The emerging watch market of Canada
Mid-range dilemma: quartz or mechanical?
Watchmaking’s promising new shoots
Why is the country not in the top 20 global markets for Swiss watchmakers? Visit. .......................................................p.8
Volumes for quartz timepieces continue to decrease in the Swiss watch industry. .....................................................p.12
At the end of August 2019, there were 443 projects for new watch brands on Kickstarter alone. .....................................................p.16
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Towards a single watch market
The secondary watch market gains a boost in legitimacy with the launch of a certified pre-owned platform by world-leading retailer Bucherer. As we’ve stressed in many articles, the fusion between the primary and the secondary market is well under way. The first strong signal happened when luxury giant Richemont bought the British secondary platform Watchfinder. Another one came when Bucherer purchased the American retailer Tourneau, a specialist in certified pre-owned. A third one occurred when preowned company WatchBox (also from the USA, which dominates the pre-owned game) set up an office in Switzerland.
It’s time to bring some order to the digital anarchy that is the online pre-owned market! And there have been countless others – brands such as F.P. Journe, Urwerk and MB&F have announced the launch of certified pre-owned services, and influential retailer London Jewelers cemented an alliance with second-hand specialist Crown & Caliber. Just as online merges with offline, the secondary market also merges with the primary market for new watches. Essentially, you can now buy certified pre-owned timepieces and brand new watches from the same people, and you can choose to do it either by browsing from your home, or walking into the shop. At
the end of the day, it should all lead to a watch market with minimum friction and maximum choice, focused around a smaller number of increasingly powerful actors, such as Bucherer. It’s time to bring some order to the digital anarchy that is the online pre-owned market! But it doesn’t happen in a day: you still find countless offers online for watches with dubious provenance or quality. But the paradigm shift is that brands and their best retailers are now ready to enter this new realm of the watch world. They used to be afraid that this parallel market would damage their reputation, for instance through deep discounting. But they have now come to realise that, if they want to control it, they had better join it. Expect more and more “structuring” to occur, as the secondary market organises itself. Earlier this year, the cooperation between Swiss retailer Les Ambassadeurs and WatchBox was a sign of things to come. The launch of a certified pre-owned service at Bucherer confirms the trend. Even Amazon has introduced a certified pre-owned section on its platform… Bucherer already operates a certified pre-owned business in the USA through Tourneau. It will now be introducing this service at the Bucherer boutique in Geneva, before expanding it gradually to Zurich, Hamburg, Paris, London, Düsseldorf and Munich. As Chinese consumers represent a growing customer base for new watches (the secondary market is not yet as developed there), the launch of certified pre-owned caters to a rising consumption habit in the West. It’s not just about watches: the car industry embraced the preowned segment a long time ago.
The new Longines Heritage Classic
Longines, self-assured simplicity COVER STORY
The renewed and growing interest in timepieces from the golden era of what we now call “vintage” watches also signals a return to the intrinsic, essential values of watchmaking, which are the precise display of the current hour, minute and second. Bringing these vintage models back to life is not always as easy as it might appear, but Longines holds a winning hand. Its trump cards are continuity, stability and a vast heritage that has been assiduously kept alive. (Read on page 4)
Your direct access to 60 years of watch archives: www.europastar.com/club
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Self-assured simplicity A look at the new Longines Heritage Classic
From l. to r.: the watch sold in 1934, Ref. 3818 from 1936, Ref. 3454 from 1935, Ref. 3916 from 1939.
In August 2017, the Longines Museum acquired a small Longines watch. It was made of steel, with a diameter of 32.5 mm. It featured what is known as a “sector” dial, along with a generously proportioned small second subdial at 6 o’clock. The watch sowed a seed, and the brand’s Product Department was quickly alerted. They came to take a look. The watch in question, serial number 5.239.852, dates back to 1929. According to the company ledgers, it was sold on 18 August 1934 to a firm by the name of Ostersetzer, at the time Longines’ agent for Italy. Inside beat the legendary calibre 12.68Z. It was love at first sight.
Sector dials Watches with these kinds of segmented dials have become highly sought-after by collectors. Longines, whose busy Brand Heritage Department fields around fifty information requests each day on average (see our article “A glimpse into Longines’ heritage and patrimony” from December 2018 on europastar.com), has noted an increasing number of requests for pieces like this. After conducting some research in their own archives, staff exhumed several other references with sector dials in black or white, belonging to wristwatches and pocket watches from the 1930s, which gives an idea of how popular these watches were.
Dials devoid of extraneous detail, their sole ornament being the markings required to measure time.
A 1935 sectorial pocket-watch
Many of these timepieces were equipped with the same calibre, the 12.68Z, a testament to the rational approach to movement production taken by Longines from the late 1920s, when the 12.68Z was produced on a large scale. It is a very precise calibre that has proven to be extremely reliable. Its timekeeping
qualities ensure a rigorous and precise time display, which is shown off to great advantage against the precision markings of a sector dial. Completely devoid of extraneous detail, their sole ornament being the markings required to measure time, these dials with their ultra-precise, minimalistic geometrical design purpose-engineered to showcase the chronometric functions of the watch were very popular between the wars. >
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LONGINES HERITAGE CLASSIC REFERENCE NUMBERS: L2.8220.127.116.11, L2.818.104.22.168 CALIBRE: Mechanical self-winding movement, Calibre L893 (ETA A31.501). 11½ lignes, 27 rubies, 25,200 vibrations per hour POWER RESERVE: 64 hours FUNCTIONS: Hours, minutes, small second at 6 o’clock CASE: Round, ø 38.50 mm, stainless steel DIAL: Silvered, 2 zones, painted Arabic numerals and markers HANDS: Blued steel WATER RESISTANCE: Up to 3 bar (30 metres) CRYSTAL: Sapphire with multi-layer anti-reflective coating STRAP: Black leather and NATO blue denim effect leather with pin buckle, blue leather and NATO anthracite denim effect leather with pin buckle PRICE: CHF 2,000 (plus applicable taxes)
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A worthy setting for an exclusive new movement The powers that be decided that the 1934 piece, with its handsome, architectural, symmetrical sector dial, would be the ideal vehicle for a new movement Longines was then working on in collaboration with ETA. Its codename was the A31.501 (Longines L 893.5), and it was being developed exclusively for Longines. It’s a very powerful automatic 11.5-ligne movement, measuring 26.20 mm in diameter and 4.60 mm thick in the centre, with a generous power reserve of at least 64 hours, and a silicon balance spring. It doesn’t have a date function, but what it does have – at the specific request of Longines – is a particularly generous space between the two axes of the hours and minutes, and the second hands. This configuration meant that Longines could give their watches an appearance as close as possible to that of certain vintage models. The 1934 watch was clearly the ideal home for this new movement.
agement, and finally that Walter von Känel, who joined Longines in 1969 and has run the company since 1988, is well known for his dedication to history and museography. From the outset, the philosophy of Longines has been to replicate or reissue certain historic pieces using modern technology, while remaining as faithful as possible to the original piece. For the last five years, on the strength of the rising popularity of – and demand for – historical timepieces, this branch of the company has become more tightly structured, regularly producing both limited-edition anniversary pieces and models destined to join the current collection.
whole, Longines’ designers must have spent a long time on this micro-detail before they found the ideal solution. In fact, compared with the original, the 6 on the updated piece is slightly more visible. Only very slightly, but this is the kind of detail that can determine the success or failure of the entire project.
Going on first impressions, the new Longines Heritage Classic is a resounding success. It stands apart from many recent (more or less well-conceived) vintage models be-
But, if anything is to last, it has to be adaptable. Today, we expect a watch to be water-resistant (this one is, to 30 m), precise and reliable (guaranteed by its high-powered exclusive movement). But while the shape might be identical, perceptions have changed. In the translation from 1934 to 2019, its size has expanded from 32.5 mm to 38.5 mm. The “maximum” size for a watch like this, according to the purists, is also a size that will likely exert an appeal well beyond its original target audience of men, particularly in some markets.
cause of the sheer effortless simplicity of its design. “What is a watch?” it asks. “It’s this,” it seems to reply, with modest but implacable selfassurance. A watch is the hour, minute and second, precisely and scientifically displayed. It is a small but faithful time machine, housed in a case that is equally simple, discreet and elegant. It could come off as clinical, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. Its simplicity, confidence and unapologetic rigour exude a charm all their own. It seems to say: this is the watch, in the sense that it embodies the essential functionality and timeless form of an object designed to tell the time as precisely as possible. And its form is perfectly appropriate: it’s a watch that dates back to 1934, a watch that doesn’t hide its age, and yet is ageless. As so many people say: “I miss the days of the ‘watch for life’.” Well, maybe this is it.
The eye is inexorably drawn to the two zones of its silvered dial, its blued steel hands, its painted Arabic numerals and markers, its discreetly boxy sapphire crystal; the viewer is charmed by its elegant, handsome and refined overall appearance, and its beautifully clear display. The Sector Dial, to use the watch’s nickname, comes supplied with two different straps that can be changed easily using the small tool that is also included in the presentation case. There’s a blue Nubuk or matt black calfskin two-stitch strap, and a blue or anthracite leather “denim effect” NATO strap, all with pin buckle. The Longines Heritage Classic will go on sale worldwide from October. In addition to its intrinsic qualities, and the excellent response it provides to a market still riding high on the vintage wave, its CHF 2,000 price tag practically guarantees a very favourable reception.
“What is a watch?” it asks. “It’s this,” it seems to reply, with modest but implacable self- assurance. While, by Longines’ own admission, this segment accounts for only a small proportion of its revenues, it contributes substantially to the historic and heritage prestige of the brand, making it attractive to collectors, raising its social media profile and bringing it to the attention of the most discerning aficionados who, as we know, are often more purist about such things than the brands themselves.
In pursuit of perfect balance The L893.5 calibre
A vast heritage to explore Longines’ collections are divided into five categories: Elegance (quartz and mechanical), Classic, Tradition (99.6% mechanical, including the COSC-certified Record range), Sport (including the Conquest V.H.P.) and Heritage. Longines didn’t wait for the vintage wave to peak before diving into its own historical archives. On the strength of its impressive heritage, meticulously collected, documented and archived for over 150 years, Longines made its first incursion with the 1987 reissue of the famous and historic Lindbergh, dating from 1927. This historical approach is greatly aided by the fact that Longines has occupied the same building for over a century and a half (removals often lead to archives being lost, as we all know), that the company has enjoyed remarkable stability in terms of man-
Reworking and redesigning a historic model while preserving the spirit of its creation is by no means an easy task. Moving from a diameter of 32.5 mm to a diameter of 38.5 mm, while retaining the aesthetic balance of the piece, is far more than just a matter of simple arithmetic. You also have to achieve the correct compromise, one that satisfies both absolute purists who swear by the original watch, and aficionados for whom the diameter of the 1934 model is too small to wear today. It’s all about the relationship between the diameter and the thickness, and the geometrical balance of the dial. It’s an extraordinarily delicate task because, within the very restricted area of a watch, each millimetre, each fraction of a millimetre, counts. The smallest error can upset the balance of the whole. Here’s one very simple concrete example: the figure 6 on the dial. The position of the big small seconds in the lower half of the dial partially occludes the 6. For technical reasons to do with the distance between the axes of the hands, as well as aesthetic considerations of harmony regarding the watch as a
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The emerging watch market of Canada 1960s, the city suffered from the geopolitical upheavals of Quebec, as well as from the shift of Canada’s economic heart ever westward, towards the English-speaking provinces and the Pacific Ocean. “In Montreal, infrastructure projects were at a standstill for about 40 years. But there is now a new confidence in the province’s economic climate and the city is benefiting from new investments,” says Marco Miserendino.
Why is Canada not in the top 20 global markets for Swiss watchmakers, despite its high level of development? The potential of the Canadian watch market, in the shadow of its American neighbour, seems far from being reached, particularly in Montreal, a metropolis in the throes of renewal. Several initiatives are aiming to fix this, including a new watch salon. Visit. by
The Kaufmann family is a perfect illustration of the relationship between Switzerland and Canada, in the field of watches and more. Pius Kaufmann, a jeweller from St. Gallen (now 90 years old), moved to Montreal to learn English before opening his own store there. His son Charles grew up in Canada and then returned to his homeland, where he worked at Bucherer... before being called back across the Atlantic by his father across to open a new store.
“We must stop considering Canada as a second-category market for unsold timepieces.” Today, Charles Kaufmann is the sole authorised retailer for Patek Philippe in the entire province of Quebec. His prestigious boutique, Kaufmann de Suisse in Montreal, also sells Carl F. Bucherer, Parmigiani Fleurier and, as of this year, Nomos. “The purpose of introducing this brand is to attract a new generation of buyers with a more affordable entrylevel offering,” says the CanadianSwiss citizen. The family also owns a boutique in Palm Beach, Florida – illustrative of the deep economic integration between the United States and Canada. However, compared to its southern neighbour, the Canadian watch market still looks tiny. Despite 37 million inhabitants and economic success, particularly fuelled by gas, oil and the mining sector, Canada ranked only 22nd last year in the global map of Swiss watchmakers, behind... Portugal, with 177 million francs in imports. We were expecting the country to figure more prominently in watchmaking statistics! Admittedly, demographic giants such as India and Brazil find themselves even further down the Swiss Watch Federation’s annual ranking, but Canada, a proponent of free trade and a well-integrated globalised country, is a long way from the crippling levels of protectionism that prevent watch brands from investing more there.
