It is getting better and better. At least Portuguese consumers can afford topnotch window shopping, because every conceivable brand is available in this little part of Europe – at least for one's eyes, buying however is another matter…
The world economy is in dire straits and has been having a negative impact on the national watch market, with analysts foreseeing a more difficult 2003 than the previous year. And it is true that average income in Portugal is below that of most of our partners in the European Community, but that doesn't prevent the national watch aficionado investing his precious earnings in a prestigious timepiece.
The upper classes are more and more informed – four watch magazines make sure they are! – about what is really good or what is a well marketed watch with popular looks but no soul at all. And in this land of Fado and Saudade, people always look for the soul within… even if it is within an object in some shop window and especially if the price tag is a fat one.
But what do Portuguese see in those windows? Almost everything. Shop owners benefit from the fierce competition between the bigger national distributors and are able to choose from well-known brands with huge production numbers to small companies that manufacture just a couple of thousand watches a year. Those traditional outlets also suffer from their competition, because the two largest distributors – Torres Distribuição and Tempus Internacional – are also indirectly associated with the only two true chains of sales points in Portugal.
Torres Distribuição has a penchant for high-end and niche mechanical brands and belongs to the Torres group – a family-owned business that started five generations ago, run by brothers Pedro and João Carlos Torres. Part of the imported haute horlogerie is sold through 'Torres Joalheiros' boutiques, a more traditional chain of shops (seven) that also sells jewellery and targets the wealthy collectors who are looking for exclusive brands and a more personalized contact.
Tempus Internacional is the Portuguese arm of the tentacular Swatch Group and started the 'Boutique dos Relógios' concept just a few years ago, a chain of 15 outlets located in large shopping malls. Practically only watches – mainly low and mid-ranges – are sold. Tempus International is run by Salomão Kolinsky, whose sister also has her own distribution company – orientated to the more affordable quartz brands.
Some other distributors also own a few brands and try to either keep up with the pace of the above-mentioned Capulets and Montagues of the Portuguese watch trade, or simply go on dealing with the retail shops and focusing on just one or two brands, while everyone – including shop owners – await the decisions of LVMH and Richemont concerning our national market.
But in addition to the familiar rivalry and tradition of the 'Torres Joalheiros' and 'Boutique dos Relógios' chains, what are the other retailers doing? They are simply trying to establish themselves as forces to be reckoned with. Some of them invested in the quality and exclusivity of haute horlogerie and were rewarded by becoming cult meeting points for watch lovers who are always looking for that special watch that no-one else has and are eager to meet a soul mate with whom they can discuss watches.
But then there are small retailers, hundreds of regional 'mamma and papa shops'. Tiny outlets, with no employees besides family members, that sell cheap watch brands and rely on the traditional Portuguese gold culture (jewellery) in order not to be swallowed up by the big shopping mall craze (there are more and more malls each year and an estimated 5.000 watch/jewellery outlets in Portugal).
The other novelty is the arrival of the big Spanish department store chain 'El Corte Inglés', that interestingly started its expansion rather in Portugal than in former Spanish colonies in Latin America. The Lisbon store carries 70 brands from Swatch to Franck Muller, and another store is expected to open in Porto.
Just for the record: Romeo from the Montagues and Juliet of the Capulets only existed in Shakespeare's imagination. There is a much more beautiful, dramatic and tragic love story in Portuguese history - the forbidden love of king Dom Pedro and Dona Inês de Castro. But that's another story…