By Scott Wright

BRIAN DUFFY has more cause than your average film fan to look forward to the arrival of the next James Bond movie in the autumn.

As chief executive of Watches of Switzerland, the Glasgow-born chartered accountant and former Celtic director reveals that anticipation is building among the jeweller’s

well-heeled client base for the release

of 007’s latest Omega timepiece.

That appetite will perhaps be even keener given they have had to wait even longer to get their hands on the watch, given the film’s initial release date of April was pushed back after cinemas were forced to close their doors because of the coronavirus.

Highlighting the long-running role played by watches in Bond films – its hidden gadgets are traditionally revealed to the double-agent by an exasperated Q – Mr Duffy said the new piece will be marketed to the retailer’s ever-increasing waiting list.

“People go crazy for it,” said Mr Duffy, whose own collection includes the Omega created for Bond’s previous outing in Spectre. “People are buying

it even though the movie has been delayed. There is huge interest in buying the product.”

That demand for such an expensive accessory remains high despite the pressure facing the economy because of the virus underlines that Watches of Switzerland is emerging from the lockdown in a stronger position than many high-street retailers.

The company, which retails such prestigious brands as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Cartier, enjoyed a huge response when non-essential stores were allowed to re-open in England and Northern Ireland in June. And Mr Duffy, who led Watches of Switzerland to a successful stock market flotation, is hoping for a similar response when its Rolex boutique in Glasgow is finally unveiled on July 27.

Watches of Switzerland had been on course to increase turnover £1 billion this year before coronavirus struck, with sales running 16 per cent ahead of last year.

While the pandemic led the retailer to prioritise the safety of staff and jobs over profits, Mr Duffy said: “We are the biggest retailer of Rolex, which is a huge strength. It is half of our business, and there is more demand than supply. We are in a very fortunate position to be representing these brands.”

He added: “We have a formula for doing things. It is much more contemporary and relevant for today, and we give the best possible customer service.”

Unlike traditional retailers, people increasingly visit Watches of Switzerland by appointment, rather than drift in from the street, and the company has

a database of some four million clients. Mr Duffy said the consumer experience is not dissimilar to that shoppers will recognise from buying a phone or gadget in an Apple Store.

“We are a destination shop, and people often take a number of visits before deciding whether to buy a beautiful Rolex or a Cartier,” he said. “That is our norm. As people come in, they look, they engage, they learn, they then go and have a look online and come back again. It is a serious consideration if you are spending £5,000 to £10,000 on a watch. Our engagement is much more specific than spontaneous. About half of the Rolexes we sell are on waiting list.”

He added: “We always have that big long list. We had some availability of product and we worked that list over the past few weeks. That is what people are now coming in to collect.”

The new Rolex boutique in Glasgow will be the first of its kind in Scotland. Mr Duffy said it will be housed in a former Watches of Switzerland shop at the top of Buchanan Street, opposite the Buchanan Galleries.

Mr Duffy, who has held senior roles with a host of luxury brands, including nine years as group president of Polo Ralph Lauren for Europe and the Middle East, said: “It will be the first one ever in Scotland dedicated to Rolex. Rolex do amazing designs. We are incorporating some aspects of the city into it; there will be visuals around the store. It will make it feel like it belongs to the city.”

Mr Duffy grew up in Castlemilk, Barlanark and then Balornock, describing himself as a “product of Glasgow housing schemes”. He qualified as a chartered accountant aged 21, having embarked on an apprenticeship on leaving school which he completed at the University of Glasgow. His first post was with Peter Marwick Mitchell in Buchanan Street, now part of KMPG.

He then switched in-house to a role with Polaroid, his firm’s biggest client, in Vale of Leven, before being headhunted by Playtex in Port Glasgow, where he became finance director for the UK business, aged 28. Mr Duffy was then promoted to the post of European finance director, which saw him relocate to Paris aged 30, where his wife gave birth to the couple’s fourth child. After three years in Paris, they moved to Connecticut, America, after he was promoted to become the company’s worldwide chief financial controller. He stayed in post for around four years.

Playtex was then acquired by the Sarah Lee Corporation, which prefaced a role into general management. “Up until that point, I was a finance guy,” Mr Duffy said. He moved to London, where his first project was the launch of Wonderbra in 1992, and went on to hold leading roles on other businesses within Sarah Lee.

In 2002, he left and went to college to learn to play the guitar, commencing a full-time degree in music, while he awaited the next opportunity. Then, in the spring of 2003, “along came Ralph Lauren, with the opportunity to become the first president for Europe and the Middle East, which I jumped at.”

He said: “I had always loved the brand, and saw it as a great opportunity. The job was in Geneva, Switzerland.

I was there for nine years.”

A move back to the UK came after the intensity of the Ralph Lauren role, which had involved travelling to America every month and a sales territory extending to Russia and the Middle East. He joined Watches of Switzerland, which has 124 stores and employs around 1,800 people, six years ago, since when he has launched the brand in the US and floated it on the stock market last year.

“Along the way in 2012 I got the opportunity of going on the board of Glasgow Celtic,” Mr Duffy said. “It was wonderful. It was a boyhood dream, in many ways, to get that close to the running of the club and be a part of it. It was a wonderful few years.”