Why Cousins Battle With Swatch Group Matters

Spare parts and servicing may sound a tad dull, but it gets exciting if your £10,000 Breguet, Vacheron or Patek cannot be serviced by an independent watchmaker – instead you have to send it away and pay whatever the manufacturer demands. That can easily cost £800-£1500, depending on which parts the manufacturer decides need upgrading. It’s a kick in the wallet that many Rolex owners are familiar with nowadays, as it’s been difficult for indie watchmakers to get factory parts since 2016.

Some might say that watch manufacturers want their products serviced by authorised dealers only – but that argument fell to pieces when car makers tried to lock out independent garages from their parts supply chains a few years ago. However UK trade supplier Cousins took on Swatch Group (owners of Omega, Breguet, Longines, Glashutte, Mido, Harry Winston, ETA, Hamilton and others) in a legal battle in 2016, here’s the latest update;

“Our fight with Swatch over the supply of parts has only been slightly delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak. Because the Swiss judicial system relies on written submissions rather than Court appearances, the impact on our case has been less than expected. The deadlines for submission of documents were extended for an extra four weeks by the Swiss Federal authorities. Then an extra two weeks extension was granted by the Judge in Bern.

All the formal submissions by both sides have now been completed. The remainder of the process consists of informal comments by both sides (Swatch are due to submit theirs in the next two weeks and we will reply after that), and then a hearing in the Bern Court. We would expect the written verdict from the Judge around two to four months after that.

The date for the hearing has not yet been set. The summer recess for the Courts runs from mid-July to mid-August and we expect it will be some time after that. A lot will depend on travel restrictions and quarantine issues, but hopefully by the Autumn this will not be a factor.

As we said in our last News update, we were happy that our first submission was a very robust defence. As before, we can’t go into detail, but we can say that we think our second submission is even stronger than the first, and are very confident that the judge will reach the right verdict.”

Our view is that every serious watch collector deserves the right to make their own choice on service and repair. Some watches may well benefit from keeping their old hands and patina-pickled dials. It might actually increase their resale value long term. Others want their Rolex, Omega, TAG, AP or Hublot pristine, and why not?

The key issue is that customers willing to spend up to £100,000 on a watch should not be restricted as regards choosing their watchmaker. If they want Roger Smith to personally strip and inspect it, then so be it – and Roger should be able to order a new winding stem, or chrono pusher if required. As the EU constantly bangs on about free trade, and Switzerland is obliged to toe the line regarding EU regulations on all kinds of matters, the sensible thing would be to allow customer choice. Servicing locally also saves on air miles, therefore saving emissions – another point that the court should consider.

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