Pragmatic Watches of Switzerland Acquires Roberto Coin
Roberto Coin

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A couple of years back luxury watchmakers could do little wrong other than struggle to keep up with soaring demand. Boosted by wealthy post-pandemic buyers who were feeling their mortality, they wanted to invest in items that could be handed down through generations and prices for new and second-hand timepieces soared. But now Watches of Switzerland is looking to Roberto Coin for growth.

Watches of Switzerland’s CEO Brian Duffy in introducing the Roberto Coin acquisition, said that the purchase was in line with the company’s longer-term growth strategy, and said that the trend in the global luxury jewelry market is towards branded jewelry, which made up 27 percent of the market in 2024, up significantly from 17 percent in 2019.

The luxury watch market includes retailers, such as Watches of Switzerland and Bucherer, plus design houses Richemont and LVMH, both of which make and sell their own brands. The so-called “holy trinity” of Swiss watchmakers comprises family-owned Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and [now Richemont-owned] Vacheron Constantin.

Making Up for Lost Time

A slowdown in demand and a slump in prices has left the market with as many holes as Swiss cheese and the big makers and retailers have switched their attention to the lucrative luxury jewelry sector.  Watches of Switzerland Group recently reported fourth-quarter revenue up a solid 3 percent to over $482 million and also announced a new direction with the $130 million acquisition of Roberto Coin Inc., the North American business division of the renowned Italian jewelry brand. Founded in Vicenza, Italy in 1996, it has become one of the most recognized fine jewelry brands in the world and the sixth largest jewelry brand in the U.S. by sales, with rivals such as Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, and David Yurman.

Watches of Switzerland CEO Brian Duffy said, “Our acquisition of Roberto Coin Inc. dramatically accelerates our luxury branded jewelry strategy, and we see enormous potential in bringing together this iconic brand with our retailing expertise.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Watches of Switzerland has exclusive distribution rights and ownership of the Roberto Coin brand for its North American markets, which include the U.S., Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. Roberto Coin complements its new parent’s ownership of upscale jewelry retailer Mayors and Betteridge.

Currently, Watches of Switzerland Group has 222 retail operations in the U.K., U.S., and Europe, with its U.S. business consisting of 47 retail operations.  In the U.S., Roberto Coin has more than 400 points of sale within department stores, jewelry chains, and independent jewelers.

Reversal of Fortune

In contrast to much of the retail world, the pandemic gave the luxury watch sector a massive shot in the arm. With higher pandemic savings amid a low-interest rate environment, wealthy individuals stuck at home snapped up new luxury watches, driving up demand for second-hand timepieces and pushing prices to new highs. In fact, in the decade from 2013 to 2022, watches outperformed other collectible assets such as jewelry, handbags, wine, art and furniture, growing in value at an average annual rate of 7 percent — and by 27 percent from 2020 to 2022, according to a report last year by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

However, resale market prices for luxury watches have now fallen for seven straight quarters, having peaked in May 2022, according to watch price tracker WatchCharts, which has seen an overall price decline of 13.1 percent in the year to April 2024.

Swatch told analysts recently that although demand was rebounding in Hong Kong, it saw consumers in mainland China continuing to delay expensive purchases amid an overall move towards lower and mid-priced watches. However, Swatch chief executive Nick Hayek argued that a slowdown in prices for used watches was actually a healthy development for the industry, marking the end of a speculative bubble.

“It’s not a decrease in demand for luxury. People will always love a brand that is authentic,” Hayek said. “The problem is when speculation kicks in. People just bought what they could get, thinking, you will always be able to sell it if needed for a higher price. This speculation has gone away…it’s good.”

Second Hands

Indeed, as a result, the secondary market for luxury watches has sunk steadily. The WatchCharts Overall Market Index – which tracks the prices of 60 timepieces from top brands including Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet – has plunged over 30 percent from a March 2022 peak.

And the costliest timepieces have suffered the worst declines. Those in the $50,000-$100,000 price bracket slumped over 15 percent in the past 12 months, while the $10,000-$20,000 group fell more slowly at 10.4 percent, according to the WatchCharts data. And the $5,000-$10,000 band saw just a 6.8 percent drop.  Despite declines over the past year, prices have climbed considerably higher over the longer term, outperforming the stock market. For example, despite the recent downturn, the Rolex index is up by more than 50 percent compared with five years ago.

“Luxury watches have performed well, especially over the long term, in comparison with traditional investment categories. From August 2018 to January 2023, average prices in the second-hand market for top models from the three largest luxury brands – Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet – rose at an annual rate of 20 percent, despite broader market downturns during the pandemic, compared with an annual rate of 8 percent for the S&P 500 index,” BCG said in its market report last year.

Switching Gears

The Roberto Coin deal appears to signal a wider trend. The acquisition came just two days after The Richemont Group reached an agreement to acquire 100 percent of Italian jewelry brand Vhernier for an undisclosed sum, which became the 29th brand in Richemont’s luxury goods portfolio and will join fellow Milan-based jeweler Buccellati, which was acquired by the Swiss luxury goods group in 2019, within the Jewelry Maisons business unit, which also includes French brands Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

The upshot is that luxury watchmakers, having ridden the crest of a wave of demand for both new and second-hand timepieces, have turned their investment interest and increased capital into the lucrative branded luxury jewelry market.

Watches of Switzerland’s Duffy in introducing the Roberto Coin acquisition said that the purchase was in line with the company’s longer-term growth strategy, and said that the trend in the global luxury jewelry market is towards branded jewelry, which made up 27 percent of the market in 2024, up significantly from 17 percent in 2019.

Clearly, Watches of Switzerland’s purchase of Roberto Coin and the Richemont Group’s agreement to buy Vhernier, following its 2019 acquisition of Buccellati, are unlikely to be the last as the watch giants go in search of growth.

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