Dispute Continues Over Distribution of Roger Dubuis Watches

The dispute continues over who is authorized to distribute luxury brand Roger Dubuis watches in North America.

In June, Roger Dubuis North America, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which was fired in November as distributor by the Swiss manufacturer, filed its case with a three-judge panel of the International Chamber of Commerce, convened in Geneva, to arbitrate the dispute. The process could take a year or more.

Earlier, in May, it filed a multicount lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Chicago against a Midwest retailer, which was a former customer, and its watch service center. RDNA contends they unlawfully obtained and sold Roger Dubuis watches without its authorization but allegedly with the knowledge of the Swiss manufacturer. At press time, lawsuits against other alleged “infringers” were also possible, say RDNA officials.

The watchmaker, Manufacture Roger Dubuis S.A., at press time, hadn’t replied to JCK‘s request for further comment on the dispute. However, early this year, it said it was “restructuring and improving its international distribution network.”

The dispute began in November 2005. MRD, based near Geneva, ended its contract with RDNA for alleged “many breaches of contract.” RDNA has been MRD’s distributor since 1999, creating the U.S. market and distribution. Its contract was due to end in 2009, with an option to renew.

The U.S. firm denied MRD’s allegations and contended that what RDNA president Alex Nobile called “unjust termination” was an attempt by the Swiss watchmaker to take control of the business in America.

In January and February, a federal court in Scranton, Pa., denied motions by MRD and the watchmaker’s then newly formed U.S. arm, Roger Dubuis Distribution, headed by two former RDNA employees, to prevent RDNA from marketing and distributing Roger Dubuis watches in North America. The court said “no immediate irreparable harm” to RDD was shown and that since both sides agreed to let a Swiss tribunal decide whether or not the contract was properly terminated, it had no jurisdiction over related issues until that was resolved.

RDNA’s Nobile acknowledged the dispute has had some effect on its business. “There are certain clients we have decided to stop doing business with. Others are understandably nervous about getting in the crossfire,” he said. “However, we still have a significant number of customers who’ve hung in there with us, buy product from us, and with whom we have continuing in-store events.”

While RDNA hasn’t gotten more watches from MRD, RDNA officials saw “storm clouds gathering” last year and built up “a significant amount of watch inventory,” Nobile said. It has two watchmakers, skilled in service and repair, “to support our customers,” he said.

However, Nobile said RDNA isn’t “just waiting for the Roger Dubuis dispute to settle itself.” It already has the right to distribute another Swiss luxury brand if it chooses and is “looking at other opportunities, too,” he said.