A Short Exploration of the World’s Largest Watch Groups – The Swiss Giants
We have spent the last few weeks covering Microbrands from around the world, and regularly mention different watch brands and companies. We covered the most famous of them all, Rolex, and looked at why they are so dominant here. Now we will spend some time looking at the very large watch companies from Switzerland and Japan, and explore what they offer to watch lovers today.
The Five Large Watch Groups
All five of these companies are conglomerates, or groups, of different companies, built over the course of decades. They do not include Rolex, a standalone company with only two brands, Rolex and Tudor, that sells around 1 Million watches per year. This week we will look at the two largest watch groups based in Switzerland, to examine some of the interesting benefits that exist because of these business structures.
These five watch companies are the largest watch companies in the world by value of watches sold:
The world's five largest watch companies.
The Swatch Group
This is the largest Swiss watch company and currently has 18 brands, 17 parts or assembly companies, and a variety of engineering divisions for timing systems. There is also a large distribution arm, including 2 Multi-brand networks of shops called Tourbillon Boutique and Hour Passion.
The watch brands of The Swatch Group
These are all watch brands and together produce over 8 Million watches per year. Longines has the highest production of Swiss luxury brands, selling around 1.4 Million, and Omega produces 600,000 pieces a year. Many of the other brands are substantial players in their price bracket.
The other important thing to know about Swatch Group is that they own the movement manufacturer ETA. This company was created through the combination of many Swiss manufacturers over the course of the 20th Century. They are now the largest supplier of Swiss movements to hundreds of watch companies, including many of the microbrands we have profiled this summer.
ETA is the largest Swiss movement manufacturer
The Swatch Group is able to share its knowledge between brands. So while the styling and design of each brand are very different, common parts, manufacturing techniques and material development are used between brands. This is especially true for the more expensive watches from the brands such as Omega, Breguet, Harry Winston and Jaquet Droz. For the mid-tier brands such as Longines, Rado, Hamilton and Tissot, there are many shared manufacturing and distribution efficiencies.
For their customers, Swatch is able to produce high-quality timepieces and distribute them worldwide, giving many people the opportunity to try them on. Their large range also provides interesting options at every price point. The CEO of the Watch Collectors’ Club is currently torn between a new Longines or a new Rado, both at similar price points between £2-3,000. Which do you like best?
Longines Legend Diver Bronze
Rado Captain Cook Bronze
The second-largest Swiss watchmaking group is Richemont, a France based watch and jewellery group. This group was built out of their largest brand, Cartier. Today they own 10 watch brands, all run separately and focussed at the high-end of the market, creating luxury and complicated timepieces. They have no low-end brands or mass-market brands. They sell fewer watches per brand than the Swatch group, with their largest, Cartier, estimated to sell around 500,000 a year, and the next largest IWC follows at around 130,000. This is still a lot of watches but far fewer than Swatch, or even the Rolex group with Rolex and Tudor.
Richemont has a large network of their own boutiques for these brands. As you can see in the image below, they also own multiple online luxury goods sales platforms such as Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, and The Outnet. These networks allow for worldwide distribution while maintaining control over the brand image and quality. This means that customers are able to see the watches in more places, and use trusted online retailers able to serve them globally. We wrote more about buying a watch online here.
Watchfinder is the world’s largest online second-hand watch seller. Their acquisition in 2018 by Richemont shows that the group as a whole is taking the second-hand market very seriously, which further empowers customers to appreciate and trust the quality of these brands.
Richemont Group Brands
The Watch brands of the Richemont Group
They also sell watches Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Montblanc, with Cartier being their largest watch brand overall in terms of production.
At Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, they combine their jewellery making expertise with great innovation, as can be seen in this ladies jewellery watch featuring a mystery dial. This is the name given to a watch where the hand appear to float. If works by rotating two clear sapphire disks from the side:
Cartier Mysteriuse Crocodile in Platinum
What’s good about these watch brands?
Both of these companies offer their customers an impressive offering of high-quality watches across a range of price points with global distribution and a large and accessible servicing network. Their ongoing size and reach allow them to invest in innovation particular to their brands, whether it is in the Master Chronometer certification of Omega, or in the ever more impressive jewellery watches from some of the Richemont brands. Their customers can find them easily, often because they are well represented in airports and holiday locations, especially in Europe and the USA.
We encourage you to see these brands as having an advantage over many smaller brands in that you are more likely to be able to find them to try on, are more likely to find something you like, and they can carry large ranges. Crucially, you are more likely to be able to get the watch you want, as they will not have waiting lists.
We at The Watch Collectors’ Club do not have a favourite brand or prefer larger brands to smaller ones. We are keen to explore all aspects of the watch industry and help you understand what the differences are and what they might mean for you as a buyer or owner. We hope that understanding a little more about the very largest watch groups will help you find the watches you like most. If you like this article, please share it with friends, and make sure you follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn for more.
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