WatchBox, the pre-owned watch e-tailer co-founded in 2017 by Danny Govberg, Justin Reis and Tay Liam Wee, has acquired a majority stake in high-end Geneva-based independent watchmaker De Bethune. The brand will continue to be led by COO and master watchmaker Denis Flageollet, who founded the brand in 2002, and CEO Pierre Jacques.
“The investment will provide capital to allow De Bethune to continue investing in research and development, production, watchmaking talent, global marketing and more,” says Patrik Hoffmann, executive vice-president for WatchBox Switzerland. “It will allow Denis Flageollet and his team to further drive the development of the brand and the creation of extraordinary timepieces.” De Bethune is known for its contemporary interpretations of high watchmaking, made in very limited editions. It has created 29 in-house calibers since it began, and produces about 200 watches a year, with an average price of $100,000 to $120,000. Production is set to increase with this new investment, but, according to WatchBox, will grow organically in a limited way.
“WatchBox has been a trusted partner of ours and a dynamic supporter of De Bethune for years,” Denis Flageollet and Pierre Jacques said in a joint statement. “We have long admired their desire and commitment to educate the global watch community on the art of watchmaking.”
WatchBox has a worldwide network of trading offices and stores in Philadelphia, Neuchatel in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai in a joint venture with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons. It is a major player in the pre-owned watch market, which consultant McKinsey & Co. says is worth $18 billion today and will be worth up to $32 billion by 2025. Not surprisingly, many Swiss brands have recently made moves to control sales of their pre-owned watches (including MB&F, Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, to name a few).
“WatchBox has been investing in independent brands in various ways since the company was founded,” says Hoffmann. “One way is by investing in the product of independent brands. In the case of De Bethune, this cooperation led to the interest of both parties in having WatchBox invest directly into the brand. In the past, WatchBox has demonstrated support for the independent watchmaking segment primarily through inventory ownership. By purchasing inventory (rather than just offering consignment services), it brings liquidity to the global pre-owned market, and supports the underlying value of the product,” he says. “We will continue to buy, sell, and trade pre-owned timepieces from De Bethune, as we do with around 50 brands in the pre-owned market.”
WatchBox has no immediate plans to acquire other brands, but as a champion of independent brands, Hoffmann says it “will continue to develop alliances with various independent watch brands on different levels.”