New watch festival in September
“A land of opportunity” “The Canadian market as a whole remains a land to conquer for Swiss watchmakers. The population is well off and the economy is doing well,” says Marco Miserendino, co-owner of Bijouterie Italienne in Montreal (a Rolex official retailer), and president of the Canadian Jewellers Association, the country’s leading organisation in the sector with more than 1,000 professional members. But why isn’t Canada already in a stronger position in terms of Swiss watch exports? Industry representatives cite several reasons, but particularly – given that watchmaking is now more than ever associated with foreign visitors – its short tourist season. Nevertheless, the current exchange rate would appear to favour cross-border purchases by American neighbours... A more pragmatic reason is offered: “Most OECD countries offer a VAT refund for purchases made by foreign customers. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case in Canada,” explains Grigor Garabedian, head of the Birks Group’s central watchmaking division. This venerable company, founded in 1879, is today the leading watch distributor in the country, with 28 stores located from Halifax to Vancouver. It operates a Patek Philippe store in Vancouver, a Rolex shop-in-shop in Calgary and a Richard Mille shop-in-shop in Vancouver.
Kaufmann de Suisse in Montreal
A taste for discretion? So, if conditions mitigate against watch buying by visitors, why is local consumption not higher? Cultural reasons, related to purchasing habits, are cited. “The wealthiest Canadians I know often don’t wear luxury watches. We prefer to invest in real estate. I believe that a form of modesty and simplicity is expressed in our way of life, compared to the United States or other countries. The luxury sector must deal with this reality,” says Dominic Handal, owner of Pax Jewellers in Montreal. Marco Miserendino also observes this culture of understatement in the choices of his customers: “For example, we sell more watches in white gold, which has a more discreet charm than yellow gold. Our customers favour moderation and our portfolio remains stable over time: we have few requests for very exclusive timepieces and there is no permanent quest for novelty, as can be seen in other markets.”
with the sales levels of Spain, a country with a comparable population and development but with twice as many imports of Swiss watches? This seems to be the case in Montreal, Quebec’s biggest city, which, with more than 4 million inhabitants, contains half of the province’s population and wealth. A very important financial and trading centre until the
“I believe that a form of modesty and simplicity is expressed in our way of life, compared to the United States or Montreal wakes up other countries. The luxury sector must deal “However, sales of Swiss watches have grown surprisingly in re- with this reality.” Bijouterie Italienne
cent years,” says Grigor Garabedian at Birks Group. Are we witnessing a ‘catch-up’ effect, which could see Canada eventually aligning itself
Dominic Handal, owner of Pax Jewellers in Montreal.
Several signals seem to point to a new watchmaking dynamic in the city. For example, last June, the auction house Phillips organised a presentation and sale of vintage watches during the Formula 1 Grand Prix Canada, Montreal’s most important international event. Among the timepieces presented at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel were beautiful vintage watches by Rolex, Omega and Heuer, under the common theme of motor racing. Another sign: a new watch fair was organised for the first time this September in Montreal (Europa Star was a media partner). It brought together 14 brands, mainly Swiss but also German and even Canadian, with the aim of raising awareness of independent watchmaking in Canada. The event was organised by Simion Matei, a Montreal real estate entrepreneur with a passion for watchmaking. Thomas Baillod, whose role it was to promote the festival, shares his vision of the Canadian watch market: “There is still a lot of educational work to do, but the potential is there. The market is now moving because it was neglected for a long time. Canada still lives in the shadow of the United States, which is getting all the attention. In addition, major watch liquidators are based in Canada. It distorts official statistics. The country is worth more than that: we must stop considering it as a second-category market for unsold timepieces.”
The watch market is more developed in the Englishspeaking provinces The show, which was held at the luxurious Saint James's Club in Montreal, brought together midand high-end brands seeking recognition in Canada. Companies such as Maurice Lacroix, Dwiss, Bédat & Co, L&JR, Ultramarine and Junghans attended. “The intention is to offer a high-quality but relatively affordable selection of watches” says
Thomas Baillod. “We do not want to create an inaccessible salon. With the dramatic changes that are disrupting traditional watch distribution, B2C shows, where direct sales are encouraged, have their place.” Simion Matei launched the initiative because he wants to enrich the watchmaking environment in his city of Montreal and in the province of Quebec. “The retailers I’ve been able to meet are not yet up to speed on big names in the independent scene like Christophe Claret or Kari Voutilainen,” he says. “We have chosen to set up a show that favours independent brands. We want to popularise fine independent
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What about Canadian watchmakers?
The country is not without its home-grown watchmakers! At the last Basel fair we had the pleasant surprise of meeting Alexandre Beauregard. This Montreal native is the founder of the brand of the same name (Swiss made). At the age of 17, he began drawing watch sketches and making prototypes. He finally launched his brand in 2018. His creative approach lies in “reinterpreting the traditional idea of a jewellery watch, combining watchmaking and jewellery in a new way.” For this adventure, Alexandre Beauregard collaborates with a lapi-
dary artist, Yves Saint-Pierre, as well as a jewellery and 3D drawing expert, François Ruel. Drawing on their shared passion for gems, the trio gave birth to an initial collection with floral motifs called Dahlia. In terms of technical design, Beauregard called upon the services of Telos in La Chaux-deFonds to create the flying tourbillon that occupies the centre of the dial of this collection. Outside Quebec, we should also mention Canadian brands Birchall & Taylor (Toronto), Wilk Watchworks (Toronto) and Novo Watch (Alberta). Still more are in the process of being launched. A new watchmaking startup, José Cermeño Montréal, was actually launched during Montreal’s first watch fair in September.
“A particularly strong ecological conscience” “There is a culture of understatement in customer choices. For example, we sell more watches in white gold, which has a more discreet charm than yellow gold.” Marco Miserendino, co-owner of Bijouterie Italienne in Montreal and president of the Canadian Jewellers Association.
watchmaking in Canada. Quebec in particular remains a little isolated on the global watch scene, more so than the English-speaking provinces.” Leading contemporary brands such as Richard Mille, Audemars Piguet and Greubel Forsey are present in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver but have no sales outlets in the province of Quebec.
A growing Asian community Another perspective should be noted regarding Canada: it is a country with considerable immigration from Asia, particularly in British Columbia and on the Pacific Coast. Knowing their importance in today’s watch sales on a global scale, could growth in Canada come from this community in particular? At Birks House, Grigor Garabedian confirms this trend: “Asian Canadians are the fastest growing community in the country. This clientele is becoming very important to us.” A clear sign is that the group has recently adopted WeChat (China’s most popular messaging platform) to communicate with its customers. In Canada as elsewhere, a major part of the future of Swiss watchmaking will be written in Chinese!
Meeting with Grigor Garabedian, Head of the Birks Group’s Central Watchmaking Division. Birks is Canada’s largest chain of watch and jewellery stores, with nearly 30 points of sale across the country. It also produces its own jewellery lines. For the latest financial year, the group recorded sales of US$151 million. This company, founded in Montreal in the 19th century, also has a role in the vast reconfiguration of watch retail in North America. In 2017 it sold the American watch chain Mayors, active in Florida and Georgia, to the British group Watches of Switzerland for US$ 106.8 million. The launch of Birks branded jewellery collections in the United Kingdom began in September 2017 through an exclusive distribution agreement with Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths. The company intends to increase its presence in international markets over the next five years. We interviewed Grigor Garabedian, head of the Birks Group’s central watchmaking division.
What have been the major milestones in the Birks Group’s history? Henry Birks opened his first jewellery store in Montreal in 1879. A few years later, he moved to Phillips Square, where one of our flagship stores is still located today. By 1901, the group had expanded nationally, with outlets in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Another turning point was the introduction of the Birks Blue Box jewellery gift concept in 1920. In 1954, the Birks Group opened its first store in a Canadian shopping mall in Dorval. We should also mention the creation of a gift for Her
In 2017, Birks sold the American watch chain Mayors, active in Florida and Georgia, to the British giant Watches of Switzerland for 106.8 million dollars.
Beauregard Dahlia collection
Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1959, followed by our appointment as official supplier for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. In 1993, Jonathan Birks sold the company to the Regaluxe Group and in 2005 Birks merged with Mayors to form the group we know today. How many points of sale do you have today? Maison Birks has 28 stores across Canada and our jewellery collections are available in 63 retail outlets in North America and the United Kingdom. Our group also operates a Patek Philippe store in Vancouver and several shop-in-shop stores, for example for Rolex in Calgary and Richard Mille in Vancouver. What are the main growth drivers for the group? We seek above all to remain as close as possible to the evolution of our customers’ expectations. For example, in recent years we have noticed that they are increasingly attentive to the traceability and ecological impact of their purchases. Birks has taken many steps to become a more sustainable company. We are proud to source Canadian diamonds and participate in the campaign against
“dirty gold”. In addition, the recent renovation of several of our flagship stores in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto offers a new shopping experience. I think this adaptability will ensure a bright future for us on the Canadian market. In 2017, you sold Mayors to the British group Watches of Switzerland. It also allowed you to develop your brand Birks Jewellery internationally, particularly in the United Kingdom. What stage are these developments at today? We are continuing to develop Birks Fine Jewellery in the United Kingdom and the United States. We are constantly looking for new opportunities to expand our international presence. Do you have an e-commerce platform? Yes, a wide selection of our watches, for example from Cartier or TAG Heuer, are available for purchase on our online platform. Digital shopping is gaining in popularity. However, we have also noted the importance of maintaining a strong physical connection and personal experience with each customer. We want them to take the time to get to know the brands we offer in a welcoming space and to feel at home in our stores. Do you also offer pre-owned watches? In Canada, we have an exclusive partnership with Crown & Caliber, a platform that specialises in second-hand watches and professional authentication. We wanted to be able to offer a trusted service for this segment, which is why we have partnered with a well-known player in the industry. The process is very simple: you can choose between cash payment or Birks gift credit, with an additional 20% value for the second option. You then send the watch to Crown & Caliber for inspection and authentication, before receiving your payment directly by mail.
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Chronoswiss, the mechanical purists Europa Star has been following the Chronoswiss adventure since it started in 1983. The brand was born in the midst of the quartz crisis with a vision: to revive the appeal of the mechanical watch. It pioneered several elements that have become widely popular today, such as the open caseback, the skeleton watch and the regulator. New owner Oliver Ebstein continues to preserve the legacy of the founder of the brand, while navigating the challenging waters of independent watchmaking. by
How to give new life to a brand founded by a visionary watchmaker, but evolving in an increasingly tough environment? This is the challenge that Oliver and Eva Ebstein have had to face on a daily basis since they bought Chronoswiss in 2012. The brand was founded during the quartz crisis by a mechanical watch purist, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, who had lost his job at Heuer, but not his faith in “timeless” watchmaking. When he created Chronoswiss in 1983, he started a pioneering adventure by launching several innovations that have become almost mainstream in the watch industry today: the open caseback, the skeleton watch and the regulator, which remains the signature of the brand to this day. More than 30 years later, the mechanical watch is back in centre stage, just as Gerd-Rüdiger Lang had predicted. A new wave of independent watchmakers has emerged since the turn of the millennium. But this doesn’t make the task of the new owners any easier. Quite the opposite, as the gap between the biggest watch brands and their followers continues to widen. Oliver Ebstein, committed to respecting the legacy of the founding father while giving the brand a more contemporary twist, told us his fascinating story, with the support of Europa Star’s own archives. Chronoswiss started up in 1983, which is unusual, as it was a time of industrial crisis for Swiss watch companies. Many brands were closing their doors! Oliver Ebstein: Before founding Chronoswiss, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang actually worked as a master watchmaker at Heuer during the 1980s. However, it was indeed the height of the quartz crisis and he had to leave the company. The only compensation he received was a set of spare parts. As he still believed in a future for mechanical timepieces, despite the ongoing crisis in the industry, he decided to launch his
own watch company. He started producing Chronoswiss timepieces with the help of his wife, in their garage, using the components he had managed to save from Heuer! His goal was to revive the fascination for mechanical watches. What did the first Chronoswiss watches look like? A distinctive feature in the first generation of timepieces was their open-backed case. It was meant to increase the awareness among customers of the beauty of a mechanical calibre, versus a quartz movement. Back then, unlike today, it was rare for watches to have an open caseback. As a pioneer, he probably should have patented it! But he was more into design and technology than pure business. Another innovation he introduced with the Opus line was a skeletonised watch, another category of timepieces that were much less common then than they are today. A third milestone for Chronoswiss was the Regulator of 1988, a unique display which he adapted to a wristwatch. Gerd-Rüdiger Lang made it a key element for the brand. In 2012, you and your wife bought the company from Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, and started a new era for Chronoswiss. How did that come about? At the time, I didn’t actually know Mr Lang personally. But as I grew up in Zurich in a family of watch aficionados during the quartz crisis, watchmaking was often a topic of discussion at home. And we regularly talked about Gerd-Rüdiger Lang’s efforts to revive the mechanical watch. So I had followed him for a long time. One of the first watches I bought was actually a Chronoswiss. I worked in the banking and pharmaceutical industries. When I finally met Mr Lang in 2011, we talked about watches, philosophy, time... He understood my passion for mechanical watches and was looking for someone to take over the company. Five months later, we signed the contract.
