , as the brands cull retail agents and sell their own products either online or through their own Boutiques the brands are themselves setting their own markets . The ease at which certain brands can be bought by third party dealers and resold though agents is diminishing and with brands that are becoming unpopular discounts can be had but thats nothing to do with `transparency` its just plain market conditions .
    Market price will always find a level regardless what product you are selling and we are seeing a shift in buyers choice in relation to aspiration .
    One could also point out that watch movements are being made from parts that will be guaranteed to fail over a much shorter distance , planned obsolescence , and thus returns to the brands under warranty or otherwise will be vastly increased. Why should third party repairers enjoy increased income levels on the back of a cleverly constructed and thought out brand devised plan .Where in many cases brands rarely do any movement repair but choose to replace a complete unit as the cost of production due to technological manufacturing advancements is far far cheaper and the skill set and training levels can be much lower .

    1. I don’t see it as a ‘cleverly constructed and thought out brand devised plan’. It is monopolising the market, which is illegal and ethically wrong.
      ‘Market price will always find a level regardless what product you are selling’, only if it is a fair marketplace, which it is obviously not. Third party repairers should benefit from having parts to use, just as a mechanic does when repairing your car, or a heating engineer when mending your boiler. It has to be a fair playing field for market forces to work, rather than being deliberately orchestrated to suit swatch group who patently want their cake and eat it. This attitude has to confronted and stopped in watch manufacturers.

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Tags : dubai watch weekJames Dowlingwatch servicing
Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder