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A Watch-Lover's Guide to the Biggest Luxury Watch Conglomerates

November 30, 2020

If you've been following our blog (and if you haven't then why not?), then you'll know that we recently released a big list of all the leading luxury watch brands currently around making and selling watches. Now, that list wasn't definitive as there simply isn't enough coffee on Earth to support our blog author. So, instead, we decided to go down a different route and talk about the enormous players in the watch industry. If you saw our Watch-Lover's Guide article, then you'll have noticed that we included the name of the company's owner, assuming it's not privately owned. You'd probably be a little surprised to know that most of the main watchmakers are all owned by one large conglomerate. In this article, we're going to take a closer look at those conglomerates.

 

The Swatch Group

The largest conglomerate dedicated solely to watches

The Swatch Group was formed in 1983 after Nicholas Hayek merged Societé Suisse pour l'Industrie Horlogère (SSIH) which had collapsed into bank ownership 1981 and Allgemeine Gesellschaft der Schweizerischen Uhrenindustrie (ASUAG), which went the same way as SSIH in 1982. In 1985 with financial aid from banks and institutional investors, Nicholas Hayek took his new company (SMH - Societé de Microélectronique et d'Horlogerie) private, in 1998 the company became the Swatch Group.

Today, the Swatch Group owns several key businesses in the industry, but it owns suppliers of components and movements as well. Here's a list of everything the Swatch Group currently owns:

  • Balmain - exclusive watchmaking rights for Pierre Balmain
  • Blancpain - watchmaker
  • Breguet - watchmaker
  • CK Calvin Klein Watches & Jewellery - watchmaker & jeweller
  • Certina - watchmaker
  • Endura - private label and licensing
  • ETA - ebauche supplier and movement maker
  • Flik Flak - watchmaker
  • Glashütte Original - watchmaker
  • Hamilton - watchmaker
  • Harry Winston - watchmaker and jeweller
  • Jaquet Droz - maker of watches and automata
  • Lêon Hatot - watchmaker and jeweller (currently defunct)
  • Longines - watchmaker
  • Mido - watchmaker
  • Nivarox - component supplier (hairsprings, screws etc)
  • Omega - watchmaker
  • Rado - watchmaker
  • Swatch - watchmaker
  •  Tissot - watchmaker
  • Union Glashütte - watchmaker

As well as all these companies, the Swatch Group also owns a multitude of supply companies beyond ETA and Nivarox; these companies specialise in specific components just for both mechanical and electronic watches. The Swatch Group even supplies other companies in other groups, quite a few brands owned by Richemont buy ETA movements for their watches, for example. Swatch also owns the US retailer Tourbillon, which sells high-end watches. It's easy to see why this company is a behemoth in the industry today.

 

Richemont

A surprisingly diverse company

Richemont was founded in 1988 as Compagnie Financière Richemont SA. Like the Swatch Group, Richemont controls some of the most prestigious names in the watch industry, but it also owns manufacturers of luxury goods that aren't wristwatches too. Richemont was spun off from the international assets owned by the Rembrandt Group, which merged with the Rothmans tobacco company to make Rothmans International as a subsidiary of the Richemont Group in 1996. By 2008, Richemont had cut all ties it had with the tobacco industry, and British American Tobacco took over the Rothmans name.

Here's a list of everything that Richemont currently owns, note that the names written in italic are owned by the Vendôme Luxury Group, which itself is owned by Richemont:

  • A.Lange & Söhne - watches
  • Azzedine Alaïa - women's fashion
  • Baume & Mercier - watches
  • Buccellati - fine jewellery
  • Cartier - fine jewellery and watches
  • Chloé - women's fashion
  • Dunhill - men's fashion and luxury accessories
  • Giampiero Bodino - fine jewellery
  • IWC - watches
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre - watches
  • James Purdey & Sons - bespoke firearms
  • Montblanc - pens, accessories and watches
  • Panerai - watches
  • Peter Millar - men's and women's fashion
  • Piaget - jewellery and watches
  • Roger Dubuis - watches
  • Vacheron Constantin - watches
  • Van Cleef & Arpels - jewellery and watches

Richemont also has a 50% stake in Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry Co. and is the main shareholder of YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP. It's interesting to see how diversified Richemont is. Although it doesn't appear to own any significant ebauche suppliers like Swatch's ETA, both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier supply a high number of movements to other Richemont subsidiaries. 

 

LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey)

The world's largest luxury goods conglomerate

That subheading wasn't a typo. LVMH owns a grand total of over 70 brands, some of which are subsidiaries as well. The company's main shareholder is Bernard Arnault, one of the wealthiest people on the planet, who founded the company in 1987. LVMH's main portfolio doesn't focus on luxury watches, but instead on fashion houses and alcohol manufacturers. As such, we've included a few of the most notable names from each sector, as well as all the watch brands of course.

  • Belvedere - vodka
  • Bulgari - watches and jewellery
  • Château d'Yquem - fine wines
  • Chaumet - watches
  • Christian Dior - luxury goods
  • Fendi - luxury goods
  • FRED - watches
  • Hennessey - cognac
  • Hublot - watches
  • Louis Vuitton - luxury goods
  • Moët & Chandon - champagne
  • Krug - champagne
  • Pinarello - Bicycles
  • Princess Yachts - luxury motor yachts
  • Ruinart - champagne
  • TAG Heuer - watches
  • Veuve Clicquot - champagne
  • Zenith - watches

As mentioned, these are only a few of the many many names that LVMH owns or is the main shareholder of. 

 

Kering

Another diversified conglomerate with interests in watchmaking

The Kering group is the oldest of all found on this list having been founded in 1963 as a trader of timber by Francois Pinault in Brittany, France. The company was very successful and became listed on the Paris stock exchange in 1988. In the early 1990s, the company began acquiring more and more retail-oriented companies, including department stores and mail-order shopping companies. In 1999 it purchased a 30% stake in the Gucci Group and a 100% stake in Yves Saint Laurent. In 2011 it bought a 50.1% stake in the Sowind Group which owns Girard Perregaux and Jeanrichard. In 2013, Pinault-Printemps-Redoute (PPR) as it was known then changed its name to Kering which is meant to be pronounced like the word 'caring' in English. This was to fortify the group's appearance as a luxury conglomerate. In 2014 Kering purchased Ulysse Nardin. 

Kering also owns famous fashion names such as Bucheron, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.

 

And there you have it, that's our round-up of the biggest and most influential players in the watch industry. Of course, most of them also invest in other companies, and there are plenty of large companies that we haven't featured here such as Rolex and Chopard, that's because they focus nearly exclusively on watches.

Next time you're browsing our catalogue, why not try seeing if you can remember which conglomerate owns the brand who made the watch you're interested in? Check out our latest stock by clicking here.