Flying Grand Regulator Open Gear ReSec
What has been your strategy since you took over Chronoswiss? When we started in 2012, the business situation was not good, and the company had been restructuring in the aftermath of the financial crisis. At the time, Chronoswiss had about 150 different references and worked with 60 suppliers. It was too complicated. Our first task was thus to change the supply chain, as well as the distribution. When you come up with a new story and a new vision, some partners are ready to come on board, and others are not. Another important decision, in 2014, was to move all the facilities, which were previously scattered between several places, to our headquarters in Lucerne. Outside of Switzerland, we maintain one subsidiary for logistics in Germany and another one in Hong Kong for after-sales. Once this was completed, about four years ago, we could really start to focus on the redesign of the timepieces. How have the product lines evolved since then? We are concentrating on the Regulator as a distinctive feature in a highly competitive landscape. We’re trying to develop this display by giving it a more contemporary look. An inspiration for me is how Porsche has adapted its iconic 911, keeping the basic idea but giving it a contemporary appeal. The design of the Regulator had not changed
for several decades and the customer base was mostly people in their 50s or 60s. With the redesign, we have succeeded in reaching a younger audience too. Besides the Regulator, we have kept some more traditional-looking fine mechanical timepieces in our collections, such as the Sirius.
the most important area when we took over the company. The core of our sales take place in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Our new target is the USA, where we started working with a new distribution partner two years ago. Two other growing markets are Japan and Singapore.
What is the core price range for Chronoswiss?
What about e-commerce?
Between 5,000 and 8,000 dollars. How do you operate as far as the calibre is concerned? We work with ETA or use vintage calibres as a base, which we adapt and redecorate to build the complications such as the regulator or the jumping hour. As mentioned, the supply chain has been streamlined in recent years, and today we work with about twenty suppliers, most of them family businesses. Where are the most important markets for Chronoswiss today? We have also reduced the number of points of sale since we took over, to about 130 worldwide, and we are still cutting down the distribution network. In my view, a big country doesn’t need more than 4 to 5 points of sale for Chronoswiss. So it’s all about creating the right connection with the right partner, as a small company. We concentrate on Europe, which was already
We launched our online store three years ago. Our intention is not to create competition for our partners. Rather, we view it as an important source of information and dialogue with our customers. Could you share the biggest challenges you face as an independent watch brand? The daily challenge is communication. I think that we offer very attractive products at the correct price, but getting the message to the end client is not easy. What this requires primarily is for sales staff to really understand our products, so that they can convey our identity, our history, our vision... The pitch must be right in order to attract customers who already have two or three watches, and want something different. Some bigger watch brands are abandoning traditional retailers, which may create new opportunities for us, but at the same time it puts enormous pressure on potential points of sale. It’s very hard out there.
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12 | WATCH AFICIONADO
Mid-range dilemma: quartz or mechanical? We remain the leading brand in the mid-price segment in Scandinavia – Norway, Finland and Sweden – so it is indeed a very important area for us. As for Germany, we have big ambitions here.
While volumes for quartz timepieces continue to decrease in the Swiss watch industry, Certina, one of the oldest brands in the mid-range segment, is experiencing higher demand for its mechanical collections. Its latest innovation aims at protecting the mechanical movement from magnetic fields. We met Adrian Bosshard, the CEO of Certina. by
Ash Longet Serge Maillard
Over the long term, is there a future for Swiss-made quartz watches? It’s the moment of truth for them as they seem increasingly “stuck” between luxury mechanical timepieces and affordable smartwatches. Swiss watch brands have been recovering from the 2015 downturn, but the volumes produced are getting lower and lower each year. In three years, the branch has “lost” 4.4 million watches, mostly affordable quartz timepieces. The industry is leaning towards mechanical watches.
“The watch industry evolves in cycles, and the trend might change again in the future. So our strategy is to strengthen both the quartz and the mechanical offering.” Adrian Bosshard, CEO of Certina
So, quartz or mechanical? It’s a crucial moment for Swiss actors in the mid-range segment. The biggest of them, Tissot, Mido, Hamilton and Certina, are part of the Swatch Group, by far the largest Swiss producer in terms of volume (and value). Certina is an interesting case as it is active in both the quartz and mechanical segments. While it had been emphasising its Precidrive calibres in the quartz range, the latest innovation – is it a coincidence? – concerns the so-called “DS concept” for its automatic range of watches. We went to Hamburg to attend the presentation of a special DS-1 Big
Date timepiece for the 60th anniversary of the DS concept. On the outside, we find a dark green dial with a Milanese mesh bracelet. On the inside, it has a Powermatic 80 movement that sets new standards thanks to a Nivachron balance spring. This innovative material was developed in cooperation with the Swatch Group to guarantee improved resistance to magnetic fields. Alongside Swatch, Certina is now one of the first brands in the group to make use of this new titanium-based material. We met its CEO Adrian Bosshard. The “DS concept”, a key element for Certina, was invented in 1959. What is it exactly? Adrian Bosshard: DS stands for “Double Security”. The concept’s original purpose was to ensure the highest degree of waterproofing, shock resistance and accuracy, thanks to the extremely robust construction of the watch case. Certina as a brand has promoted its reliability since it was founded in 1888, which explains why you’ve always found our watches on the wrists of sports aficionados such as climbers or divers. A growing enemy of mechanical precision is magnetic fields, a problem that was difficult to manage for a long time. A solution that more and more luxury brands use is incorporating a silicon balance spring. But silicon is an expensive material, and we wanted to stick to our affordable price range. Hence the introduction of the Nivachron™, an alternative to the silicon balance spring…
Another key market is Asia, but Hong Kong, the largest export market for Swiss watches, has been shaken by political tensions. What’s the impact on sales? We are actually still quite small in China and Hong Kong. The demonstrations make the situation difficult. We’re seeing a drop in sales, although not in the 50% range! The decline in Hong Kong is more in the single digit range. In a way, due to our late start on the local market, we are less exposed than other brands. And our focus is more on mainland China than Hong Kong. What is your distribution strategy in mainland China? Certina DS-1 Big Date
You operate in the mid-price segment of the Swiss watch industry. For years now, volumes in the industry have been decreasing (-14.6 %, a drop of 1.6 million timepieces, for the first half of 2019!), while the average export price is increasing. How do you cope with a general climate that is moving away from affordable offerings such as yours? What we see, from our own figures, is that we too are experiencing a strong increase in average prices. So we’re moving in the same direction as the rest of the industry. We are selling more mechanical timepieces, in a higher price segment, and fewer quartz watches. It’s a general trend, and it’s not only down to Asian customers. We’re also observing higher demand for mechanical watches on European markets. Overall, this is a good sign in terms of watch culture and education.
I strongly believe so. The mechanical share is increasing, but we remain an important brand in the quartz segment. We are also working on innovation in the quartz segment, with our Precidrive system and COSC-certified timepieces. Of course, it’s quite a challenge to buck the trend and keep up volumes with quartz watches. But at the end of the day, Certina is a brand that is present in both segments. The watch industry evolves in cycles, and the trend might change again in the future. So our strategy is to strengthen both the quartz and the mechanical offering. However, we see an increasing number of people wearing the Apple Watch, which is close to Certina’s and other Swiss made brands’ price point. It’s also considered a sports watch… I see the Apple Watch and I also see a lot of people wearing no watch at all, because they can see the time on their smartphone. I remain convinced that a smartwatch and a traditional watch are two very different objects. On the one hand, you have pure functionality. On the other, you have an item that carries an emotional charge. Which one would you rather consider as an important gift? People start wearing a traditional watch when they seek real value.
We reported on the Nivachron earlier this year when we covered the Swatch Flymagic. So you’re the first brand within the Swatch Group to adopt the technology on a larger scale? Yes. We will gradually roll it out to our entire mechanical production. As it is based on titanium, besides being anti-magnetic, the Nivachron balance spring is also highly resistant to fluctuations in temperature and presents excellent shock resistance, in line with the DS concept. Hence, it is the perfect way to celebrate 60 years of establishing a standard of reliability.
In the longer run, do you think there’s a future for quartz timepieces, both for Certina and for the Swiss watch industry as a whole?
A dilemma for the mid-range: back to the grand era of the automatic watch? (Europa Star, 1954)
A key market for Certina is northern Europe, and indeed, we’re meeting in Hamburg. How is business here?
It takes time to build a selective and qualitative distribution network in China. We are still at the start of the process, which will unfold over several years. Today, we have around 130 points of sale in China, but in the long term, a brand like Certina should probably open 400 to 500 points of sale there. E-commerce is also a very important part of distribution in China. Certina is already available on JD.com and Tmall, and we are experiencing good growth on these platforms. For the first time this year you didn’t exhibit at Baselworld. What have you organised instead? And for a brand that heavily relies on retailers, isn’t Baselworld a must? As we have group subsidiaries on all our major markets, from Poland to China, we focus on local events, such as product presentations to the media, which are monitored by our local PR managers. We can get closer to our customers this way. For the group, it means more work and organisation than when everybody met at Baselworld. But with this new strategy, the focus on our brand is higher at the local level. What future do you see for Certina in a Swiss watch industry that is increasingly concentrated in the high-end segment? Of course, we see the current trend of the luxury segment performing better than the mid-price segment. But when you count the quantity of available wrists in the luxury segment, it’s actually a rather small pool. In the mid-price segment we have a higher potential for selling volumes of watches. Worldwide, some 1.3 billion watches are sold each year. We can certainly find our sweet spot there!
WATCH AFICIONADO | 13
Swatch Group: the “vintage & silicon” strategy Mido’s Ocean Star is 75 years old, but the new version is equipped with silicon. It’s an embodiment of the Swatch Group’s strategy: to combine vintage designs with new materials and technologies, thanks to the conglomerate’s powerful industrial base. We met Mido’s CEO Franz Linder to discuss the situation. by
Ash Longet Serge Maillard
A vintage face to appeal to new generations, and a revamped interior with silicon to keep up with new technological expectations: that seems to be the new normal in the Swiss watch industry! With a polarised market, where daily life is ruled by digital technology in all its forms, the luxury mechanical watch is experiencing a comeback even stronger than in the 1990s. But not everyone can afford a highpriced independent creation, or an iconic timepiece with a waiting list so long it will be “vintage” by the time you pick it up. To cater to this trend, the more affordable face of the Swiss watch industry is also increasingly turning to automatic and vintage timepieces (read our analysis about Certina on page 12). The Swatch Group rules this (increasing) price range, along with some other actors such as Doxa, which has found a new lease
A vintage face to appeal to new generations, and a revamped interior with silicon to keep up with new technological expectations: that seems to be the new normal in the Swiss watch industry. of life thanks to the vintage wave, and is applying its industrial knowhow to create retro-looking designs. Mido is a perfect example of what we could call the “vintage & silicon” strategy, which industry leader Swatch Group is alone able to deploy on a large scale. Last year, Mido’s Commander Shade Special Edition sold out during the Basel fair. This year the brand is focusing on the revamped Ocean Star. We interviewed Franz Linder, the man in charge at Mido. In today’s watch industry, everything seems to revolve around vintage. At Mido, you’re launching a new version of the Ocean Star, a 75-year-old timepiece. It goes to show that we can always do better! Our ambition was indeed to produce the best interpre-
tation ever of this timepiece from Mido’s history. And we have delivered: the Ocean Star Diver 600 has improved water resistance, it is COSC-certified and equipped with a silicon balance spring, a ceramic bezel and a helium valve. It’s also an important exercise to look back at 75 years of history: we dug into our archives to find the best possible features for this new creation. It’s a tribute to a vintage timepiece, but not just for the sake of commemoration: we wanted to update it to the current state of technology available in the watch industry. The Swiss watch industry is experiencing a dramatic fall in volumes, especially in the most affordable ranges: in the first half of 2019, exports dropped by 14.6 %, a fall that represents 1.6 million timepieces. Meanwhile, the average price is going up. Are you tracking this market development? As a brand of the Swatch Group, over the long term we’re sticking to our price range, like every other member of the group. It’s true that the new versions of the Ocean Star are priced higher than our core range, at CHF 990 for the Ocean Star Tribute and CHF 1,590 for Ocean Star Diver 600. But it is quite logical, given the movement and materials you find in these timepieces. However, this general upgrade also seems a logical step for the industry as a whole, in light of the increasing domination of the Apple Watch and other connected products under the CHF 1,000 mark. What is your assessment of the situation? I can only speak for Mido: we achieved our best financial result ever in 2018 – it was a record year despite the arrival of smartwatches. This year, the market environment is more challenging, but the global situation is unstable for all kinds of industries, not just watches. Whether smartwatches have a big influence on the Swiss watch industry’s volumes, it’s honestly difficult to say. Connected instruments are technology-driven products, and they are looking for volume, but they are competing within their own range and at a cheaper price point. In my opinion, they’re fighting over a different “cake”! And my guess is that the average price of smartwatches will go down even further.
Where are your key markets today? Traditionally Mido has always been strong in Latin America, but today the great majority of our business is in Asia. There is still room to grow in a large number of potential countries. I can only dream that our brand awareness achieves the same level in Europe in the future as it has in Mexico already. In this country, like in others, the good thing is that the population is growing. But the biggest challenge is to keep Swiss watches in the spotlight of younger generations. What is your distribution strategy, in terms of online and offline? The situation differs greatly from one country to another, so we define strategies nationally. In some countries, e-commerce is still a very small element, mostly due to the presence of counterfeits, which damage trust in online sales. On other markets, it’s a fast-growing category. China, for instance, is very well developed in terms of e-commerce. It’s quite amazing. We are present on the two major Chinese platforms, JD.com and Tmall. But we also have more than 800 points of sale and we are present in about 270 cities in the country. What are Mido’s bestselling collections? Again, it depends a lot on the country. In China, it’s well known that people appreciate very classical, timeless and elegant designs, so the Baroncelli collection performs best there. But in neighbouring countries such as South Korea or Japan, our sports ranges are performing better. And in our key market of Mexico, the Commander collection remains untouchable.
