As the luxury Swiss watch brand opens a new boutique in Knightsbridge, Luxury London looks at how Watches of Switzerland took over the capital
According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, last year Switzerland exported 460,000 fewer watches than it did in 2014. This translated into a downturn of around £500m, the first time the country has reported a slump in sales since 2009.
This year, the industry is braced for an even steeper fall. Like-for-like sales in April were down double digits at -11.1%, while, overall, the first four months of 2016 have yielded a 9.5% nose dive.
None of this you would know by looking at the UK high street, where watch shops have become as ubiquitous as chain restaurants and fancy places to get your hair done. The UK imported more Swiss watches than ever before in 2015, around £830 million's worth, the Federation says. By April this year, we had overtaken Singapore and UAE to become Switzerland's seventh-largest watch market, our imports having surged by 30.9% compared to the first four months of 2014.
No other retailer, in London especially, has done more to fuel our appetite for luxury timepieces than Watches of Switzerland. In 2014, 90 years after it began trading on Ludgate Hill, the company opened a flagship store at 155 Regent Street. Setting 12 individual boutiques across three floors of more than 17,000 sq ft of retail space, it became the largest watch destination in Europe.
No other retailer, in London especially, has done more to fuel our appetite for luxury timepieces than Watches of Switzerland
The brand expansion didn’t stop there. Last year, Watches of Switzerland opened stores in Oxford Street, Canary Wharf and Heathrow Terminal 5 – having already operated out of Terminals 3 and 4. The company that owns Watches of Switzerland, Aurum Group, also owns Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths, as well as more recent online acquisitions The Watch Hut and Watch Shop.
Last month, under the stewardship of CEO Brian Duffy, previously president of Ralph Lauren EMEA, Aurum announced it is now responsible for 31% of all UK watch sales – Watches of Switzerland's 155 Regent Street store having reported sales of £82 million in its first two years alone. That flagship boutique, it was announced in 2014, would constitute what Watches of Switzerland called the ‘Golden Triangle’ – a trio of central London showrooms that includes the store on Oxford Street and a newly-opened address in Knightsbridge.
This latest showroom, located at 47-51 Brompton Road, houses the first Patek Philippe boutique in Knightsbridge, a Rolex-dedicated showroom, as well as spaces designated to Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC, Chopard, Breitling, Zenith, TAG Heuer and Longines.
“The opening of Knightsbridge Watches of Switzerland consolidates the brand’s position as the world’s most forward-thinking, customer-focused luxury watch retailer,” says Duffy.
If the UK’s taste for mechanical timepieces persists, it could soon overtake Germany and Italy as the largest watch market in Europe. For that, Switzerland, you can thank Duffy & co.