Watches of Switzerland is planning to float in London, and it could be valued at between £600m and £800m.
The upmarket jeweller is owned by US-based private equity firm Apollo and the cash raised in an offer would help to reduce debt. However, the first news about the potential flotation was nearly a year ago when two banks were appointed to advise Apollo on a listing.
Watch brands sold include Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tag-Heuer and Cartier. The company has long-term relationships with the main brands.
The attraction of Watches of Switzerland will depending on the pricing of the offer and the state of the balance sheet after the fundraising.
The eponymous brand has been in existence for nearly a century. The group, though, was put together by a series of acquisitions by Iceland-based investment group Baugur early in this century. It acquired jewellery retail chain Goldsmith and then Mappin & Webb, which included the Watches of Switzerland brand. The Goldsmiths and Mappin & Webb date bake to the eighteenth century.
Apollo acquired its controlling stake in 2013. US-based luxury watch retailer Mayors was subsequently acquired.
The current focus is on luxury watches rather than jewellery, although Goldsmiths has been refocused on bridal jewellery. There have been more than £13m of closure costs in less than four years and this mainly reflects the closure of more fashion-focused Goldsmiths boutique, and seven other non-core, stores.
Goldsmiths boutique stores were launched in 2011 and expansion accelerated in 2015. The strategy was not successful in an uncertain consumer market.
Watches of Switzerland is growing strongly. In the year to April 2018, continuing operations increased revenues from £509.4m to £631.2m, while pre-tax profit improved from £835,000 to £7.16m. That reflects a high interest charge because of the level of borrowings.
In the nine months to January 2019, continuing revenues increased from £479.2m to £594m. while pre-tax profit rose from £12.5m to £22.6m, although most of that profit was wiped out by losses on discontinued operations.
Luxury watches have generated well in excess of three-quarters of revenues in recent years.
The group has 125 stores in the UK and 21 in the US, plus ecommerce websites for its main brands. Online sales are growing, and they were 12.4% of total sales in the latest nine month period.
Net debt was more than £230m at the end of January 2019. Watches of Switzerland does generate cash from operating activities – £47.4mbefore interest payments last year – but it is also investing heavily in the business.
There could be more than £100m spent on capital investment over the three years up to April 2021.