OCEAN STAR DIVER 600 M026.608.11.041.00
In accordance with the ISO 6425 certification, the new Ocean Star Diver 600 is water-resistant to a pressure of 60 bar (600 m), and incorporates a helium valve. Nestled on top of a ceramic ring, the bezel features engraved numerals filled with SuperLumiNova Grade X® – an innovation that allows the diving time to be read with extreme accuracy, whatever the visibility conditions. The heart of this exceptional model presents a distillation of several watchmaking innovations. The Calibre 80 Si, a COSC-certified chronometer movement with a silicon balance-spring, combines an exceptional autonomy of up to 80 hours with extraordinary accuracy and an ability to withstand impacts. Designed specifically for exploring the ocean depths, the Ocean Star Diver 600 is a superlative timepiece.
MOVEMENT: automatic Mido Calibre 80 Si (ETA C07.821 base), COSCcertified chronometer, 11½’’’, Ø25.60 mm, height: 5.22 mm, 25 jewels, 21,600 vph, ELINFLEX mainspring, silicon balance spring, decorative disc with transferred Si logo on the balance bridge. Finely decorated chronometer movement with blued screws, oscillating weight decorated with Geneva stripes and Mido logo. Functions: HMSD. Adjusted in five different positions for high accuracy. Up to 80 hours of power reserve. CASE: satin-finished and polished 316L stainless steel, polished and satin-finished bezel with ceramic ring featuring engraved numerals filled with SuperLuminova Grade X® and a unidirectional blocking function. Ø43.5 mm, two pieces, sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides, screwed crown and case back. Starfish engraved and polished on the case back, helium valve, finely decorated Si chronometer movement, water-resistant up to a pressure of 60 bar (600 m/1968 ft).
14 | WATCH AFICIONADO
Armin Strom, a new decade In a demonstration of force for its 10th anniversary, the independent watch brand is flexing its Haute Horlogerie muscles with the resonance concept associated with a minute repeater. However, Armin Strom doesn’t intend to stick with stratospheric prices, and aims to offer artisan products for less well-heeled aficionados in the future. We met Serge Michel, the cofounder of Armin Strom. by
What have been the most important milestones for the brand, after ten years of existence? We are currently celebrating the tenth anniversary of our first inhouse calibre. In 2007, we had already taken over the workshop of Mr Armin Strom, who crafted and sold his watches in the village of Burgdorf. But he used third-party calibres to equip his timepieces. That same year, we moved the facilities to Biel. In 2009, at Baselworld, we finally presented a watch equipped with our first manufacture calibre. It is this stage, undoubtedly the most important in our history, that we are celebrating today: the choice to assert our independence.
ditional in terms of complications. We had to find something unique. And the development of resonance was the path we chose. However, other watchmakers have also developed this technology and some purists have criticised the use of the term “resonance” for your watch because of the presence of fixed bridges... Yes, we were attacked by the competition. But I believe that today this debate is closed: the CSEM, which is the authority on the matter, has validated the concept of resonance in terms of the physical connection of two elements.
In 2017 you also launched a “configurator” that gives customers considerable scope to customise the watches you offer. What is the outcome of this project? This system has enabled us to reach a new generation of buyers with the notion of building your own timepiece, creating an object that matches you perfectly. It is also a fun tool that provides an ideal way to discover the brand, so it has had an interesting marketing impact. When you took over Mr Strom’s company ten years ago, he was only selling directly. Who were the first retailers to support you?
pensive. The middle ground still has strong potential. Smartwatches certainly have an impact on quartz and automatic watches which are at the same price level. But it would be wrong to push prices higher and higher as a sole reaction. So where do you see Armin Strom in ten years’ time? We strongly believe in more affordable proposals from independent brands. There is a whole market of independent watchmaking
enthusiasts who cannot afford to buy what they want today. This is a very promising market that we want to conquer. We will start at the end of this year with a lower entry price, at around 15,000 francs. We may increase our production volumes a little bit [Ed: the company produced just under 400 watches this year], but we won’t go to 4,000 watches! With the product we have, marketing is also becoming more and more important, as it is vital to explain the originality of what we are doing.
In the United States, we had David Orgell on the West Coast. In Switzerland, it was a small boutique specialising in independent brands. In general, we have built our distribution network around independent retailers and not groups. In southeast Asia, for example, we have built up an extensive network of independent retailers. The only group we work with today is Watches of Switzerland in the United States.
The resonance was initially associated with a dual time function. This year, you’re combining it with a minute repeater.
“It is this stage, undoubtedly the most Another key milestone was the inimportant in our history, troduction of the resonance concept in 2016. What was the logic Yes, these two timepieces are our true that we are celebrating behind this innovation? horological masterpieces! As far as today: the choice to the anniversary piece is concerned, assert our independence.” Between 2009 and 2016, we developed a fairly complete portfolio of calibres with my associate Claude Greisler, but most were quite tra-
we are producing ten of them, with an objective that is both technical and aesthetic: how to create a beautiful space for these two complications.
The Swiss watch industry is undergoing a major upheaval: the biggest brands seem to be getting stronger and stronger and, with the arrival of smartwatches at the bottom of the pyramid, average prices are rising. I don’t believe that the big brands will end up “capturing” everything. Quite the contrary: I think that independent brands like Armin Strom are gaining ground. We offer a great alternative to retailers who sometimes lose their historical partners and hence can give more visibility and space to independent brands. Ever-growing access to education and information are also fuelling rising numbers of true enthusiasts of independent watchmaking throughout the world. But that comes with a high price tag...
Serge Michel and Claude Greisler, the two masterminds behind Armin Strom.
Yes! And we want to act against it. I do not think we can simply say: on the one hand there are affordable watches, which are connected and standardised, and on the other hand there is independent, mechanical craftsmanship, which is very ex-
ARMIN STROM MASTERPIECE 2 MINUTE REPEATER RESONANCE Minute Repeater Resonance is the world’s first resonance chiming wristwatch. Two complications, resonance and minute repeater; two vertically-stacked independent movements; two forms of resonance (oscillators and sound propagation); two independent mainsprings in one barrel; and two development teams in Armin Strom (resonance) and Le Cercle des Horlogers (repeaters). Inspired by Berne’s centuries-old chiming tower clock, the Minute Repeater Resonance is limited to just 10 pieces in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Armin Strom manufacture. Masterpiece 2 highlights both the phenomenon of resonance and the sonorous striking of the hour by placing all of the action up front and centre on the dial side. Activated by a slider on the left side of the case band, two hand-polished hammers at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock respectively chime the hours and minutes on two three-dimensional-
ly curved gongs encircling the hour/ minute subdial. The hammers are visually and technically balanced by the two independent regulators – one for each of the two movements – at 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock. The case is in Grade 5 titanium for optimal sound transmission (and comfort), and its 47.7 mm diameter provides a generous volume for the sound to propagate. The sonorous chimes are also enhanced by attaching the gongs directly to the case. A specially developed security system maximises ease of use by protecting the minute repeater from accidental damage, blocking operation during time-setting and winding. Fully visible between the two oscillating balances is Armin Strom’s patented Resonance Clutch Spring – the key to Armin Strom’s mastery of resonance, and the result of three years of intensive research and development.
WATCH AFICIONADO | 15
Seiko: “We want to go beyond functionality” An interview with Shuji Takahashi, President, COO and CMO of Seiko Watch Corporation. by
How successful so far is your strategy to make Grand Seiko a global brand? After gaining its independence, Grand Seiko attracted a great deal of interest from media, retail partners and consumers as a luxury brand. The number of retail stores has increased significantly, and sales outside Japan have tripled since then. In the United States, which is our biggest market overseas, the number of Grand Seiko retail stores has doubled. In Italy, where there are many watch fans and aficionados, Grand Seiko was launched just a few months ago, and I feel there is even greater potential in the luxury watch market. Our goal now is to extend our fan base to the wider public, not just watch fans, and for Grand Seiko to be a serious choice for them as they consider purchasing a fine watch.
Seiko Presage Arita Porcelain Dial
“We want to communicate the emotional value reflected in the very Japanese natural flow of the seconds hand.”
takes this idea one step further by using a recognised heritage piece and re-creating it into a series of modern premium sports watches. For this series, we collaborated with world-renowned sports car designer Ken Okuyama.
dials reflecting Japanese craftsmanship, such as Urushi lacquer, porcelain enamel, Shippo enamel and Arita porcelain. Combined with our high-grade mechanical movements, these watches show our brand’s unique Japanese-ness.
How do you see the secondary market: as an opportunity or as competition?
What is the best-selling collection in the Seiko range of products today?
We are not involved in sales of preowned watches, however we are aware that popularity in the second-hand market is a reflection of a brand’s popularity. So we keep a close eye on it. We are also aware that providing a structure for repairing vintage watches is important.
Globally, Prospex, our leading range of sports watches, is the highest selling collection and is the core of our Seiko range. Seiko sports watches started in 1965, when we created Japan’s first diving watch, and the collection has now developed into timepieces that can be used under any extreme conditions. Sports watches are one of the most important elements of Seiko’s heritage. The balance of price and functionality is part of the reason for the strong support we receive from fans.
“Heritage” is today as important as function. What steps are you taking to act on it?
The world is becoming ever more interested in Japan and its culture. Can you draw on that to increase the popularity of your production?
In previous years, we released recreations of milestone watches as limited editions for anniversaries. That being said, instead of just focusing on our past, we often release a “modern interpretation” of the original at the same time. The Prospex LX line, which we announced at Baselworld this year,
We have no intention of incorporating just any kind of Japanese art or craftsmanship simply for the sake of expanding our line-up. We will continue to make watches where one can feel the quality of the watch as well as its unique “Japanese-ness”. A good example is the Presage collection, which has introduced many
Which countries are the most important markets for Seiko and Grand Seiko? The Japanese market is our largest. Outside of Japan, the United States is the biggest market for both Grand Seiko and Seiko, and both brands are growing there. We are seeing mar-
ket growth in Asia too, and we expect further development in the future. At the same time, we are seeing good growth in Europe, and we will be making considerable efforts there, considering Europe’s influence in the industry. In 2018, Grand Seiko drove our sales, and the most exclusive Seiko collections, especially Prospex and Presage, are growing. What are your strategic ambitions for 2019? Now that digital information is so dominant, the emotional values of our watches could get lost, because digital media are better at communicating facts than ideas. So we have to find new ways to communicate. For the 20th anniversary of Spring Drive, in addition to its functionality, we want to communicate the emotional value reflected in the very Japanese natural flow of the seconds hand. Our exhibition at Milan Design Week was one of the ways we chose to share this message. “The nature of time”, which is the theme we use to communicate on every platform, is a way to convey not only the functional aspect of Grand Seiko, but also the Japanese sensibility, and the uniquely Japanese beauty found in every Grand Seiko.
16 | WATCH AFICIONADO
These thoughts might not be expressed openly, but traditional watchmaking is having serious doubts about its future. What for five centuries has essentially been the art of measuring time in the most sophisticated, practical, transportable and then portable manner is now struggling with existential questions. It made the industrial revolution and the first wave of globalisation possible, but it's now functionally obsolete and thus ultimately replaceable. Some of it might well, it is feared, be destined for the scrap heap. This being the case, you might expect to see the number of new watchmaking initiatives falling. But in fact, the digital revolution has been a game-changer, and the exact opposite is taking place. At the end of August 2019, there were 443 projects for new brands on Kickstarter alone. Compare that with the number of watchmaking companies based
The example of Czapek
Interview with Xavier de Roquemaurel, CEO Is it reasonable or even feasible in the current context to launch a new and ambitious classic, high-end watch? The challenge is tough and the questions numerous: what product, what strategy, and to what end? How to finance it? How to distribute it? But also: how to stand out, evolve, overcome obstacles, cross thresholds and achieve critical mass? Czapek, a brand launched scarcely three years ago, seems to be overcoming these challenges step by step and finding a successful response to these questions. All the more reason to interview the vibrant and enthusiastic Xavier de Roquemaurel, the mastermind of Czapek’s renaissance, for this special feature.
A simple question: why launch a “new” top-end brand when the market is already cluttered and overflowing with all kinds of offerings? And, how do you go about it? Xavier de Roquemaurel: I’ll be frank. To launch or relaunch a brand means you’ve first of all hit rock bottom. In my case, I’d just
left Ebel and I was out of work. In cases like that, you simply have to get back in the saddle. And you can’t do it on your own. You have to be transparent, surround yourself with the right people and give everyone a chance. You also have to be prepared to struggle, to start by studying, thinking, assessing. And in the process of doing that, the very story of Franciszek Czapek became our main inspira-
in Switzerland: 694, employing 60,000 people (source: Convention Patronale de l’Industrie Horlogère Suisse, September 2018). And most of these new projects are for mechanical watches. An aberration in this digital world? Or an antidote? Even better, we’re seeing a burgeoning of haute horlogerie projects by watchmakers, many of whom have worked with the big names, built networks of expertise and are now taking the plunge and creating their own brand, or making a name for themselves as individuals. It would seem that, unlike the vaguely threatening smart devices with their infallible, cold and clinical accuracy, mechanical watchmaking still has something intimate, vibrant, inaccurate perhaps, but warmer about it. Which is why its value, whatever its price, transcends its purely pragmatic utility. The upshot is that from the Joux Valley to Kuala Lumpur, from the Jura to San Francisco, whether in the Balearic Islands, Saint-Germain or Hong Kong, watchmaking is putting out myriad new shoots. And most of them stem from young people. But let us not forget, as our Archives demonstrate, that the cemeteries of horology have always been littered with lost promises.* * Let's be stoical, like watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin who, for his new brand, has adopted the maxim of Seneca, the Stoic philosopher: nothing is ours except time.
tion. There were three of us in the beginning, our chairman Harry Guhl, the watchmaker Sébastien Follonier, and myself. Between 2012 and 2015, the year we presented our first watch, we focused on the story of Czapek, his heritage, values and so on. We had the impression that he was the fourth man, always sitting at our side. And we realised that in him we had a real treasure at our fingertips that was going to help us make something really beautiful. It’s one thing to have a beautiful dream of creating a brand, but actually achieving it calls for more than just the product; you have to have a strategy, sufficient funding… We took three strategic decisions right from the start, although they were largely intuitive (I’m not a fan of Excel tables and Powerpoint presentations). First of all, not to depend on a strong shareholder or billionaire, so as to keep our independence and be able to grow at our own pace. Secondly, not to place our egos at the centre, but the product itself. The product should be everything. And thirdly, to start at the bottom and gradually work our way up the market. These three principles have always been our guide.
