By Lenore Fedow
A platinum and 18-karat red, pink and yellow gold necklace from Richemont-owned Piaget’s "Sunlight Journey" collection, set with red spinels and yellow and white diamonds.
Geneva—Luxury titan Richemont reported double-digit sales growth in the US and China in its annual results, buoyed by a strong performance from the jewelry sector.

Overall sales totaled €13.99 billion ($15.63 billion), a 27 percent increase compared with €11.01 billion ($12.30 billion) a year ago.

Net profit more than doubled to €2.79 billion ($3.12 billion), including €1.38 billion ($1.54 billion) stemming from its recent acquisition of e-tailer Yoox Net-A-Porter Group (YNAP) and pre-owned watch platform Watchfinder.

Sales in its jewelry division, which includes Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, were up 10 percent at constant exchange rates to €7.08 billion ($7.91 billion) compared with €6.45 billion ($7.20 billion) last year.

The division’s operating results rose 16 percent to €2.22 billion ($2.48 billion) while its operating margin improved 160 basis points to more than 31 percent.

Richemont CFO Burkhart Grund attributed the strong results to “higher sales, manufacturing efficiency gains, relatively favorable Swiss franc, and good cost control, which more than offset investments in retail and communication.”

Jewelry sales were strong in all regions and in all channels, accounting for 51 percent of group sales, said Grund during the earnings call.

Evergreen collections, including “Love” and “Juste un Clou” by Cartier and “Alhambra” and “Perlée” by Van Cleef & Arpels, were strong performers. New collections, like “Galaxies” by Cartier and “Frivole” by Van Cleef & Arpels, held their own as well.

Sales in its specialist watchmakers division, which includes A. Lange & Söhne and IWC Schaffhausen, were up 10 percent at constant exchange rates to €2.98 billion ($3.33 billion) compared with €2.71 billion ($3.03 billion) a year ago.

Growth was “broad-based across the collections,” said Grund, with the launch of “Santos de Cartier” and “Poetic Complications” by Van Cleef & Arpels performing especially well.

The division’s operating results rose 44 percent to €378 million ($422 million), but its operating margin was 12.7 percent.

Although an improvement from the previous year, analysts expressed concern about the watch division’s weak profitability.

“Profitability still seems to be lagging especially in the specialist watchmaker division,” said Exane BNP Paribas analyst Melania Grippo to Reuters.

“I think, if you look at just the reported numbers, I think that the performance at the specialist watchmakers is underappreciated,” said Grund during the earnings call, pointing to double-digit growth in the retail network.

Another cause for concern was the operating loss of €264 million ($295 million) generated by its online distributors, including investments in its technology and €165 million ($184 million) related to its recent acquisitions.

YNAP reported double-digit growth across all regions while Watchfinder’s sales saw single-digit growth, due in part to “persisting uncertainty around Brexit” and the temporary closure of its London Royal Exchange flagship store for renovation.

Though online distributors saw an increase in sales, the division was only “slightly contributive” on an EBITDA basis, said Grund.

By region, sales in the Americas climbed 40 percent to €2.55 billion ($2.85 billion) while sales in Europe were up 37 percent to €4.12 billion ($4.60 billion).

The company attributed the strong growth in the regions in part to the acquisition of YNAP, which has a strong sales base in the U.S. and Europe.

Sales in Japan rose 16 percent to €1.15 billion ($1.28 billion) while sales in the Middle East and Africa rose 8 percent to €929 million ($1.03 billion).

Sales in Asia Pacific, the company’s largest region, rose 20 percent to €5.24 billion ($5.85 billion) with sales in mainland China leading the charge. The company opened 20 internal and 19 franchise stores in the region this year.

Looking for a stronger foothold in the Chinese luxury market, Richemont announced a joint venture with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba last October, outlining plans for launching two mobile apps for YNAP’s Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter.

Richemont CEO Jérôme Lambert said on the earnings call that the company’s joint venture is progressing “very well” and a CEO search is underway, but he did not give a timeline for when the apps will be up and running.

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