Richemont owns Cartier, Montblanc, IWC, Piaget, and Vacheron Constantin. In 2019, Richemont bought back 203 million dollars of Cartier stock that was out in shops, sitting unsold. In 2017, they bought back $302 millions dollars worth. And then… they destroyed them.
Why would they destroy them? A few reasons:
- They don’t want old stock sitting out in dealers’ shops getting discounted, or sold into gray market channels.
- Formerly, a lot of watches and whiskys would be gifted to government officials. As corruption was cracked down upon, this practice slowed.
- Demand has been tough since 2016, when sales were down across all regions, but fell by as much as 20% in Europe and elsewhere where the local currency was strong, by around 15%.
So what do they do with these destroyed watches?
Generally, they un-case the movements and save the parts for future use. The cases may be recycled.
This is a big deal. It looks really bad for a company to have to buy back and dismantle product. The thing to keep in mind is that it positions them better for the future, because their new models won’t have to compete with old models that have been sitting in display cases.
Behind the scenes, we talk a lot about the condition of the Swiss industry, and what it means when one brand doesn’t seem to have any watches available, or has authorized dealers who do things like keep watches in safes only to customers willing to buy in multiples.
The idea of buying back stock is unusual, and sounds extreme. Hopefully this positions Cartier and other Richemont brands better for the future.