Xavier de Roquemaurel
NEWCOMERS In line with your first principle of independence, you launched a crowdfunding operation in 2015, which is quite rare at the high end of the market, especially in haute horlogerie. We ruled out the idea of a reference shareholder from the start. We said to ourselves we had to create as large a circle as possible of brand lovers. Our objective was to find 1,000 shareholders. Today, we’ve reached the 200 mark, but it isn’t the number that counts, it’s the quality of the exchanges that arise from this amplifying circle. Each and every one of our shareholders has become an ambassador of the brand, each and every one has opened up their network to us, expanding our address book. So Czapek is growing, gradually and organically, rhizome-like, through networks. We expect our shareholders to become advisors, to give us their ideas and to assess and weigh up our own. One additional virtue of this way of working is the obligation it imposes on us to be transparent. That naturally results in a culture of collaboration. The second principle: keeping your egos under control… It’s Franciszek Czapek who inspired us, his modesty. Although he was a great watchmaker, he never put himself forward. It was the product he put forward. And then he was a young man, a man of his own time, who disappeared mysteriously in 1869 at the age of 58. We didn’t
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nature, we can’t be an ultra-niche watchmaker, we have to grow by volume, by means of differentiation. But let’s be careful when we talk of volume, we’re talking of sales of 100 to 1,000 watches a year.
want a burdensome past, a huge personality weighing on the brand. We wanted to be both classic and very modern. Principle number three: start at the bottom… Starting “at the bottom” – which is a very relative notion – with a very beautiful, seven-day watch priced at CHF 10,000, was a must, because we were using crowdfunding. In any case we couldn’t aim too high. But above all, we knew that it was more important to succeed in selling a watch than to build the brand right away. It’s through sales that the brand was going to be able to go upmarket and prove itself. In 2016, after our first Baselworld, we’d sold one watch. One! By the end of the same year, we’d sold 88. In the meantime, we’d also won the Public Prize at the 2016 GPHG. What better for us than recognition by the public. We put everything we had into the product so that the buyers really got their money’s worth. From the outset, the first two models were equipped with very fine, proprietary movements, developed and built for us by Jean-François Mojon of Chronode (read his portrait below). To put everything we had into the product, we were very frugal, working with very low fixed costs, and we asked our partners to make a special effort. Lastly, I’d like to add a fourth principle: to make something beautiful. The compulsive quest for a product of beauty down to the slightest detail. Giving shape to modern elegance.
But before that, you still have to cross successive thresholds, face issues of critical mass…
Place Vendôme Tourbillon Ombres
“The high-end, independent brands account for about 1 percent of the market. But within that, there’s room for manoeuvre.”
This strategy, to use a word that’s not really to your taste – let’s rather say this attitude – has it borne fruit? We haven’t attained our targets, but profits were higher than anticipated. To make things absolutely clear, we’ve been working since 2012, our first fiscal year being 2014. Together with 2015 that was the period during which we established (and reestablished) the name and brand of Czapek. It was the period of preparation. 2016 was our first year of trading and 2018 our first profitable year. Our culture is like that of a tortoise that moves slowly forward day after day, without making any strategic 90° turns. There’s no reason for it to run, but you thought it was there, under that lettuce, and suddenly you find it over there at the bottom of the garden (laughs). And how would you define your profile in the watchmaking landscape today?
Faubourg de Cracovie King 5 Hz integrated chronograph
An independent brand has to choose between a niche approach, price or differentiation. You have to be clear about where you stand in a market of high-end, independent brands which, okay, is continuously expanding, but which today accounts for about 1 percent and will never exceed 3 percent. But within that, there’s room for manoeuvre. Watchmaking know-how has spread worldwide, it has grown incredibly. People are thirsting for genuine quality, beauty, authenticity, beyond the slogans. I would say that we offer haute horlogerie at a different price, between CHF 10,000 and CHF 30,000. Incidentally, our average price is CHF 18,000. So we really opted for differentiation. By
Yes, but if you stop, you’re dead. It’s very intensive work. You go through learning phases, especially how not to rush as if your tail was on fire (laughs). You have to avoid cash-burn like the plague, be wary of bottlenecks. What we’re seeking with our product is a horological ideal, half-way between artisanal and industrial production. As far as rising volumes are concerned, one quite crucial threshold is that of 350 items. At that stage, decisions need to be taken, because you can start thinking about integrating additional activities. I’m thinking of laser engraving, certain types of polishing and other things. That kind of integration helps save time, for example. At the next stage, you can start producing internally elements on which you can make real savings. So you make efficiency gains. These are all critical choices that the “tortoise” will take when the time comes. Are you also thinking of the Holy Grail of any independent watchmaker, building your own movement? Since we’re purists, of course we’re thinking of it. More than that, we’re already working on it. It will be a basic movement, 36-41mm, for men and women, and it is being designed in-house. And the watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet is building the prototype. On the basis of this movement, which we’ll present at Baselworld 2020, we want to develop of series of complications that will also enable us to present a new “smart and sporty” style of watch, a new segment at Czapek. So how would you define Czapek in nutshell? (Thinks and concentrates): It’s the spirit of a great nineteenth-century watchmaker, his culture of beauty and his shared passion, which have made it possible to make something unique today.
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Horology’s young prodigy
Interview with Rexhep Rexhepi, founder of Akrivia the temptation is great sometimes.” But all the watches currently in production are pre-sold and the waiting time is 18 months. “I’m not working on a single watch that is not already sold. And today, I know exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next seven years. I even have the issue dates. But what is also certain is that I don’t want to expand. I am absolutely determined to keep production of our watches as strictly manual as it is now.” As for distribution, besides direct sales, it is based on three retailers worldwide: The Hour Glass for Asia, Seddiqi & Sons for the Middle East and A Collected Man, an ultraexclusive site based in London that works a lot with the US.
He is 32 years old, has already won a GPHG award, sells his entire, small output to collectors and the keenest watch lovers, has fingers of gold and a good head on his shoulders, and shows no sign of slowing down. Children, when they state their age, add fractions. So is Rexhep Rexhepi still a child at heart when he replies “7-and-a-half ” on being asked the age of his brand, Akrivia, founded in early 2012 when he was 24-anda-half years old (the question was put in August 2019)? His childhood desire still burns as strong as ever too – that of becoming a watchmaker, which emerged at the age of just seven or eight when he insisted on opening his father’s Tissot “to see what was so mysterious inside.”
He has, so it seems, also retained from childhood an unbounded taste for freedom and independence. His birth in Kosovo – where he lived up to the age of 12 with his grandmother, until his family was forced into exile by the war, joining the father who had already emigrated to Switzerland – might have something to do with his unbridled desire for freedom and autonomy, which he ceaselessly invokes. “Disembarking for the first time at Geneva Airport, I was dazzled by all these corridors filled with posters showing magnificent watches, and that just catalysed my wish to become a watchmaker.” An apprenticeship at Patek Philippe was followed by two years casing up and assembling watches. Then came three years with BNB Concept on tourbillons and, after just one year, responsibility for 15 watchmakers. After that came a stint at MHC, then with FrançoisPaul Journe, where he worked on the Chronomètre Souverain, as well as the Chronomètre à Résonance. It's an impressive, instructional and practical career. The year is 2012. He decides to launch Akrivia (from the ancient Greek ακριβεια, meaning precision, care, meticulousness).
The law of the workbench “Freedom? It’s being able not to want to kick yourself. And to do that, you have to do things little by little. With precision, care, meticulousness. You have to know where you’re going. Hurry, but slowly. Aim for the long term. Move forward without ever deviating from your initial choice. Mine was, and still is, simply to make my watch. Not to make money, not to set up a business, not just for the sake of setting up a new brand. No, to make my watch. Quite simply, when I’m at my workbench I’m happy. It’s the process that counts. It’s the making.” Even so, the early days were no piece of cake: freedom has to be conquered. Rexhep, who launched his business with patiently garnered savings, had to wait two years before finally selling his first watch in 2014. “I must admit that by then, after two years of waiting, I’d started to have doubts. But that first sale was a huge relief. Straight away I told myself: it is possible! And then starting in 2015, it all clicked into place. Something was set in motion and in 2017, things exploded.”
“Quite simply, when I’m at my workbench I’m happy. It’s the process that counts. It’s the making.” The next year, in 2018, Rexhep won the GPHG in the Men’s Watch category, not with his first watch, but with his Chronomètre Contemporain, aka CCRR-01. This was already his seventh model (after a tourbillon monopusher chronograph, a timeonly tourbillon, a chiming jump hour, a tourbillon regulator, the tourbillon “Barrette-Miroir”, and a three-hander model with a 100-hour power reserve) – and the first to bear not the Akrivia brand, but his own name, Rexhep Rexhepi. “In 2012, I told myself that starting to put my own name on my brand would come across as pretentious. I thought it might be frowned upon, especially as it doesn’t really sound like a traditional watchmaking name. But that was just my perception. Today, for my seventh watch,
The exemplary Chronomètre Contemporain The CCR-01 Chronomètre Contemporain
I feel easier about it. And since it’s really my watch from every point of view, why not put my name on it? But that doesn’t mean it’s the launch of a second brand, not at all. It’s simply an affirmation.”
Full maturity It is an affirmation also that his watchmaking has fully matured. With his five fully-fledged watchmakers and one engineer, today everything is built and prototyped in-house. The components are machined externally, then, after inspection, each Akrivia watchmaker is responsible for his own watch from A to Z, including all the decorations – and they are numerous and sophisticated. The work is carried out entirely by hand with the aid of a whole panoply of manual machines, with which everything can be accomplished “to the nearest micron”. Akrivia is committed to continuing down this path, as the most recent “integration” – production of their own watch cases – demonstrates. Rexhep Rexhepi has succeeded in head-hunting a genuine star of the case-making scene: JeanPierre Hagmann, 78, whose legendary mark is feverishly sought after by the keenest collectors and sends auction prices soaring. “This will be my last show,” says Hagmann, for whom Rexhep Rexhepi has just set up a complete atelier a stone’s throw from his own at the heart of Geneva’s historic centre. There is no doubt that this ma-
gician, known mainly for his minute repeater cases, made for Patek Philippe and reputed for their unparalleled sound, and who sold his atelier to Vacheron Constantin, will be whetting people’s expectations as to his future work with Akrivia. “I’m a strong believer in transmission,” says Rexhepi. “You never know everything, you learn little by little and you’re always learning. That’s what the workbench teaches you. The aim is to make all our future cases with Jean-Pierre. What’s more, since 2015 and the AK-04, a tourbillon regulator, all our movements have been our own. And we’re not stopping there…” We can winkle no more out of him.
Total financial independence Entirely self-financed – “not even the smallest bank loan” – even from the very beginning, Rexhep ploughs everything back into his ateliers and brand. “Everything” means 150 watches sold to date, at a starting price of 55,000 CHF excluding tax, for the CCRR 01, and as much as 260,000 CHF and more for the AK02. All his collections are limited to either 12 items (for the AK-01 to the AK-05), or twice 25 for the AK-06 and the CCRR 01. He is emphatic that “no discount will be given, ever. My prices are calculated with the lowest possible margin and granting reductions would be to depreciate the watch. I don’t give in on that point, even if
But let’s not forget the essential thing: his watchmaking style. After all, his success is first and foremost thanks to that. “It was actually the decoration more than anything that made me want to create a very personal style of watch, but inspired by grand tradition.” His latest creation, the Chronomètre Contemporain, signed with his own name, is a textbook example of his own special approach to watchmaking. This 38mm model is inspired by the clear, elegant lines of 1940s officers' watches and the legibility and precision that make them absolutely timeless. But he revisits them, passing them through the filter of his own contemporary codes that he developed as his creations evolved. Symmetry, whether that of the dial or the movement, plays a crucial role here, conferring on them a touch of classicism. This same symmetry, this search for balance, is perfectly visible in the original movement of the RR01, which was custom-built for this model. It is a three-hander with a large small-seconds dial, equipped with a hacking second and zero-reset function via the crown, which allows you to reset it with great precision. With an exceptional power reserve of 100 hours, one single barrel, a perfectly symmetrical and balanced architecture and a click-spring rewinding system, it takes its inspiration from pocket watches. Its entirely manual finish is exemplary in every respect, harmoniously combining anglage, black polishing and Geneva stripes. Its chronometer status is attested by a certificate delivered by the Besançon Observatory, which requires 16 days of testing. For a sevenand-a-half year-old, it is quite simply remarkable.
