Independent watchmakers demonstrate in Milan

Gli orologiai indipendenti manifestano a Milano

The watchmakers who 'chained themselves' in front of the Richemont Italia headquarters in Milan on 30 September to protest against the refusal of watch manufacturers to supply original spare parts to independent craftsmen came from all over Italy.

The matter is already familiar to readers of L'Orologio, since our magazine has for a couple of years now been giving space to the statements of the houses and the watchmakers themselves, in an attempt to find common ground on a delicate issue that is putting an entire craftsmanship category in Italy and around the world at risk of extinction.

The protest staged last Wednesday in front of the Italian branch of one of the world's largest watchmaking groups attracted the attention of the Lombardy Region's Councillor for Craftsmen and Services, Domenico Zambetti, who joined the delegation of protesters, invited by Richemont to enter its offices for a discussion. "Unfair competition from the big brands condemns thousands of watchmakers to the closure of their businesses,' said councillor Zambetti. 'Without the supply of spare parts to all craftsmen, we are helping to build a watch lobby made up only of big brands and big names, which will in fact force independent craftsmen to close their businesses.

Richemont Italy's Director of Operations, Stefano Corrado, reiterated that the company's spare parts policy is aimed solely at protecting the quality of service associated with its products. The watchmakers therefore declared themselves in favour of opening their workshops so that Richemont representatives could assess their capabilities. "If that is not enough," continued Zambetti, "we propose the establishment of refresher courses at Richemont itself. Richemont's CEO undertook to take the appeal to the headquarters in Geneva.

In the past few days, L'Orologio had interviewed the President of the Antitrust Authority, Antonio Catricalà, on the issue of the availability of spare parts. He said that he is waiting to hear the outcome of the dispute between the watchmakers' associations and the European Commission for Free Competition, to understand how to intervene in the matter, but that he personally remains convinced that this is a case of "restriction of competition" and "a regulatory framework to protect competition that must be reviewed". Catricalà adds that day after day the Antitrust Authority offices are forced to file complaints by watchmakers, as it has no power to intervene 'neither under Law 287, because the element of dominant position is missing, nor under the Consumer Code, which applies only to consumers who are natural persons. This is clearly a case of market malfunctioning. This seems absurd to me, a legislative vacuum that needs to be filled. Antitrust law is essential to foster competition, but I believe that on its own it is no longer enough'. A statement, this, that is a clear stance.

The question, therefore, is an open one, and bodes well at last for dialogue between the parties involved.

The Watch, as a trade magazine aimed at consumers and enthusiasts, advocates a solution in favour of greater freedom of choice for end users.

As in the automotive sector, the customer of a watch manufacturer should be free to choose who to entrust with the repair of his watch, naturally knowing the risks and consequences. An overhaul booklet, already adopted by some high-end brands, should always accompany the watch, even in its eventual sale on the second-hand market, where a timepiece always overhauled at the parent company would have an added value compared to another, overhauled by an independent watchmaker. This would further justify any price disparity between repairs, which is rightly attributable to the capital that manufacturers invest in training their after-sales service staff.

We look forward to hearing how the matter develops and as always we are open to dialogue with craftsmen and manufacturers, both on our Blog and in the pages of the magazine.

Photo 1: Watchmakers protest in front of the Richemont Italia headquarters.

Photo 2: Pictured, from right, Lombardy Region's Councillor for Craftsmanship and Services Domenico Zambetti, watchmaker Rodolfo Saviola and Danilo Guffanti, President of the goldsmiths and watchmakers category and Councillor of Confartigianato.