Swiss watchdog may probe watchmakers over spare parts supply

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss competition authority WEKO may investigate Swiss watchmakers after getting complaints from independent repair centres and customers about the restrictive supply of spare parts, an official told Reuters.

A WEKO investigation could lead to a fine and would increase pressure on industry majors Swatch Group UHR.S, Richemont CFR.S and unlisted Rolex to make spare parts available beyond their network of accredited repairers.

While watch brands say only their accredited repair centres offer the best quality service to customers, independent repairers say they are cheaper and often faster and that clients should be free to do what they want with their watches.

“We received complaints from independent watch repairers who no longer had access to parts, but also from customers who were unhappy they could not get their watch repaired wherever they wanted,” WEKO Deputy Director Patrik Ducrey told Reuters on Thursday.

“We are doing preliminary checks at the moment to see if there are indications that watchmakers unlawfully limit the access to parts for independent watch repairers. By this autumn, we should be able to decide whether to open an investigation,” Ducrey said.

A potential WEKO investigation is not the only headwind watchmakers are facing over the restrictive supply of spare parts.

Swatch Group is engaged in a legal battle with British material house Cousins UK that sells watch spare parts to independent repairers. It said it stopped receiving supplies from Swatch Group and its ETA movement unit at the end of 2015.

Christian Dannemann, an independent watch repairer and a director of The British Watch & Clockmakers’ Guild that supports Cousins’s action against Swatch, said he could not do his job without spare parts.

“Just imagine what would happen if car makers started restricting supplies in that way. The Swiss brands really need to understand that once they’ve sold the watch, it no longer belongs to them,” Dannemann told Reuters.

Swatch Group were not immediately available to comment.

Editing by Toby Davis