3 months ago, Villiger, the historical Rolex authorized dealer in Bienne, stopped distributing the brand. Why exactly this relationship ceased is hard to know for a fact, and while I have heard several theories, debating them is not the goal of this post. Rather, my aim is to answer the several questions I've received from people wanting to know what are their "local" alternatives.
While obviously this is a first world problem to say the least, the frustration is real. Anyone who has tried to purchase a new Rolex over the past few years knows how it works. With the exception of one boutique in Geneva, Rolex relies exclusively on third party retailers for distribution. As demand greatly exceeds supply for the most popular models (or, nowadays, basically any model not iced or Cellini), retailers need to stack rank requests. They typically do so based on how they value each customer, i.e. how long they have had a relationship and how much the customer spends on other products that are not in high demand.
This was also the case in Bienne where a significant number of people had "invested", over the years, in their relationship with Villiger. They had purchased watches and jewelry that could easily be found elsewhere and benefited from this relationship to be included on wait lists for popular Rolex models. In some cases, they already received the watch they were hoping for. In many others, they were still on the list, sometimes for many years, when, in February of this year, Villiger ceased selling Rolex (and Tudor) watches.
Because of Rolex's decentralized distribution, none of those lists were carried over to another retailer. They simply vanished. That means that those who had been hoping to receive their dream watch after a patient wait will now need to start over again. And, as anyone who has tried knows, now is the worst time ever to do so, given the over-saturated demand for Rolex watches worldwide.
Those from Bienne who went to the closest remaining Rolex ADs, in Neuchâtel or Bern, can certainly confirm. And to be clear, I am not blaming the retailers in those towns: the rules of the game are totally messed up in my personal opinion, but individual retailers don't have a choice in following them. Obviously, the ones who actually cheat by directly feeding the grey market are one of the root causes of the overall shortage, and their behavior is unacceptable. But that is a different matter and I believe does not apply here given the stellar reputation of Michaud in Neuchâtel and Bucherer or Ziggerli+Iff in Bern.
There is some good news though. I have now heard from multiple, independent and reliable sources that a new AD for Rolex in Bienne can realistically be expected over the next few months. When exactly I don't know, but let's say things should become a lot more clear by the end of the year.
This won't remove the frustration of those who were still waiting on Villiger's lists. But it should create a new clean slate for those who want to start a relationship from scratch and perhaps were not in a position to do so a few years ago. More generally, this is positive for the overall watchmaking vibe in Bienne. Not having a Rolex AD in the city where Rolex was born and where all its movements are produced is just as un-made in Bienne as it gets, and needs to be resolved!