Rob corder
WATCHPRO editor-in-chief and co-founder Rob Corder.

CORDER’S COLUMN: Rolex acquisition of Bucherer may be designed to limit the power of major multiples

Will the likes of Bucherer and Watches of Switzerland Group be allowed to keep growing their Rolex businesses, or will the independents be prioritised and incentivised to expand faster with the brand?

In the immediate aftermath of Rolex’s proposed acquisition of Bucherer, reaction fell into two broad camps.

One group of executives in the watch trade thought they would see little or no change for Rolex, Bucherer, the legions of Rolex official retail partners or consumers, at least in the short- to medium-term; a horizon of around five years.

Another group thought thought it would only be a matter of time before Rolex and Bucherer expanded as advantages became clear for a fully vertically integrated company from the manufacture of components and finished watches right through to retail and after-sales service.

I am beginning to wonder whether a third outcome is in play: that Rolex is actually limiting the power of major multiples and nudging its support in the direction of the most successful family-owned independents.

In reality, Rolex always has every one of its authorised dealers on a tight leash, and has the power to limit or assist any expansion plans.

Acquisitions of any other Rolex retailer (and the same goes for Patek Philippe partners) are far less likely to go ahead unless the powerful brands have given them the green light.

Investing millions in new or expanded showrooms is equally unlikely to proceed unless these brands give assurances that they will be represented in the stores and promise allocations of watches to justify the cost.

So, by extension, what message might Rolex be sending with the acquisition of Bucherer?

First, it is clear that two historic Swiss businesses prefer to remain in Swiss ownership.

This is one reason why Watches of Switzerland Group would have found it harder to buy Bucherer (for clarity, we do not know whether it was ever in the running), and why a private equity play never had legs.

In addition, crucially, Rolex immediately acquires the ability to entirely control the size of Bucherer in the future, and maintains its strong influence over Watches of Switzerland Group’s expansion plans.

My hypothesis is that Rolex likes the current size of both major multiples across Europe and the United States, at least as far as their allocations and number of doors are concerned.

Rolex has always wanted a balance between multiples and family-owned independents, and it feels to me right now as if it wants to put a little more lead in the pencils of its indies.

I see this most clearly in the United States, where independent retailers are suddenly pouring their own money into massive upgrades.

I can reel off more than half a dozen projects that have been announced in America in recent months.

In California, Geary’s in Beverley Hills and Polacheck Jewelers in Calabasas are building vast new Rolex and Patek Philippe showrooms.

Hing Wa Lee is investing $15 million in its third Rolex-anchored megastore in Los Angeles.

London Jewelers completed side-by-side Rolex and Patek Philippe points of sale in New Jersey.

Long’s Jewelers in Boston completed a two-story Rolex showroom last year and is building another suburban multibrand anchored by The Crown.

Alson Jewelers in Cleveland just broke ground on an 11,000 square foot building that will provide a vastly expanded space for Rolex.

Ben Bridge relocated its historic Seattle flagship to give more space to Rolex in a new showroom.

Hamra in Scottsdale, Arizona, is about to move its flagship across the street to create more space for Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Meanwhile Bucherer in the United States is pouring millions into upgrading and converting older Tourneau stores into Bucherer-branded showrooms, but is cutting doors, not growing its network.

Watches of Switzerland Group is continuing to expand in the USA, UK and Continental Europe, but the majority of its capital expenditure is going into new monobrand stores for the likes of Tudor, Omega, Breitling and TAG Heuer in addition to levelling up its showroom experience across Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb and Mayors in Florida.

The evidence may be circumstantial, but this is a trend to keep an eye on in the years ahead.

Will the likes of Bucherer and Watches of Switzerland Group (and I might add Hour Glass in Singapore or Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons in the United Arab Emirates to the mix) be allowed to keep growing their Rolex businesses, or will the independents be prioritised and incentivised to expand faster with the brand?

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  1. Hmmm…. When as a kid back in the 70s, I never imagined a watch company could be so influential… As tiny as a watch is, so mighty are it’s effects!

  2. In the US, automakers are required by law to provide parts to independent dealers, and mos importantly independent service shops. Our business philosophy is an automobile is a genuine necessity living in America, and for that reason needed parts should be made readily available. With that being said, all manufacturers of any produce, including watches, should be required to independents to purchase parts for both service and overhaul. People must be given choices.
    If not, I fear it is only a matter of time before independent dealers and watch repair firms are simply driven out of business after investing considerable time and money in gaining skills, and operating a small, independent business.

  3. Great observation and prescient. Rolex, has always been very deliberate, even in formative post War years being very deliberate in their choice of partners by image and location, creating a territory, so to speak in the marketplace that had only then began to think of luxury as a Category and Tool for increased Profitability. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that they began to exude their Market Position and carefully expand, while remaining totally aloof of what others were doing. While others were looking for growth and Market Share, Rolex, played its own game, and, having the market chase them, guessing as Manufacturers as the Retail Climate evolved. Today, the demonstrable paradigm change came quickly, as it normally does in times of confusion, a Brand see’s opportunity and while consolidating on the surface as others try to react, and Retail Partners who’s generational growth has peaked presented opportunities, that Rolex recognized, Leeds and Son, originally of Palm Springs, then Palm Desert, then as a Partner in the Rolex Boutique in South Coast Plaza to Hawaii, where a booming World Tourism in the latter decades of the 20th Century led to an expansion in Waikiki not concerned with the presence of DFS next door and Wailea and Kaanapali, next becoming Tourneau points of sale, today CF Bucherer, which is Rolex. While others looked for distribution, looked to control, and now, the Table that is Retail in 2023, 120+ years later, has Rolex controlling the board, with LVMH following a similar path, but with Brands, not yet the cachet of Rolex, and Richemont and Swatch struggling to create synergies of Profit, that require their own Bricks & Mortar, while allowing limited competition, which by it’s nature is constrictive. The once and future King, is alive and well in the 21st Century.

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