Auction News: Bonhams Gets a New Watch Department Head in Asia

Tim Bourne returns to the fold.

An old hand in the watch auction world, Tim Bourne has made his rounds of all the major auction houses in a 20-year career that was mostly spent in Asia, starting with the first ever watch auction in Asia held in Hong Kong in 1997. After having risen alongside the buoyant watch auctions in Hong Kong during China’s frenzied spending spree in the years up to 2014, Mr Bourne vanished from the auction business after leaving the top job at Sotheby’s watch department in 2016 – a role recently filled by Sam Hines – but is now back as International Director of Watches, Asia, at Bonhams.

A trailing competitor in watch auction sales after Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Bonhams is strongest in classic cars, boasting the most expensive car ever sold at auction when a Ferrari 250 GTO went for over US$38m in 2014. It is nevertheless one of the world’s oldest auction houses and maintains a strong presence in major markets like Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

A hope for the watch department

Having gone without a boldface name since Paul Maudsley left for Phillips in 2015, Bonhams appears to be growing its watch department once again with the hiring of Mr Bourne, who also has a familial link to the watch business by way of his father in law, Francisco Herrera, who is chief executive of Ball Watch.


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Business News: Swatch Group Posts Positive Full Year Results

Sales and profit grow, as does optimism.

Switzerland’s largest watch conglomerate Swatch Group continues to recover from the most severe downturn since the 2008 financial crisis, with its 2017 full year results crossing into positive territory.

Overall sales at the group that includes Omega and Longines grew 5.8% to SFr7.989 billion at constant exchange rates. The core business of watches and jewellery, excluding “production” (which is the sale components and movements to third parties), grew 12.2%. Including production, however, growth was just 5.4%, implying that Swatch Group’s business of supplying parts and calibres – it owns Switzerland’s biggest movement maker ETA – is lagging.

Net income, which had almost halved in 2016, rose 27.3% to SFr755m, with a net margin of 9.5%, compared to 7.9% for the year before.

The recovery, which began in the first half of 2017, reached a record high in December – the second best monthly sales in the history of Swatch Group – due to the holiday season, a boost also enjoyed by its rival Richemont, owner of brands like Cartier and IWC.

The Winter Olympics 2018 Seamaster helping Omega to accelerate away

Notably, growth was enjoyed across the group’s stable of brands, which ranges from entry-level marques like Tissot to Breguet and Harry Winston. However, Swatch’s top-end brands, which includes a total of seven names, outperformed. Harry Winston reported “extraordinary performance” while Omega had “a very strong acceleration in the second half of the year.”

Sales growth were strongest in Asia-Pacific region at both wholesale (meaning sales to third party distributors) and retail (the group’s own stores). The numbers for mainland China were especially good, with Longines, Omega and Tissot being amongst the top five sellers by revenue while Tissot, Longines, Swatch and Mido take the top spots by volume.

Notably, inventories at Swatch Group stayed level, remaining at SFr6.3 billion. Rival Richemont has made it a priority to trim inventory, both at its brands and in the supply chain.

The year ahead

Swatch also made it clear the future is bright, expecting “further very positive growth… not only from its own distribution channels such as retail and e-commerce, but also from third-party channels.”

Its full year numbers also offered a taste of the significant launches at Baselworld 2018 that takes place in March. Omega will mark the 70th anniversary of the Seamaster and the 25th anniversary of the Seamaster Diver 300m – coming just a year after the 60th anniversary of its most famous sports watches – presumably with lines of commemorative models, while Breguet will roll out a new line of Marine luxury sports watches.

Longines is also expected to hit SFr2 billion in sales in the “medium term”, making it one of the biggest watch brands in Switzerland, despite its modestly priced and unpretentious products.


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Business News: Bucherer Takes Over Troubled Tourneau

After seeking a buyer for over a year.

It’s the largest watch retailer in the United States, but Tourneau was struggling, some 12 years after being taken over by private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners for over US$300m, weighed down by debt taken on during the takeover and a subsequent fund raising.

Now it’s been rescued by Bucherer, Europe’s biggest watch retailer that’s been riding high on years of spending by Chinese tourists. Still owned by the founding family, Bucherer’s annual revenue tops SFr1 billion – making it the biggest chain outside China and Hong Kong. All of that turnover comes from Europe, where it has 33 Bucherer stores and as many more jewellery and single-brand boutiques. Notably, Bucherer is reputedly the largest seller of Rolex watches in the world.

Last year the Swiss retailer took over The Watch Gallery, converting its six London shops and department store concessions to the Bucherer name, to grow its footprint in the United Kingdom. With that acquisition Bucherer was buying into strength, with the London chain’s sales growing in high double digits in recent years, buoyed by the same tide of a weak pound and rising tourist numbers that is lifting retailers in the British capital.