The new Haute Horlogerie They’re called Genus, Petermann Bédat, Cyrus, Sylvain Pinaud, Krayon, Alchemists, Trilobe, David Candaux, Tournemire, Ming… These names, still unknown to the public at large, are those of established master watchmakers and young horology geeks. Their ambitions are diverse, as are the paths they have chosen, but all of them, each in their own way, are trying to add their stone to the edifice and inscribe their name on the Haute Horlogerie map. A brief reconnaissance tour.
The never-ending caterpillar of time This timepiece is surprising to say the least, and at first sight you scratch your head, wondering how on earth it can fulfil its basic task of telling the time. It was born, probably during a sleepless night, in the head of Sébastien Billières, a master watchmaker described as an “original talent”, who has his own peculiar way of designing 3D movements “in his mind”, as Catherine Henry, the young entrepreneur and co-founder of Genus, explains. Fascinated by the symbolism contained in the figure 8 – eternity, but also the analemma, the ‘8’ shape traced by the sun during the course of a year as seen from a fixed point at the same time – and eager to see a mechanical component moving freely around a watch, when horology is traditionally based on fixed components driven by moving gears, he dreamed up and produced his Genus (from the Latin meaning type, family, but also zero position, departure point). The result is a free-moving display which is at first bewildering, then amazing, then, suddenly, captivatingly legible. It’s nothing short of miraculous, mechanically speaking, to watch the little “caterpillar” of the minutes, made up of 12 separate parts, shunting along in tenminute increments, crossing over itself to trace a perfect loop and forming an upper rose window at 15’ and a lower one at 45’. What’s more, the hour markers move around the outside of the dial – the hour pointer is at 9 o’clock – and in doing so orient themselves towards the reader, pivoting four times by a quarter of a turn. An absolute first!
10 years of cogitation Ten years of cogitation, three years of development. Everything was kept confidential up to its presentation for the 2019 GPHG, to be decided in November, trade secrecy oblige. But confidentiality is also a habit, because with his watch subcontracting company GMTI, founded in 2007, Sébastien Billières specialises first and foremost in assembling Geneva Seal calibres – a domain that calls for the strictest secrecy.
“Building a contemporary brand” The man behind Cyrus is JeanFrançois Mojon (co-owner of the brand together with “a wealthy Swiss family”), an innovative and expert movement manufacturer and watchmaker who won a top award at the 2010 GPHG in the independent watchmaker category, and whose list of creations with his Le Locle-based manufacture, Chronode, (same coowners) reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary haute horlogerie. Judge for yourself: MB&F, Czapek, HYT, Harry Winston Opus X, MCT, Urban Jürgensen, Trilobe and, more recently, Hermès have all collaborated, or are still collaborating, with Chronode. And that’s not counting other major brands who demand confidentiality about the developments entrusted to the manufacture. Twenty people work there, building and developing in 2D and 3D, delivering complete movements which they decorate, or even building an “To read the exact time, just note the displayed hour (at 9 o’clock) and add the precise minute (at 3 o’clock) to the tens of minutes shown by the constantly travelling Genus,” the watch manual explains.
Having done a stint in his early days with Roger Dubuis himself, Sébastien Billières continued to frequent the very best schools, with Félix Baumgartner on the Opus V project, for example (which already featured mobile parts) and then Svend Andersen (which top watchmaker has not passed through the workshop of the founder of AHCI?). Sébastien Billières is now passing on his know-how in turn: he has taught horology at the IFAGE vocational training school for adults in Geneva since 2006.
An audacious attempt Devising completely new ways of displaying the passage of time has tantalised watchmakers down the ages. But they have never succeeded in permanently ousting the ineluctable three central hands. It is a new challenge every time. This extremely audacious attempt features a movement (with neither
dial nor hands) produced and finished “in absolute compliance with watchmaking rules”. From a watchmaker specialising in Geneva Seal watches, one expects no less. All the components are designed and cut by hand. The steel is black-polished, the flank drawing done by hand and the movement is made from 18ct ethical gold. The standard of finishing is extremely high. As for the time-telling itself, it is truly captivating. The first white “genus” – the name given to the tenminute pointer at the head of the “caterpillar”, followed by its train of 11 pale blue “genera” – traces its double loop of time in space by crossing over itself. The exact minute is read at 3 o’clock, the hour at 9 o’clock. The hour markers turn without you even noticing. Everything is in orbit. Everything is in a state of flux, like time itself. There will be eight Genuses in white gold. Price: CHF 280,000. For immensely wealthy collectors attempting a double world first in the shape of a figure-of-eight.
The Vertical Tourbillon Squelette
entire product which they deliver in its finished state. “We control the entire chain, from the concept to customer service,” explains J.-F. Mojon, “but we don’t make the components. We entrust that part to a select circle of local subcontractors, which aren’t lacking round here. But we do all the finishing, decoration and assembling.”
Why Cyrus? Founded in 2005, Chronode, which has grown impressively over the last three or four years, is also an innovating force for the brands, whether in terms of movements, functions, or the exteriors. It devises its offerings together with a small group of designers, always centred on “the universe of the brand we are addressing”. So why launch Cyrus, out of the blue? The answer: “With Cyrus, we're aiming to build a totally contemporary brand free from all previous history and all watchmaking heritage. Hence the name of Cyrus, a great conqueror who founded the Persian empire. Like him, we want to explore new frontiers – horolog-
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ical ones – and offer unique and exclusive creations. Each and every one of our models has to constitute a new take on timekeeping.” The inaugural model, Klepcys Moon, launched in 2015, expresses this ambition very well, with two patents, three completely new functions and two functional crowns, which have become the Cyrus signature. It has an imposing 48mm case resembling the walls of a fortress embedded between four spectacular lugs, a retrograde hours hand which changes colour depending on whether it is day or night, central discs for the minutes and seconds, indication of the date by means of mobile and retrograde parts and, lastly, a spherical moon of jaw-dropping realism, the phases of which are indicated by a black lacquer cover that gradually veils the surface.
Vertical tourbillon Having hosted the Solo Tempo (a three-hander), a closed or skeletonised Chronograph, and an Alarm (which chimes like a minute repeater), the very same highly recognisable Klepcys case – the 44mm version is illustrated here – this year hosts the Vertical Tourbillon Skeleton. Placed for the first time at the centre of the watch on a vertical axis inclined at 90° and appearing between the two arches of a decorative bridge inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, the tourbillon, on which the seconds can be read engraved on tiny plates, is flanked by the retrograde hour indicator on one side and that of the minutes on the other. A spherical 4-day power reserve is displayed at 12 o'clock. Two functional crowns – one conventional one for setting the watch and the other, at 9 o'clock, to adjust it forward by one jumping hour at a time – round out the perfect symmetry of this rather monumental, three-dimensional whole. The central position of the vertical tourbillon reveals the entire space occupied by the movement to the observer’s gaze. Reasonably priced for horology of this exclusive standard of innovation and build (the Solo Tempo starts at CHF 8,500 / Valjoux Chronograph at CHF 13,000 / Alarm at CHF 39,000 / Vertical Tourbillon from CHF 100,000), in just a few short years Cyrus has already built a strong presence in Asia (Japan, HK, Macau, China), Italy (10 outlets), France and London, and is now also in the US.
The call of the Valley When, like David Candaux, you were born and raised in the Joux Valley, the historic home of complicated watchmaking, when you’re the son and grandson of master watchmakers, and you live and work in Le Solliat, the same tiny village as the famous Philippe Dufour (who lives just next door to you), there’s no escaping destiny. Having worked for many years with Jaeger-LeCoultre, another neighbour, restoring historic timepieces, David Candaux was unable to resist the call of the Valley and the temptation to launch his own brand, under his own name.
PETERMANN BEDAT Dead seconds to start with
Quartz watches beat dead seconds quite naturally, so to speak: the seconds hand jumps neatly in 1-second intervals. Contrary to this, in mechanical watches the seconds hand seems to glide. Making it jump forward by one second may seem simple to the uninitiated. And yet it is a genuine – and rather rare – complication. Dead-seconds hands were found in the regulator clocks in watch workshops because of the precision they provided, but they were driven by a pendulum movement. In a wristwatch, it is quite another matter. Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat got to grips with it for the first watch of their budding brand, called simply Petermann Bédat. These two young watchmakers first met at the École d’Horlogerie de Genève watchmaking school and then, by a circuitous route, met up again at A. Lange & Söhne: “one heck of an apprenticeship, de-
Presented in 2017 on the AHCI stand, his first creation, the “1740 The First 8” – begun in 2001 (!) – made a striking impression thanks to its mastery, originality and incredible standard of finishing. This year, David Candaux is presenting a new, more futuristic re-interpretation, one might say, called the DC 6 Solstice Titanium Half Hunter “1740”.
Dual influence The very name of the watch reflects the influences behind it: “1740” is a nod to the year of the first documented presence of a master watchmaker in the Joux Valley. The term “Half-Hunter” harks back to the high-precision captain’s watches, of which the dials, visible through small manding great rigour and a very high standard of practice,” they explain with undampened enthusiasm. After four years, Gaël came back to Switzerland and took up an independent workbench at Svend Andersen’s – yes, him again. Florian joined him two years later and the two moved to Renens, near Lausanne, to premises provided by the “master”, Philippe Renaud, who was working on his revolutionary escapement project, the DR-01. They founded their own company there and made a living mainly by doing restoration for Christie’s. But they had one nagging wish: to create their own watch. The opportunity presented itself when Dominique Renaud asked them to decorate two kits of his incredible blade regulator and to assemble a non-functional movement for his DR-01 project. Instead of being paid, they exchanged hours of work with Frédéric Magnard, Dominique Renaud’s engineer, and together designed a new, deadseconds calibre, entirely “homemade” except for the escapement (wheel and pallet fork). This comes from a Valjoux 72, chosen for its large balance and excellent vibration rate of 18,000. >
apertures, and the movements were jealously protected by a metal cover. This specific arrangement can be found in the watches by David Candaux: on the left, beneath a domed sapphire glass you see the 60-second flying tourbillon, inclined at an angle of 3 degrees and combined with a balance spring inclined at an angle of 30 degrees inside the grade-5 titanium cage. Hence the name “bi-plan flying tourbillon”. The hours and minutes are displayed on the right, indicated by two hands curved over a spherical micro-dial that follows the convex shape of the small sapphire dome protecting it. Right at the top, the power reserve can be read beneath a third, arcshaped sapphire crystal. The influence of the Joux Valley shines through in the very special guilloché finish on the watch face.
This is a virtuoso hand-guilloché pattern called Pointe du Risoux. It recalls the sky as seen through the tops of the pine trees in the famous forest bordering David’s workshop. The watch’s calibre was designed from start to finish by David. Without going into all the details (which would take several pages), let us just note that the calibre is inclined at 3 degrees from the horizontal to be able to accommodate the secret, retractable crown and its winding system. And everything else is in the same vein: the escapement was entirely developed and produced in-house, inspired by the antique guilloché inking chronographs from the Joux Valley that, unlike modern escapements, were non-equidistant, significantly increasing their efficiency. The balance spring is in beryllium copper with four screws in 18-carat gold for variable inertia adjustment. The wheels are chamfered, bevelled and circular-grained on both sides, and the pinions are polished on a wooden grinding wheel and grooved behind the pivot, ensuring that the lubricating oil remains in place – an ancestral technique. Coming after the first, very classic watches, the new DC6 Solstice Titanium Half Hunter, with its bright colours – orange, blue and red – brings surprising modernity to haute horlogerie, as well as excellent chronometric precision, despite being grounded in the noblest of traditions and one of the oldest watchmaking terroirs.
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A very classic vision By their own admission, the movement takes its inspiration from Lange and Patek Philippe “vintage” models and is made in traditional nickel silver. They chose the dead seconds system despite the problems this poses in terms of energy – “because it demands quite a bit of amplitude and force” – because the calibre of this design would enable them to produce their second timepiece, a monopusher chronograph. “We have a very classic vision of watchmaking. Our number one reference is the Chronographe 130 from Patek Philippe, for the sobriety and beauty of its movement. Our watchmaking is also strongly inspired by our restoration work, especially as regards simplicity: every movement should be easily repairable.” Having designed the movement, they collaborated with external service providers to produce the components and got started on the extremely complex decoration, which requires two full months of work for each item. “We take the quality of the decoration and finishing to the limit. For example, we even decorate the inside of the mainspring barrel, which no one will ever see, except a future watchmaker who might open it, once!” Young and enthusiastic, they make no secret of their ambition: “We admire people like Kari Voutilainen. One day we’d like to be able to do everything ourselves like him, with a small team. And for the dials, we’d love to collaborate with someone like Anita Porchet.” While waiting for their dreams to become reality, their greatest wish is to “remain free and independent at all costs. Even if it means struggling…”
“Love to be different”, “overturn concepts”, “take time”… These are all precepts – or pieces of advice – that could well be applied to Trilobe’s approach to watchmaking. The Trilobe watch is proof of this. It tells the time in an unmistakeably different way. It effectively overturns concepts, because it is no longer the hands that move over fixed time markers, but time which rotates endlessly around itself. Lastly, it takes time with a pinch of salt, because absolute accuracy is not its Holy Grail. While it is accurate (you can depend on the chronometric know-how of Jean-François Mojon, who designed the movement, for that), even so it takes its time. Time, indeed, is shown by three rings which rotate, each at their own pace, opposite the three “trilobes” that indicate the passage of the hours, minutes and seconds. But these three rings, counter-intuitively, turn anti-clockwise and
the trilobes are deliberately out of alignment with one another, underscoring the poetic character of this timepiece and how it is read. But reading it rapidly becomes totally intuitive, visual and sensorial. It’s a very beautiful offering, launched by Gautier Massonneau. It’s classic and refined, with a wealth of subtle poetic, architectural and horological allusions. It's also a watch absolutely in line with the times. “Between rupture and continuity” is how Gautier Massonneau sums it up. This young man has had an unusual career. Having graduated from Paris Dauphine University with a Master’s degree in civil engineering, and worked as an international specialist in financing infrastructures, he fell under the spell of watchmaking. He radically changed direction to make the kind of watch he dreamed of, and also to give free rein to his artistic bent. And in doing so, with Trilobe he opened up a new path in fine watchmaking. The challenge of subtle innovation, offering a new means of intuitively reading time, has been convincingly met here.
o’clock. The hour dial in Grand Feu enamel or customised stone (such as black obsidian, lapis lazuli, or jade with its various virtues – a kind of “lithotherapy”, say the Alchemists) is placed at 12 o'clock and displays the hours (red hand) and minutes (white hand), while the seconds are displayed off-centre at 6 o'clock. Their ring, calibrated into 60 trailing seconds, covers the Cu29’s two barrels. The calibre is 100% in-house. But the Alchemists’ ambition is vaster yet, a global project going far
beyond watchmaking alone, however high-end. It is nothing less than to “to incorporate a whole ecosystem into their first watch collections [with] projects related to sustainable development, professional reintegration and philanthropic activities”. Not to mention the “therapeutic qualities” of Cuprum 479. A surprising project, utopian perhaps, but one that stems from a genuine Jurassian horological terroir, led by men who know their stuff.
