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商业 - 消费品

机芯供应危机引发瑞士手表业地震

Lynnley Browning 2013年11月15日

斯沃琪集团几乎垄断了精密机械机芯和其他部件的制造和销售。然而最近,瑞士竞争委员会的一纸裁定宣布,斯沃琪有权削减出售给其他竞争对手的关键零部件数量,直至完全停止供应。这项裁决震动了拥有数百年历史、价值数十亿美元的瑞士手表业。

    瑞士西北角的汝拉山脉之中藏着一个名叫马戈林根的小村庄。技艺精湛的工匠就在这个村子的一栋白色小屋内,创造了诸多享誉世界的奢华手表。比如配有18克拉黄金、101颗粉红色和白色钻石,售价高达89,100美元的玫瑰花边钻石表(Dentelle et Diamants et Roses)。

    但这些日子以来,Delance SA公司的装配工却感受不到这家手表制造商的座右铭——“大胆,挑逗,女人味十足,功能强大”——带来的踏实感。在这个瑞士机械制表业的摇篮,像Delance 这样的小公司还有几十家。

    10月25日,瑞士监管机构做出了一个令人震惊的裁决。根据这项裁决,总部位于比尔湖对岸的手表巨擘斯沃琪集团(Swatch Group)可以削减出售给Delance公司和其他竞争对手的关键零部件数量。

    以生产彩色塑料手表著称的斯沃琪集团是世界上最大的钟表公司。在这个阿尔卑斯山国家,斯沃琪集团几乎垄断了精密机械机芯和其他部件的制造和销售。但从明年开始,这家公司将改变已经延续了三十多年的做法,开始削减出售给竞争对手的关键零部件数量。最初削减25%,再逐年减少,直至2019年12月31日彻底停止供应。

    这项具有里程碑意义的裁决犹如一发炮弹,着实吓坏了Delance这样的小公司。有识之士甚至认为,向来以高度分散著称、发展历史可上溯至16世纪初期、价值数十亿美元的瑞士豪华手表业可能将迎来一场残酷的大洗牌。

    这次裁决“将让大量小公司遭受了无尽的痛苦,”Delance公司首席执行官吉赛尔•鲁弗在一封电子邮件中写道。她还表示,她的公司将不得不动用营运资金储备物资,竭力争夺新的供应商,还有可能提高手表售价。一个迫在眉睫的问题是,Delance手表多为量身定做的产品,其他供应商的零部件或许无法满足这种需要。在男性主导的瑞士制表业中,鲁弗一向被视为最具影响力的女性高管,她肯定明白这个道理——在1996年离开斯沃琪集团、创建Delance公司之前,鲁弗曾经帮助这家业内翘楚推出了儿童系列手表。

    4个世纪前,加尔文教徒禁止佩戴首饰的改革方案促使日内瓦的金匠发明手表,瑞士制表业由此发轫。而今天的这项裁定堪称瑞士制表业自创立以来遭受的最大冲击之一。

    现在,几十家小型私人制表商正在匆忙而紧张地讨论着一个问题:它们能否承受自己生产零部件所需的数千万美元投资资金?行业分析师正在暗自评估投资者收购小型制表商,以及小制表商合并为集团的可能性。另外一些制表商则想知道,中国是否有可能成为新的供应商。

    尽管这项裁决并不影响擒纵轮(让一只手表滴答作响的螺旋形轮毂),但它确实涵盖平衡轮、齿轮传动链和主发条等关键部件,而“瑞士制造”的神秘性和标签皆有赖于此。

    斯沃琪集团女发言人比阿特丽斯•豪沃尔德表示,公司认为这项裁决是“积极的,尽管只是带有试探性的第一步,但它的最终目标是明确告知瑞士钟表业的所有品牌和公司,他们必须自己投资生产机械机芯,承担相关的行业风险。”     

    Inside a white chalet in the tiny village of Magglingen, tucked into the Jura mountains in the northwest corner of Switzerland, skilled artisans create luxury watches like the Dentelle et Diamants et Roses, an 18-carat gold confection with 101 pink and white diamonds that fetches up to $89,100.

    But the establisseurs, or assemblers, at Delance SA, one of dozens of tiny firms in this cradle of Swiss mechanical watchmaking, are not feeling Delance's motto of "audacious, erotic, feminine, and powerful" these days.

    A shocking ruling by Swiss regulators on Oct. 25 will allow Swatch Group, the behemoth watch empire headquartered across nearby Lake Biel, to cut back sales of critical parts to Delance and other competitors.

    Swatch, the world's largest watch company, known for its colorful plastic watches, owns a near-monopoly on the manufacturing and sale of precision mechanical movements and components in the Alpine nation. But starting next year it will cut essential supplies it has sold to competitors for more than three decades, first by 25%, then tapering them each year until Dec. 31, 2019, when it will pull the plug entirely.

    The landmark ruling has shell-shocked small firms like Delance -- and sparked speculation that Switzerland's multi-billion dollar luxury watch industry, a highly fragmented world whose roots date to the 1500s, may be due for a shakeout.

    The ruling "will put a lot of small companies in great pain," Giselle Rufer, the chief executive of Delance, wrote in an email. She added that she would have to tie up working capital by stockpiling supplies, scrambling for new suppliers and potentially raising her prices for watches like the Dentelle. One looming problem: The tailored cases of Delance watches might not fit parts from other suppliers. Rufer, regarded as the most influential woman in the male-dominated world of Swiss watchmaking, should know: She launched Swatch's children's line before leaving the giant to found Delance in 1996.

    The ruling is one of the biggest shifts to hit Swiss watchmaking since its founding four centuries ago in Geneva, when Calvinist reforms prohibiting the wearing of jewelry spurred goldsmiths to invent watches.

    Now dozens of smaller, privately owned makers are buzzing about whether they can afford tens of millions of dollars needed to invest in their own manufacturing of parts. Industry analysts are whispering about potential acquisitions of smaller watchmakers by investors and the consolidation of makers into larger groups. And some makers are wondering whether China may become a new supplier.

    While the ruling does not affect escapements -- the elaborate, spiral-shaped wheels that make a watch tick -- it does cover other parts critical to the "Swiss-Made" mystique and label, including balance wheels, gear trains, and mainsprings.

    Beatrice Howald, a spokeswoman for Biel-based Swatch, said that the company views the ruling as "a positive, albeit tentative, first step toward finally making it clear to all the brands and groups in the Swiss watch industry that they have to invest in their own mechanical movements and assume the associated industrial risk themselves."     

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