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British watchmaker launches movement against Swiss monopoly

British watchmaker launches movement against Swiss monopoly By Rebecca Burn-Callander | Telegraph  –  Tue, Aug 26, 2014 19:05 BST Companies: Debenhams plc RELATED QUOTES Symbol Price Change DBHSF 1.15 0.00

omege watches Christopher Ward, a challenger luxury watch brand based in the UK, is taking on the Swiss giants by launching a new internal watch mechanism

Perfect Replica Omega Watches A British watchmaker has called time on the Swiss domination of the luxury timepiece industry.

Perfect Replica Omega Watches Christopher Ward, founded by Mike France, Peter Ellis and Chris Ward, has created a brand new, British-owned watch movement, breaking away from its Swiss rivals.

Perfect Replica Omega Watches For years, watchmakers have been slaves to the vagaries of Swiss giants like Swatch, which owns many of the most popular movements the internal mechanisms of a clock alongside its portfolio of well-known watch brands including: Breguet, Blancpain, Omega, Longines, Rado, and Hamilton.

Swiss Omega Replica Watches In 2007, the Swatch Group decided it no longer wished to supply its competitors with its vital mechanisms and embarked on a series of discussions with the Swiss Watch Authorities to withdraw from the market.

Best Omega Replica Watches COMCO, the industry’s competition authority, ruled in Swatch’s favour last year. The company will now gradually reduce sales of mechanical movements to companies outside the group over the next six years, and halt sales completely in 2020.

Some of its huge customers, like Bulgari and TAG Heuer owner LVMH, are now investing heavily in developing their own alternative movements. But for small independent firms, the capital outlay required was just too great.

Christopher Ward, however, has been working on a new movement in secret for some time, with an up-and-coming Swiss watchmaker that was willing to go up against the old guard. “We saw this coming,” says co-founder France. “We began working with this partner to design, develop and bring a new movement to market.”

This year, the British company merged with its Swiss manufacturer, Synergies Horlogeres, creating a vertically integrated consumer watch brand.

“For this to be done by a small, independent company was considered almost impossible. We’ve caused a real stir in the market. We are now the master of our own destiny.”

By creating its own watch movement, the British firm is now in a position to license its design out to other brands, and help create competition in the industry. “Suddenly, we’re not just an underdog brand, we’re being taken seriously,” says France.

The new movement has sent shockwaves through the Swiss watch industry. “When the CEO of a well-known luxury watch brand found out about our movement I can’t tell you who, I’d be sued his comment was, 'What gives you the licence to do that?’” says France. “That one sentence just shows you the difference between us and these self-satisfied, slow-moving brands in Switzerland.”

Maidenhead-based Christopher Ward was the first online only, luxury watch retailer, selling time pieces direct to the consumer, at drastically reduced prices.

France, Ellis and Ward launched the company after finding out that most of the components that make up a luxury watch were available to buy by anyone.

“We could access the same movements as the luxury watch industry, but sell exclusively online to consumers, which meant we could charge a fair price,” says France. “It was an opportunity to disrupt and intermediate an industry.”

“Most Swiss watch companies sell their watches at 10 times the cost price,” he adds. “Some charge as much as 34 times. We thought this was almost immoral.”

A series of lucky breaks and chance meetings contributed to the creation of Christopher Ward, admits France. The first was meeting Woody Lam. Lam was one of 32 individuals chosen by the Swiss to inculcate into the dark arts of watchmaking in the seventies. After graduating from this so-called “class of 32”, Lam had been forced to abandon watchmaking to go into the family textiles business in Hong Kong.

“I met him when I was on the board of Debenhams (Other OTC: DBHSF - news ) and BHS,” recalls France, who also built and sold the Early Learning Centre kids brand with Ellis. “During meetings, he would take his watch off, remove the back, take out his tools and start fiddling with the movement. It was a very distracting negotiation technique.”

Lam became the start-up’s go-to guy for contacts and industry data. “We suddenly had access to the most senior people in the watch industry,” says France. “He’d also collected every Mintel report on the watch industry for the last 10 years, which he’d bought out of love. We had more data than we knew what to do with.”

Sales were very slow in the early days of Christopher Ward. However, suddenly, in December of 2005, there was a massive uptick in orders. “We’d taken out some ads in the UK’s intelligent press, but that didn’t explain all the orders coming in from Singapore,” says France.

Again, luck was on the start-up’s side. “Famous watch blogger Dave Malone has seen one of our ads and was convinced that we were shysters because our prices were so low,” says France. “He bought one of our watches with the intention of exposing us. But when he took it apart, he saw that what we were claiming was true. He posted a eulogy to Christopher Ward on one of the largest watch forums in the world, and suddenly our brand was getting more mentions than Rolex.”

Today, the company sells 17,500 watches a year. Turnover at Christopher Ward will jump from £5.6m in 2013 to £7.5m this financial year, and growth is set to stay at around 30pc per annum for the foreseeable future.

While the majority of Christopher’s Ward revenues are generated in the UK, the firm’s export business is growing rapidly. “The US business could overtake the UK within a few years,” says France. “We’re also looking at Germany, Holland, France, Russia and China. It’s a £32bn worldwide market.”

The launch of Christopher Ward’s new movement marks a real turning point for the British watchmaking industry, claims France. Although its watches are made in Switzerland, the intellectual property is British.

“There’s an opportunity for British matchmakers to become the global leaders in IP just as we have in the car industry,” says France. “Look at Formula One. That’s largely based in this country and has a real influence on the global automotive industry. This is the most important development by a British watch brand for 50 years.”

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