A dispute between Cousins UK and Swatch Group is heading for the courts after the issue of watch brands restricting the supply of spare parts to independent watchmakers took a fresh turn, it emerged today.
As previously reported by WatchPro here, Swatch Group took the decision earlier this year to restrict the supply of its branded spare parts to authorised service centres for all its brands.
In a statement issued to WatchPro earlier today, and subsequently posted on its website, parts wholesaler Cousins revealed that it is currently “vigorously engaged” in court proceedings against the Swatch Group, which it says is trying to challenge its allegations of anti-competitive conduct.
Cousins UK claims the “parts embargo” issued by Swatch Group is a serious threat to the independent repair trade and is actively fighting to restore supply.
Managing director, Anthony Cousins, described the last 18 months as an “incredibly steep learning curve” and said he had been forced to get to grips with judicial processes in different jurisdictions.
“Initially, Cousins attempted to have this matter examined in the European Courts by requesting permission to become an intervener in the ongoing case between CEAHR and the EU Commission,” he explained.
“Unsurprisingly, the Commission objected to this idea, and despite an appeal to a higher court, our application was unsuccessful. At the same time as this process was taking place, I have been very active with the Industry Action Fund, including attending a meeting at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which in turn led to a referral to the Competition and Markets Authority.
“As our understanding of the law and how to implement it grew, it became very clear that direct legal action was the necessary way to resolve this matter, and once we had exhausted all opportunities to be an intervener with CEAHR, our London lawyers sent the required ‘Letter Before Action’ to Swatch Group warning them that unless they restored supply, we would issue proceedings against them in the English courts.”
Mr Cousins said that Swatch Group subsequently launched its own action against Cousins UK in a Swiss Commercial Court, in an attempt to have the court declare that it has not broken competition law. But he said the company was ready to fight its corner.
“Cousins has engaged the services of a highly reputable Swiss law firm, and we are now preparing our response to the court. We hope that the independent repair sector will take heart from our efforts, and give their support in gathering the industry and consumer information that will be needed.”
Watch brands have previously argued 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.
Swatch Group said that it makes no comment on ongoing legal cases.