In contrast, Bucherer is buying Tourneau at a low. The American retailer started the sale process in late 2016, seeking out buyers as far away as Asia. Last year it even considered selling itself in a pre-packaged bankruptcy, according to the New York Post. Along the way, the chain closed five locations, bringing its total number of stores to 28 in ten states. Besides the 28 shops, Bucherer also gets Tourneau’s “Certified Pre-Owned” programme, one of the biggest run by an authorised retailer in the country.

The Swiss acquirer has nevertheless got its timing right. When Tourneau started the sale process the global watch business was still flagging, until a recovery that took place last year. Listed watchmaking groups like Richemont and Swatch have already reported turnarounds in sales and profits, while expecting things to get only better.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, neither has Bucherer announced if it will keep the Tourneau brand name.


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Hands-On with the Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar Montre École

A brand new movement and a practical complication.

Amidst the more expectant hits – Laurent Ferrier has gone several years without launching new calibre – at SIHH this year was the Galet Annual Calendar Montre École, a humble and well-conceived watch that packs all the charm of mid century triple calendars, but with the convenience of an annual calendar. The LF126.01 movement inside marks the watchmaker’s fifth calibre in 10 years.

The complication in-between the triple and perpetual calendar in terms of complexity and function, an annual calendar takes into account the variable length of months – either 30 or 31 days – and requires only one adjustment each year at the end of February when the month has only 28 or 29 days.

Though it is an annual calendar, the new Laurent Ferrier harks back to the triple calendar watches of the 1940s and 1950s (one of which Vacheron Constantin just reissued) with its display. The day and month are down with in-line apertures, while the date is indicated on the periphery with a contrasting red pointer.

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 8

Setting the calendar is simple: a notched corrector at 10 o’clock (inspired by the Galet Traveller buttons that were in turn based on Grande Sonnerie pushers) advances the day while the date is set via the crown. The month indication is adjusted by advancing the date through an entire month (which can be done fairly swiftly).

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 3

Characterised by a blue date track and a crosshair in the middle, the dial is offered in two shades, silver-toned or slate-grey. And like many of Laurent Ferrier’s watches it has a two-tone finish inspired by vintage timepieces, with a vertical satin-brushed centre and a circular satin-brushed outer rim, while the recessed small seconds at six o’clock is grained, offering a contrast of textures.

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 4

The case takes the form of the 40mm three-piece bassiné form introduced last year, dubbed the Montre École, which translates as “school watch”, its shape being based on Mr Ferrier’s graduation project.

While the case is available in steel as well as red gold, the most striking version is irrefutably the yellow gold edition (pictured here), with the case colour perfectly matching the retro dial. The muted hue of the yellow gold model was achieved through a higher percentage of palladium and recalls the pale yellow of vintage 14k gold watches. But like all modern watches, it still maintains an 18k purity.

Visible through the exhibition back, the hand-wound LF126.01 is actually a simplified version of the movement in the Tourbillon Double Spiral (which is now the LF619.01 but was originally the FBN916.01). Like the tourbillon movement, it has an 80-hour power reserve, indicated by the display on the back.

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 7

Consequently, the basic architecture of the tourbillon movement is recognisable, as is the elegantly elongated winding click that’s often found in classical watchmaking. But the movement is nevertheless a lot more straightforward, with large, simply shaped bridges; it lacks the intricate elaborateness of Laurent Ferrier’s time-only automatic calibre.

While the annual calendar calibre is obviously high quality – the typical Laurent Ferrier decoration is abundant and obvious – the construction of the movement feels simpler than the earlier calibres, which carried a no-expense-spared air to them.

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 5

Though the forms are simpler, the finishing is still carefully and finely executed. The large bridges boast large, hand-applied Geneva stripes as well as superbly polished chamfers along their edges and countersinks for the screws and jewels. Even the pallet fork bridge below the balance wheel has chamfered edges.

Unusually the movement is also coloured differently (most Laurent Ferrier movements have a silvery rhodium plating) with a ruthenium treatment, giving it a medium grey tone.

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 1

Laurent Ferrier Annual Calendar Montre Ecole 2

And there is a significant difference with the escapement. Instead of the silicon double direct natural escapement standard in the Galet Micro-Rotor Automatic, or the double hairspring of the tourbillon, Laurent Ferrier has gone with the traditional lever escapement and a free-sprung, screwed balance.

That being said there’s still tech inside. The escape wheel and pallet fork are open-worked and made via the LIGA micro-moulding technique, making them extremely precisely shaped and efficiently lightweight.

Price and Availability

The Laurent Ferrier Galet Annual Calendar Montre Ecole (ref. LCF025) is priced SFr50,000 in steel and SFr55,000 in rose or yellow gold.


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