The sale of Corum to Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group — formerly known as China Haidian — has been one of a handful of deals in recent years as even established Swiss watch brands have been snapped up by foreign, often Asian, buyers.
In 2014, Citychamp spent 27 million pounds, $42.3 million at average exchange, for the Dreyfuss Group, best known as parent company of watchmaker Rotary. Boss Robert Dreyfus has since taken management responsibility for Eterna.
Last June saw the surprise sale of Geneva-based Frédérique Constant to Citizen of Japan. Owners Peter Stas and Aletta Bax, an entrepreneurial Dutch couple who created the brand from scratch, had overseen swift expansion — to the extent of commissioning a purpose-built factory in Geneva’s watchmaking heart of Plan-les-Ouates, putting their brand alongside powerhouses such as Rolex, Piaget and Patek Philippe.
What prompted the sale of the company, founded in 1988, remains unclear. Rapid expansion may have made the brand, whose very affordable timepieces were deliberately styled conservatively enough for Far Eastern tastes, vulnerable to the Asian, notably Hong Kong, downturn. Others have suggested the cause was estate planning by the founders.
Despite its relative youth, Frédérique Constant had pushed output to about 150,000 pieces a year and spawned subbrands Alpina and DeMonaco. Peter Stas even boasted the brand had become a true manufacture with its own in-house movements — though the overwhelming bulk came from external suppliers.
Frédérique Constant has by no means been Citizen’s sole Swiss foray. In 2012, the Japanese giant snapped up three smaller Swiss watch or component makers. They included Arnold & Son, a small watch brand, and, above all, Prothor Holding, parent company of, among others, La Joux-Perret, a highly respected movement maker.
Most recently, last August saw the sale of Glycine, a small brand founded in 1914, to Invicta, a U.S. manufacturer that had previously acquired TechnoMarine. Glycine’s owner DKSH, a Swiss trading house focused on Asia, had decided to exit watchmaking after mixed results.
But DKSH’s main watch asset — the much better known Maurice Lacroix brand — has still to find a buyer. Maurice Lacroix has struggled in the tough 1,000 to 5,000 Swiss franc, or $1,005 to $5,027, price bracket, which is dominated by giants such as TAG Heuer and Longines. While Asian — particularly Chinese — interest in Maurice Lacroix has been long mooted, a deal has failed to materialize, suggesting that even potential out-of-town buyers have become much more wary about picking up assets at a difficult time for the Swiss watch industry. Potential acquirers have reportedly demurred because of the price, while the brand now says it is focused on a turnaround to boost its appeal to buyers.