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Monday, December 23, 2013

A ‘Shocked’ and ‘Disappointed’ Tiffany & Co. Ordered to Pay $450 Million to Swatch Group

A long, simmering dispute between two powerhouses in the luxury jewelry and watch world appears to have come to an end when a Dutch arbitration panel ordered Tiffany & Co. to pay 402 million Swiss francs ($450 million) to Swatch Group for breach of contract. In addition, a counter-claim by Tiffany & Co. was dismissed by the panel.

The dispute, which has been ongoing since 2011, was argued before the Netherlands Arbitration Institute, which provides a confidential way of resolving such disagreements. The result of the arbitration in Swatch’s favor was announced in a very brief statement by the watch company Sunday followed by a much longer statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission Monday morning by Tiffany. 

Tiffany cut its forecast for the year based on the ruling and it says it will continue to seek legal remedies.

“We were shocked and extremely disappointed with the decision of the majority of the arbitral panel,” said Michael J. Kowalski, Tiffany chairman and CEO, in the SEC statement. “We firmly believe the panel’s ruling is not supported by the facts of this case or the various agreements between the Swatch parties and the Tiffany parties. While we are reviewing our options with our legal counsel, I want to assure you that we do have sufficient financial resources to pay the full amount. We will record a charge for the after-tax impact of the award, which we estimate to be approximately $295 - 305 million, in the fourth quarter.”

In 2007, the two companies announced that they signed an agreement to produce and market watches under the Tiffany & Co. brand name. In September 2011, Swatch Group had terminated the collaboration for what it termed as a breach of contract and pressed claims for damages in December 2011 against Tiffany. In March 2012, Tiffany filed a counterclaim with the court of arbitration in charge.

The original agreement between the two parties was that Swatch Group—which produces, markets and sells watches under approximately 20 brands from the popular low-cost Swatch watch to the prestige and luxury brand, Breguet—was to design and produce watches under the Tiffany brand name. Those watches were to be sold through Tiffany stores around the world. Tiffany apparently didn’t think the watches created by Swatch fit their brand image. Swatch charged that Tiffany did little to market and sell those watches.

Tiffany noted in its statement that one of the three members of the arbitration panel issued a dissenting opinion and that the amount awarded reflects approximately 8.8 percent of the damages claimed by Swatch.

Tiffany, according to its statement, was also ordered to pay two-thirds of the cost of arbitration (approximately $800,000) and two-thirds of the cost of legal fees ($8.8 million).

 “We do not believe that the award will impact our ability to realize our existing business plans in the short or long term, and we are extremely pleased to be moving forward with our plans to design, produce, market and distribute our own Tiffany & Co. brand watches,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski said the payments will be made from cash on hand and funds available under its existing debt facilities. The company said that the charges associated with the award will reduce earnings per diluted share for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2014, to $2.30 - $2.35 from the guidance of $3.65 - $3.75, issued a month earlier.

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