The 2016-17 financial year was a record-breaker for Britain’s biggest watch and jewellery multiples. Driven by a post-Brexit vote boom that crashed the pound, the top end of the market was red hot from the summer of 2016 onwards as high spending tourists flooded into the country. But this is not the only story unearthed within our analysis. Mass market brands and even pre-owned watches all contribute to the sales of our top 10 multiples, which collectively added up to turnover of over £1.6 billion. Analysis by WatchPro editor Rob Corder.
In November last year, WatchPro published its first State of the Nation report with analysis of the top 10 watchmaker businesses operating in the UK. This month, we turn our attention closer to the sharp end of the industry, with analysis of the top 10 retail groups operating in the UK.
All of the information is taken from accounts published at Companies House, with the exception of a small number of figures that have been given verbally to WatchPro directly from owners or chief executives.
The major groups operate more than one retail brand in the UK. Aurum Holdings’ figures are made up of sales and operating profits from Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb, Watches of Switzerland, Watchshop and The Watch Lab. UK Jewelry, the UK division of Signet Jewelers, comprises H.Samuel and Ernest Jones. W R Ferris is responsible for Swag and Burrells.
In each case, we are unable to break down the figures into these individual retail brands. Nor are we able to separate watch sales from jewellery sales. Boodles, despite selling top-end Patek Philippe timepieces, is much more of a jewellery business. Watchfinder is the only company that generates 100% of its sales from watches.
Aurum Holdings was the biggest group in the UK in the 2016-17 financial year, overtaking UK Jewelry for the first time over the period that we have looked at. The growth of Aurum is all the more impressive because, with the exception of The Watch Lab, it has all been achieved from building its own physical and online stores, most notably the “golden triangle” of Watches of Switzerland stores in London’s Knightsbridge, Oxford Street and Regent Street. Its private equity owner has not balked at this massive investments, which has rapidly increased its market share, although its operating profit are far from stellar.
UK Jewelry is far more profitable, although the US-based operation has much lower head office costs because most functions are run out of its American HQ.
Beaverbrooks is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, and remains a family business headed by chairman Mark Adlestone, a descendent of its original founder. He was joined at the top table in 2013 by Anna Blackburn, who worked her way up to the position of chief executive from a shop floor trainee position 20 years ago. She joined the board of directors at the start of 2018, a wise move given the dramatic rise in profits the company has enjoyed since she took the top job.
Watchfinder may be the biggest surprise to people reading this report. Few people had considered pre-owned watches as anything more than a low-margin sideline to their more profitable new watch and jewellery business. Watchfinder has proved that the appetite for properly polished, cleaned, serviced and guaranteed pre-owned watches is almost limitless in the UK, recording sales of £86.6 million in its 2016-17 financial year and operating profit of £5.5 million.
The top 10 collectively generated sales of £1.56 billion in 2016-17. That excludes TH Baker, which will almost certainly record sales of over £60 million when its accounts are published for 2016-17. Add in £60 million and turnover will have risen by 7% over 2015-16 and by 40% over 2011-12.
THE TOP 10
- Aurum Holdings (Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb, Watches of Switzerland, The Watch Lab, Watchshop)
- UK Jewelry (Ernest Jones and H.Samuel)
- Fraser Hart
- TH Baker
- WR Ferris (Swag & Burrells)
- Significant others
EDITOR’S NOTE: Accounts published at Companies House do not always tell the whole story of a company’s performance. Businesses legitimately organise their affairs for purposes of tax efficiency, and wholly-owned subsidiaries of global companies can make charges on their UK businesses that depress net profits. In this State of the Nation report, we show only annual turnover and annual operating profit for each company. These are the two most reliable indicators because there is very little creative accountancy that can affect these figures. We also show these figures over a period of seven years so that we get a reasonably accurate picture of improving or declining fortunes over time.