CORDER’S COLUMN: Today’s opening must be irreversible

Rob Corder.

The resilience of Britain’s watch retailers has been incredible over the past 13 months.

They have kept their businesses alive by rapidly cutting costs and pivoting into ecommerce, click and collect and clienteling.


With the right watch brands on board, demand has remained undimmed, and customers have been willing to buy them in new ways.

Support for colleagues has been exemplary and they have returned that loyalty by working from home for much of the last year on projects that required entirely new skills and remarkable self-motivation.

Retailers in England that reopen today should be congratulated for enduring the toughest trading conditions this country has known since World War II.

Not all retailers or watch brands have been affected equally, as is always the way with any sharp economic shock.

The top end of the market has been supported with high value purchases of rare watches and scarce watches for which there have been enormous waiting lists for years.

Selling high five- or six-figure watches appears to have continued almost without interruption.

Demand for certain Rolex watches has remained so strong that customers have been shopping in bulk — some gambling that buying an assortment of precious metal Datejusts and Day Dates will encourage a jeweller to part with an immediately flippable Batman or Kermit.

Watches of Switzerland Group has seen sales rise during some of the toughest months of the pandemic, proving that customers of Rolex — which generates more than half its turnover — will find a way to acquire them even when shops are closed and they cannot be bought online.

Incredibly, WoSG shares rocketed to over 730p last week, almost three times higher than its initial public offering price of 270p back in the pre-pandemic days of 2019.

It has certainly been tougher for retailers without blockbuster luxury Swiss or Japanese watch brands, but there have been remarkably few casualties.

It has also been much more difficult for brands that have relied on one or two monobrand boutiques in central London.

London’s Bond Street deserted during the lock down.

Multibrands, whether they are owned by major groups or families, have proved to be a more robust business model because the are innately designed to put the customer first, rather than the brand.

Retailers with a mix of ecommerce, monobrands and multibrands are best-placed to capitalise as we emerge from lock downs, because they have what the customer wants, whichever way they want to shop.

At the volume end of the market, the pandemic has simply accelerated long term trends. Digital mastery and ecommerce are critical, and selling watches that are uniquely desirable in comparison to Apple Watches is just as important.

I expect to see a rush for stores this week, most likely followed by a slow down until the next phase of lock down easing when hospitality fully re-opens, making a special trip into a city centre more exciting.

By June, with warm weather encouraging even the most fearful into the open, I think the domestic market will be booming.

It will be another year before overseas tourists return, and by then we will know if Boris Johnson’s pledge to make this return to normality irreversible will have been kept.

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  1. Fully agree with all of the above Rob. My colleagues and I are so happy to be doing what we love – selling luxury watches and jewellery to fantastic customers old and new. Stay safe and best of luck to all in the jewellery and watch world.


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