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Ranking the Watchmakers Is a Guessing Game

August 1, 1995

Who’s the biggest watchmaker?

There are no easy answers to that question, said Joe Thompson, editor-in-chief of Modern Jeweler magazine.

Part of the problem is there are so many companies making the 900 million watches produced around the world each year that it’s impossible to track all of them. Many are private, and don’t reveal their sales figures.

Moreover, Thompson said, it depends how you define a watchmaker. Some companies are watch assemblers _ they take components, particularly watch movements, made by other companies and put them together.

Thompson noted that Japan’s Seiko and Citizen and the Swiss conglomerate SMH _ which makes watches under several names, including Blancpain, Swatch, Omega, Tissot, Rado, Hamilton and Longines _ make most of the movements inside their competitors’ watches. Movado is one of the many Swiss watchmakers that uses movements made by another company.

SMH ``provides 75 percent of the movements for the Swiss industry,″ Thompson said.

It’s also hard to determine No. 1 in terms of revenue, because companies like SMH don’t make all their money from watches.

But Thompson offered this assessment: Rolex is ``far and away″ the leader in sales of high-end watches. The company is privately owned and doesn’t disclose statistics, so Thompson estimates it turns out 750,000 watches _ with Rolex’s own movements _ a year.

Thompson ranks Seiko as No. 1 in the middle third of the market, and Timex the leader in the bottom tier.

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