A change of reference
ALCHEMISTS The alchemy of the Cuprum 479
At the last Baselworld, three Alchemists presented their highly ambitious project and an astonishing watch. One is Hervé Schlüchter, a maker of complications until he became general manager of the Dimier manufacture (Bovet) before founding his own creative brand. Another is Fabrice Thüler, a natural leader, the creator of Swiss Finest and a bar-turner of renown, who is also capable of “developing, rendering accurate and producing a watch calibre from start to finish”. More surprisingly, the third is Denis Vipret, a “magnetiser and healer” whose reputation extends far beyond the family farm where he practises his art. The holders of the “secret” are a handful of people in the region between Fribourg and the Jura. He is the one who created the “secret recipe” of Cuprum 479. Fabrice Thüler developed it and Hervé Schlüchter gave it shape. Cuprum 479 is a patented blend of gold, silver and more than 80 percent copper. This sustainable metal has no need of surface treatment and can be machined to infinitely tiny tolerances. It is then hand-polished and is ultimately “more stable” than 18-carat gold. But in addition to this, it is said to offer “beneficial qualities for the body, powerful antibacterial action thanks to its high copper content, a metal which is a major catalyst for the formation of red blood corpuscles, not to mention its contribution to the immune system and protein and lipid metabolism.”
The Alchemists’ inaugural piece is, quite naturally, named Cu29. For their first release, the Alchemists set themselves innumerable challenges. In this sense, the Cu29 is a demonstration watch, demonstrative of technology, know-how and ambition. It has a variable-inertia balance and weight screw at 8 o’clock, a 72-hour power reserve indicated by a cursor moving along a peripheral gear bar and set at 12 o’clock, and a function indicator (W for wind and S for set) between 2 and 3
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This watch is a challenge. It was born of a dream: to go back to the source of time – the sun, the rising and setting of which drives the rhythm of time – and to create a mechanical movement that would ‘quite simply’ let the wearer read the true time of sunrise and sunset anywhere on earth! A universal mechanical calculator calculating the exact time of sunrise and sunset was previously unheard of in mechanical horology. Particularly not one contained in the few tiny square centimetres of a wristwatch case. A dream indeed, but one which Rémi Maillat, a young mathematician and watchmaker, together with the team at Krayon, his watchmaking design bureau based in La Chaux-deFonds, has turned into a reality. To achieve this result, the Everywhere watch combines the five parameters that come into play when calculating sunrise and sunset – the coordinates of longitude and latitude which determine a given geographical point on Earth, the UTC time zone, the date and the month.
Thanks to a single, simple crown combined with a push-button on the side of the watch case to select the desired setting, the wearer can adjust each of these parameters at will to discover the exact time at which the sun will appear or vanish at the place and on the day of their choosing! “You read the time around the perimeter of the dial with the aid of a blue arrow on a 24hour scale which also indicates how long it was since the sun rose,” explains Rémi Maillat. The large central hand points to the minutes. “A counter in the upper half of the dial tells you the longitude, between +/180°, indicated by the longer hand. The smaller hand indicates the UTC time zone and advances by half-increments to take into account all the time zones in use worldwide (that is, including the half-hours of a handful of time zones). If necessary, the DST (Daylight Saving Time or Summer Time) indicator allows the time to be corrected to summer time. At the centre of the main dial, on the left, a first, small hand indicates the latitude, from + to – 60°, while the other hand shows the selected parameter – date, latitude, longitude or UTC. Lastly, in the lower half of the dial, a coun-
closed in a case “of simple design”, as its creator says, which is machined from a grade-5 titanium block, the chronograph remains sober in design, “in the style of marine chronographs”. The case back reveals only the balance spring and its bridge. The timepiece presented in Basel is a prototype, and Sylvain Pinaud intends to make further “tiny adjust-
ments and minor modifications, including shortening the crown, which is a bit long, and accentuating the contrast of the minute counter. But each piece produced will be customisable, in particular the colours of the dial and the rhodium plating.” Here’s to the success of the Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal!
Here comes the sun
Sylvain and his “Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal” Sylvain Pinaud was one of the more exciting discoveries to be made at this year’s Baselworld, in the “Incubator” section. As he himself states in his own simple, transparent way: “I love this timepiece, I think it’s beautiful… So why not make it available to people who love fine watches!” Quite incidentally, this object of his affection won him first prize in the French national “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (Best Artisan in France) competition. Since it was created for a competition the timepiece is, again simply and transparently, styled “Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal”. Given his talent and the driving enthusiasm he radiates, I would be very surprised if we had heard the last of Sylvain Pinaud. Pursuing his independent path, in late 2017 he set up a business in Sainte-Croix, a genuine watchmaking incubator which has hatched names such as Denis Flageollet from De Bethune and Vianney Halter, as well as numerous automaton specialists and highflying artisans. Today, he is offering to produce his Chronographe Monopoussoir to order, with the proviso that “given the artisanal production method and high degree of finishing, a very limited, numbered amount of watches will be produced.”
Taken apart and redesigned The competition rules stated that watches had to be based on an ETA 6497 movement. Of this movement, Sylvain kept only the gears and the escapement. The rest – the balance wheel, winding system, bridge and base plate – he re-engineered and rebuilt himself so as to be able to integrate the monopusher chronograph with its horizontal clutch and column wheel. This modification was, in his view, self-evident, given that it was “beautiful, simple and effective”. He redesigned everything – springs, jumpers, levers – endowing the delicate functions and other functions with strong constraints with ruby bearings. The great majority of the parts were made by hand and on conventional machines. The tempering, bluing, decorating and polishing was all done the traditional way. All the steel is black polished and hand-bevelled, the wheels are bevelled and with circular graining, the main plate is grained and the upper bridge is straight-grained.
Sober design Architecturally, this is a beautiful watch: balanced, harmonious and delicate. Light penetrates joyfully, playing with depth. Inside, the chronograph sequence – clutch, declutch and zero reset – is easy to observe. The whole thing was designed and built around the chronograph function, reading it and watching the show as it plays out. Placed under a broad sapphire crystal and en-
ter shows the day and the month. The 595 components of the USS calibre, all specially designed and executed, fit into a case 6.5mm thick. At the heart of the mechanism lies an equation of time which is not displayed, but which is necessary for the various calculations as complex as the results are simple – the time of sunrise and sunset. To achieve this, the mechanism – protected by three main patents – has 4 differentials, 84 trains and 145 gear components. Endowed with a power reserve of 72 hours and beating at a frequency of 3Hz, this self-winding watch is fitted with a micro-rotor. On the dial, a light-coloured circle helps visualise the duration of daylight. A darker-coloured circle represents the night, and the two points where they meet indicate the rising and setting of the sun, the course of which is indicated by a blue hand. Through the seasons, and depending on the point on the globe, the duration of daylight expands or shrinks –bringing it vividly to life. A superb mathematical, horological and philosophical performance, you might say, which reminds us that our time is dictated to us by the sun.
The creative breath of Kuala Lumpur Behind the name Ming is a “watchmaker collective” of six “enthusiasts” of diverse origins led by the photographer, business strategist and watch geek Ming Thein from Kuala Lumpur. “We don’t claim to have a history and we are not weighed down by one. We simply think up the watches we’d like to have in our collection, watches that excite us and give us a sense of discovery. What’s more, we’re the first to admit that we don’t build them ourselves. But we’ve set up a close partnership with partners such as the Schwarz-Etienne manufacture, and Jean Rousseau in Paris for the straps.” Ming watches are all assembled, regulated and tested in Switzerland, “but we do the final quality inspection individually in Malaysia,” explains Ming Thein. Having been nominated for the GPHG in 2018 with the Ming 19.01 – a “simple watch for wearing every day”, but with a strong and highly original design that left an impression – this year Ming is presenting
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a more sophisticated version: the Ming 19.02 Worldtimer. In it, you find the same design elements as in the 19.01, including the signature box sapphire crystal, a transparent-to-black-graded dial and a 39mm grade-5 titanium case. But whereas the 19.01 came in very contemporary monochrome shades, the 19.02 is more “conventional” in appearance, so to speak, thanks to the 5N pink gold-coated movement visible around the edge of the dial. The world time – including that of Kuala Lumpur – is visible in an opaque section, indicated by a rotating 24-hour disc. All this is driven by an automatic micro-rotor calibre in tungsten from SchwarzEtienne, which provides a power reserve of 70 hours. The bridges are skeletonised and hand-bevelled. The skeletonised barrel allows the wearer to determine the level of winding by observing the spring. The watch is mounted on a Jean Rousseau strap in Alcantara or calf leather. All in all, another successful and unique design, seductively and unabashedly modern while remaining balanced and harmonious. A landmark watch. Price: CHF 11,900. Sold directly through the Ming website.
DE TOURNEMIRE A heart of stone
The fine jewellery workshop of the Marteau family is renowned among connoisseurs far beyond the confines of Place Vendôme. Under its protective shade, three generations of jewellery makers have discreetly succeeded one another. Swarms of “necklaces, tiaras, mystery boxes, pendants…” created by the Marteau family for more than 60 years have left this place for destinations all over the world. Jean-Jérôme, 31, who grew up within the walls of this family workshop, has carefully transposed this highend jewellery-maker’s know-how to haute horlogerie. He has succeeded in perfecting a special technique for setting stones in crystal that enables the stone or diamond to be fully apparent in all its shining glory at the centre of a domed sapphire covering a watch dial. This innovation spawned the first watch by De Tournemire, nicknamed “One stone, one tourbillon”. Spreading its glittering rays from the centre of the watch, the stone (dia-
mond, sapphire, emerald or ruby, from two to seven carats) sits above the tourbillon, the cage of which is set with diamonds. The tourbillon is flanked on one side by a retrograde jumping hours indicator and on the other by a trailing minutes indicator. This openworked timepiece exposes its superbly built and finished mechanism (hand-bevelled, mirror-polished tourbillon and barrel bridges). The 44.8mm case in 18ct white or 5N pink gold, or in titanium, is water-resistant down to 3 ATM and mounted on a black alligator strap, or alternatively on a strap of hand-stitched shagreen. Whether it’s a jewelled watch or a jewel in watch form, this timepiece from De Tournemire is also an ideal subject for the decorative arts, coming in a self-winding Métiers d’Art version with an aperture display, or a disc display, or a display with two hands emerging from beneath the central diamond. A very broad range of expression providing scope for any number of variations, all sharing the common feature of a central gemstone.
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Yvan Monnet A new shape is born Most new brands are launched by watchmakers or young entrepreneurs in partnership with a designer, a watchmaker and an assembler. The case of Yvan Monnet, who has given his name to his brand – Yvan Monnet Genève to be exact – is quite different and as far as we know somewhat unique. Reason enough for Europa Star to decide to meet him. Especially since Yvan Monnet has taken on a real challenge: that of creating a new shape of watch. Which, after Gérald Genta, is no mean task.
Hooked on horology
We were expecting to meet a cardcarrying “designer”, but this unusually modest man corrects us immediately, presenting himself as an “industrial draughtsman”. It was only after a long and varied career, which took him from the chemical industry to bio-medicine and from industrial consumer goods to machine housing design, that he ended up in watchmaking via Prodor SA, a gold foundry at that time owned by Piaget. Patek Philippe then recruited him for its case design workshop, which was managed at that period by a certain… Laurent Ferrier. In another coincidence, the movement engineering workshop just next door was directed by Didier Faoro, a close acquaintance of Yvan’s who today is director of its Haute Horlogerie division. Yvan Monnet stayed with Patek Philippe for ten years, becoming Haute Horlogerie customer service manager and also launching projects for archiving and storing antique items. And anyone who has visited that department at Patek Philippe knows that it is a genuine treasure trove, fully documented and absolutely unique (see Patek Philippe: The Manufacture Within a Manufacture, Europa Star 1/2016).
