Swatch is worth watching. The Swatch Group (formerly Société Suisse de Microélectronique & d'Horlogerie) is one of the top watchmakers in the world. Its 20 some watch brands range from low-priced Swatch and Flik Flak collectibles to premium-priced Blancpain, Breguet, and Omega luxury pieces. Watches made by Swatch are sold at some 15,000 retailers worldwide, plus at more than 900 Swatch boutiques, more than 1,000 shop-in-shops, and some 140 kiosks. The company supplies nearly all the components for its own watches, as well as sells some movements to other watchmakers. Its Dress Your Body unit designs and makes jewelry for the Swatch Group brands. Swatch is buying the Harry Winston jewelry and watch business.
Looking to better compete with the likes of Richemont and LVMH, Swatch inked its largest acquisition deal to date with iconic Harry Winston to purchase the diamond mining company's jewelry and watch unit. Valued at $750 million in cash plus $250 million of debt, the agreement allows Swatch to fill its products portfolio with luxury items that bridge the gap between its moderately priced Swatch and Flik Flak brands and its premium-priced Omega brand.
The Swiss watchmaker shows little sign of slowing down. It posted record results in 2011, marked by an 18% rise in year-over-year net income on more than a 10% increase in sales. The future of Swatch increasingly depends upon exports. Despite the uncertain global economy, sales outside of Europe grew about 16%. China (and Chinese tourists) drove the surge, soaring by more than 25% in 2011 over the previous year. Longer term, other markets are also opening up; demand in the Americas climbed 12%, helping to offset the struggling European environment. Swatch is seeing particularly strong demand in the Middle East, thanks to expansion of its distribution and marketing activities. Similarly, in South America the company has managed to significantly expand its footprint.
Swatch's core business Watches & Jewelry posted double-digit growth across all price tags. Its luxury watch business has particularly benefited from the company's drive to raise brand awareness. Swatch's Omega, whose Seamaster watch was worn by Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond, reintroduced the 1950s-designed Ladymatic in 2010. The lady's watch was among its top five best-selling watches worldwide in 2011. (Swatch has promotional ties to actors George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, too.)
Other high profile alliances, however, have failed. Swatch Group in late 2007 formed a new company to make watches under the iconic Tiffany & Co. brand name. The Tiffany Watch Co., based in Switzerland, was authorized to use the Tiffany name and trademarks. The watch collection, priced from about £2,000 to £5,000 ($3,000 to $8,000), was distributed through the Swatch retail network as well as Tiffany stores. The pact ended in 2011, with both sides suing over breach of contract and damages from one another.
On the production side of Swatch's business, revenues in 2011 climbed more than 30% over 2010 fueled by the industry's competition for the complicated movements that define a prestigious Swiss-made watch. Swatch has kept pace, hiring about 1,600 people in 2010. The company's more than 100 subsidiaries and affiliated units also make semiconductors, quartz oscillators, and industrial lasers, among other items, for industries such as telecommunications and medical electronics. Its EM Microelectronic subsidiary is a leading producer of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, rapidly taking hold in the retail industry. In addition, Swatch provides timing and scoring services at major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games.
The company's vision is guided by heirs of former chairman Nicolas Hayek, who was responsible for reorganizing the ailing Asuag and SSIH watch companies and merging them into Swatch Group. Chairperson Nayla Hayek and other senior executives of the Hayek family control more than 40% of the company through the Hayek Pool. – less