Rolex shortage hands advantage to rival luxury watch makers

Watches of Switzerland Group reports doubling of sales in brands including Omega, Tag Heuer and Breitling

Sales of luxury watches jumped during the pandemic. Bloomberg
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A boom in demand for Rolex watches and insufficient supplies is driving interest in other luxury timepieces, the head of retailer Watches of Switzerland Group said on Wednesday;

Sales of Swiss luxury brands Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet showed only “modest” increases in the retailer’s 2022 fiscal year, largely because of a scarcity of the most sought-after watches, chief executive Hugh Brian Duffy said. That drove interest in other high-end brands.

“We more than doubled our increases with them,” Mr Duffy said, citing Richemont’s Cartier, Swatch Group’s Omega, LVMH’s Tag Heuer, Rolex sister brand Tudor and independent Breitling.

The retailer, with 171 stores in the UK and US, said demand for certain Cartier and Tudor models is now causing new supply issues.

“We can’t get enough Santos,” Mr Duffy said of the Cartier aviator watch. “We can’t get enough Tudor,” particularly the brand’s chronograph models, he added.

Those supply concerns may have contributed to a decline early Wednesday in the company’s shares, which traded 1% lower in London after slumping as much as 4.1%. The stock has fallen by almost a third in 2022, after more than tripling over the previous two years.

Sales of luxury watches jumped during the pandemic as cash-rich consumers directed funds usually spent on travel and entertainment towards high-end timepieces. Retailers benefited with soaring sales online and in stores once they reopened.

Watches of Switzerland’s full-year revenue rose 40% to £1.24 billion ($1.54bn) at constant currencies, the company said Wednesday. It forecast revenue of 1.45bn pounds to 1.5bn pounds for 2023.

Cartier has been of the beneficiaries of the boom in demand for luxury timepieces. AFP

Prices for Rolexes and some other luxury Swiss brands are starting to plateau or decline slightly on the second-hand market after a feverish rise.

Despite that effect, and the hit from plunging stocks and cryptocurrencies, Mr Duffy said retail demand for Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches continues to outstrip supply.

“Demand is just off the scale for those brands. We would love to have more of them,” he said.

Updated: May 18, 2022, 5:26 PM