LONDON — Compagnie Financière Richemont is tightening its grip on high-end watch sales with the purchase of Watchfinder.co.uk Limited, a purveyor of pre-owned watches online and through seven brick-and-mortar stores.
Richemont, whose brands include Cartier, IWC, Panerai and Jaeger-LeCoultre, has only just begun to embrace the digital world with its purchase Yoox Net-a-porter Group. It has also been a stranger to the pre-owned market, preferring to sell new watches and keep a tight grip on their distribution.
The luxury giant said Friday it has acquired 100 percent of the share capital of Watchfinder in a private transaction with shareholders. It describes the omnichannel retailer as the leading pre-owned premium watch specialist and said there are opportunities to help it grow further.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Established in 2002 in the U.K., Watchfinder is run by its cofounder Stuart Hennell and has become the go-to site for researching, buying and selling premium pre-owned watches, both online and through its seven boutiques, according to Richemont. Watchfinder also operates a qualified customer service center and employs approximately 200 employees worldwide.
Johann Rupert, chairman of Richemont, said that, together with YNAP and its stake in Dufry, “the acquisition of Watchfinder is another step in Richemont’s strategy. It will enable us to better serve the sophisticated needs of a discerning clientele.”
He noted that 16 years ago, Watchfinder’s founders foresaw the need for an online marketplace for premium pre-owned timepieces.
“Watch enthusiasts themselves, they established Watchfinder to provide excellence in customer experience. We believe there are substantial opportunities to help grow the company further. Today, Watchfinder operates both as an online and off-line business in a complementary, growing, and still relatively unstructured segment of the industry.”
Rupert said he wants to ensure that Watchfinder “remains the compelling destination for premium pre-owned timepieces.”
The transaction is expected to close in the summer and will have no material impact on Richemont’s consolidated net assets or operating result for the year ending March 31, 2019, the company said.
The group, which is close to selling its Lancel brand to the Italian firm Piquadro, has been streamlining and reorganizing the business structure with a greater focus on digital selling and tighter distribution — of watches in particular.
Over the past few years it has been buying back high-end watches from third-party distributors in order to ensure that nothing is discounted or leaked into the gray market. Owning a site such as Watchfinder will allow Richemont to exert control over a whole new segment of the sales chain.
Richemont has also been spotlighting its core hard luxury business, and seeking to target new, younger audiences.
Last month it launched Baume, its first from-scratch watch brand. Aiming to tap into — and trade on — the 180-year-old Baume & Mercier’s heritage with a new sustainable materials model, Baume wants to attract new customers — those looking for luxurious, eco-friendly options that are not mass-produced, yet fall below the luxury price point.
Baume’s Iconic series, an automatic watch that is the brand’s hero style, will be updated seasonally and starts at $1,100 retail. The Custom Timepiece series, for which customers can create more than 2,000 permutations in 35-mm or 41-mm case sizes by choosing various components, movements and materials, starts at $560 and goes up to $630.