“It was there that I made the acquaintance of the genius watchmaker Paul Buclin. I had the luck to see the famous Packard, among other wonders, open right in front of me, and I was literally bewitched by the magical quality of the company’s minute repeaters. In short, I was hooked.” Sought out by Vacheron Constantin to reinforce the exteriors workshop, he accepted the new challenge and began designing case architectures. He became a project manager and moved to the Métiers d’Art department then flourishing at Vacheron Constantin. “I stayed there eight years and came into contact with watchmaking at its most artistic, notably with the watches made in collaboration with the Japanese masters of Maki-e. There I met numerous top artisans, such as Anita Porchet, a real star when it comes to enamelling.”
“Every shape had already been done – round, oval, square, rectangular, hexagonal... All except one: the pentagon.” Unfortunately, his career at Vacheron Constantin “ended badly” and Yvan Monnet found himself unemployed for the first time.
Something no one had ever done… “I was passionately interested in watchmaking and giving up was out of the question for me. I’d got to know all the best artisans and I wanted to make use of my skills in watch exteriors. So I put together a press book to present the best pieces I’d worked on. But I also wanted to come along with different piec-
es. So I explored past watches: every shape had already been done – round, oval, square, rectangular, hexagonal… All except one: the pentagon. No one had ever made a five-sided shape. I should add that the pentagon is an especially difficult shape to design. So I got to work. I analysed all the proportions, I honed this pentagon to the extreme, searching for subtlety, finesse, harmony, avoiding any showiness because if there’s anything I loathe, it’s bling-bling…”.
Great elegance This is when Yvan Monnet reveals his first model to us, a women’s watch called Mina. It was the first time we had seen it in the flesh and we have to admit, we were struck. It is a piece of great elegance and its shape, theoretically so new, endows it with an instant and undeniable aura. The sense of proportion it bespeaks and the extreme attention to
detail make it immediately familiar to us. “I tried to optimise the slightest detail, even those you don’t see straight away but are simply felt as part of the globality of the watch,” explains Yvan Monnet, visibly enamoured of his creation, and rightly so. All the elements of the watch seem to be the natural result of the pentagon: the marker appliques are a pentagon drawn into an arrowhead shape, the openworked hands have identical proportions, a fine groove between the bezel and the case underscores and refines the whole. The case back is embedded in the middle so as not to overlap it; the opaline dial, an immaculate white, blue or cocoa colour (made by Les Cadraniers de Genève), subtly changes colour, reacting wonderfully to the light. “I see details that no one else sees,” says an emboldened Yvan Monnet, adding that the pentagonal case, which fits into a 35mm circle (one doesn’t talk of diameter here) is extremely complex to produce and can only
be made with the help of a 5-axis CNC machine. “And finished by the five fingers of the hand.” Inside the Mina beats one of two Sellita movements, either a beautifully finished mechanical, handwound movement, or an automatic version “for everyday wear”.
The Five, the pentagon for men After Mina, launched less than two years ago, Yvan Monnet – whose ambition is indeed to build an entire brand – recently unveiled a men’s model, the Five, like the five fingers of the hand or the five sides of the pentagon. But this is not a simple exercise in enlargement. He reworked the design from start to finish. “The pentagonal bezel is built around five tight curves which intersect, this time with sharply marked angles that are echoed on the case and lend it greater vigour, as does the satin-polished fin-
ish that reinforces the geometric effect.” The codes and inspiration are borrowed directly from Gérald Genta, as Yvan Monnet admits, confessing his great admiration for the famous Geneva designer, who also created new shapes. Sporty and extremely elegant, waterproof down to 200m (with a sapphire crystal case back!), driven by a new automatic Sellita movement and fitting into a 43mm-diameter circle, the watch is mounted on a rubber strap and equipped with chunky baton hands treated with Superluminova so that they resemble miniature New York skyscrapers sailing over the applique figures moulded directly in Superluminova. The Five is a cogent demonstration of the real potential of this new, pentagonal shape.
A shape begging to be explored “The pentagon is a very unforgiving shape. The slightest imperfection stands out,” stresses Yvan Monnet. “Producing it demands great rigour at every stage, from the choice of materials down to finishing. I’m just an orchestral conductor implementing my creations. I know the instruments and the emotions they convey, but I don’t play them. I let the experts express the best of themselves. They are at the wellspring of inspiration and I strive to give them centre stage. Consequently, 80% of all production takes place in Geneva thanks to a dense network of extremely high-quality suppliers. All close friends of mine, whom I met during my 20 years in fine watchmaking. I sell a product, not a history! It’s the product that should take pride of place.”
“Switzerland to stop producing mechanical watches? (…) After sinking slowly for five years, we have now touched the bottom. Everything seems to have been in league to destroy the very foundation of what was once a flourishing and seemingly indestructible industry.” (Europa Star, issue 119, 1980)
Time is the ultimate master.
Independence Entirely self-financed, Yvan Monnet assures us that only an independent, artisanal approach like his makes it possible to offer products with the look and finish worthy of haute horlogerie, but at a price that is still very affordable. The steel Mina costs around CHF 3,000 and the steel Five CHF 4,700. His objective for the three to five years ahead is to produce and sell around 1,500 watches a year. To succeed, Yvan Monnet intends to expand his offering little by little. For example, the Mina is just crying out to be set with stones and other precious materials. And Yvan Monnet is looking forward to being able to offer customisations, especially on the dials, playing with mother-of-pearl or coloured stones, or moving on to movements with more precious materials for future limited editions. Introducing a new shape is not easy, far from it, but the pentagon, lovingly refined by Yvan Monnet, surely has further surprises in store for us. All the potential is there.
To keep in mind the lessons of the past, subscribe to | CLUB and get instant access to over 60,000 pages of watch history. www.europastar.com/club | CHAIRMAN Philippe Maillard PUBLISHER Serge Maillard EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Pierre Maillard CONCEPTION & DESIGN Serge Maillard, Pierre Maillard, Alexis Sgouridis DIGITAL EDITOR Ashkhen Longet PUBLISHING / MARKETING / CIRCULATION Nathalie Glattfelder, Marianne Bechtel/Bab-Consulting, Jocelyne Bailly, Véronique Zorzi BUSINESS MANAGER Catherine Giloux MAGAZINES Europa Star Global | USA | China | Première (Switzerland) | Bulletin d’informations | Eurotec EUROPA STAR HBM SA Route des Acacias 25, CH-1227 Geneva - Switzerland, Tel +41 22 307 78 37, Fax +41 22 300 37 48, email@example.com Copyright 2019 EUROPA STAR | All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Europa Star HBM SA Geneva. The statements and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily Europa Star. | ISSN 2504-4591 | www.europastar.com |
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FOB PARIS RADICALISM WITH ROOTS Three young qualified engineers, Sari, Laurent and Aurélien, who were also childhood friends, fell under the watchmaking spell when one of their friends inherited a pocket watch from his grandfather. Fascinated by both the technical aspects and the aesthetics, they founded FOB Paris back in 2012. They made the reinterpretation of this pocket watch the signature product of their “French watchmaking studio”. And they insist on the “French” epithet, stressing that “everything is made in France and assembled in Besançon in a family workshop where four generations of watchmakers work”. With a self-winding or solar-powered movement, made in PVD-coated stainless steel and equipped with sapphire crystals, their watches display a somewhat radical aesthetic, minimalist but not without emotion, rigorously geometrical and stripped to the essential in a wholly contemporary style. FOB Paris is already present in a large number of countries from France to Japan, as well as Russia, London and the Middle East.
Timepieces by new, high-quality independents often have the merit of opening up new paths in form and engineering. Here is a selection of such initiatives by designers, stylists, micro-mechanics specialists, collectors or simply fans of horology, chosen on a purely subjective basis by Europa Star from the plethora of new designs on offer.
SINGER RECONSTRUCTING THE CHRONOGRAPH Singer was born of an encounter between Rob Dickinson, the founder of Singer Vehicle Design, and Marco Borracino, a watchmaker-designer, joined by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor. This master watchmaker supplied the AgenGraphe, a revolutionary chronograph with indications of extraordinary legibility and outstanding features. No more subdials: the chronograph function is now displayed by three central hands, while the hours and minutes indicators are relegated to the dial periphery and take the form of two rotating discs and a pointer at 6 o’clock. All 477 components of this very beautiful movement are visible through the sapphire on the watch back, as the central position of the chronograph leaves enough room to place the rotor on the dial side. This central display fits perfectly into the tonneau-shaped case in grade-5 titanium. Slender, curved and with polished and satin-brushed surfaces, it has a crown at 4 o’clock and two ergonomic pushers on either side of the case. In its latest edition, the Singer Track1 London Edition sports a deep blue dial and orange hands. It is mounted on a dark-coloured calfskin strap with eyelets in brushed titanium.
NORQAIN ADVENTURE, FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE
LAVENTURE TOTAL IMMERSION IN THE SIXTIES New brand Laventure appeared on Kickstarter in July 2017 with a debut collection of 150 watches called Laventure Marine. In 48 hours, 120 contributors helped it raise CHF 201,400. A resoundingly successful operation, thanks no doubt to the quality of this contemporary reinterpretation of the marine watches of the 1960s, right in line with millennial tastes. Clément Gaud, the man behind Laventure, is a Neuchâtel-based designer who, after five years at a watch design agency, decided to take the plunge. After this first success, he is back this year with Laventure Sous-Marine, a new limited series immaculately designed and built from start to finish in La Chaux-de-Fonds. A 41mm stainless steel or bronze case, a screw-down crown guaranteeing water-resistance down to 200m, a totally vintage-look, super-domed sapphire crystal, a pared-down, ultra-legible “sandwich” dial, an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, a screwed, engraved back in stainless steel, one strap in calfskin and a second one in rubber; all of this set in a case inspired by antique editions of Jules Verne and selling at CHF 2,350.
RESERVOIR A MANOMETER ON YOUR WRIST A French brand but Swiss-made in La Chaux-deFonds, launched in 2015 by François Moreau, a former banker of 25 years and a collector of counters and gauges from his most tender youth, Reservoir has the distinguishing feature of being directly inspired, in the way it is read, by antique measurement instruments. It has a 240° retrograde minute counter in the style of a rev counter, manometer or depth gauge, a jumping hours aperture reminiscent of a milometer, and a power reserve which is a reproduction fuel gauge. The display is powered by a patented proprietary module based on an ETA 2824-2. After collections dedicated to automobiles and aeronautics, this year Reservoir presents the diving collection Hydrosphère. The dual scale of its unidirectional rotating ceramic bezel enables decompression stop times to be read at a glance. It also has a helium valve and a rotating seconds indicator, showing that watch is running, positioned at the base of its single hand. €4,250.
Norqain, founded by Ben Küffer in Nidau (Biel) not far from Tavannes, where the family has worked in watchmaking through four generations, had a formidable sponsor in Ben’s father, Marc Küffer, CEO of Roventa Henex, a major manufacturer of private-label, Swiss-made watches from 1988 to 2012. This accumulated know-how, a well-filled address book and large production capacity have enabled Norqain to offer from the outset three collections of contemporary watches, for men and for women, all assembled in-house at Tavannes and exclusively mechanical, priced from CHF 1,500 to 4,500. The names say it all: Adventure Sport, Freedom 60 and, at the top, Independence, a limited, COSC-certified edition showcased at this year’s Baselworld. This still youthful brand is already asserting its ambitions regarding distribution with the announcement of a network of 50 retailers, not counting the web, by the end of 2019. Illustrated here is the Adventure Sport Chrono Auto DLC (with the brand’s characteristic “Norqain pattern”).
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MAURON MUSY A WATCH AND A MANIFESTO “Robust, sporty and sleek, yet also refined, intriguing, sophisticated…” all these adjectives are used by Mauron Musy, founded in 2013 by Eric Mauron and Christophe Musy, both experts in precision mechanics, to describe the new Armure MU03. Its design, described as “industrial”, is expressed in an imposing 44mm case carved from a titanium block. It comes equipped with the patented sealing system featuring a nORing® waterproof seal, which guarantees waterresistance to 300m, making the MU03 the only mechanically sealed, gasket-free watch. The 36 technical components that go to make up this case have a characteristic impact on the design. Delivered with two straps, in rubber and leather, which can be changed without tools, the MU03 is equipped with an automatic in-house movement, the MM01. This hours, minutes, seconds and power reserve (55 hours) watch was developed in collaboration with movement manufacturer Lajoux-Perret and elaborately finished to give it a highly contemporary, industrial look. It comes with the label “Swiss Crafted”, signifying that it was designed, manufactured and crafted exclusively in Switzerland. A kind of “industrial manifesto” promoted by the brand’s two creators.
DAVID RUTTEN THE ANTIDOTE TO NEO-VINTAGE HEGID NOT REVOLUTIONARY, EVOLUTIONARY MENINTIME UNDERSTATED ELEGANCE
LYTT LABS THE FOUNTAINS OF SINGAPORE Founded in 2014 by Edwin Seah, an industrial entrepreneur working in hardware and a keen watch collector, together with a partner, Lytt Labs aims to offer very urban-style timepieces at affordable prices for city dwellers with an affinity for traditional watchmaking, but still firmly grounded in their own time. No nostalgia for things vintage here: instead, a determination to assert their contemporaneity. After a first model, Inception Version 1, in which the hours, minutes and seconds were indicated by discs with arrows pointing to the figures, the new Inception model is quite a different proposition. A central disc indicating the seconds is placed over two very broad central hands indicating the hours and minutes. Inspired, according to its creators, by the public fountains which are havens of peace and tranquillity in most cities, this watch has retained the 45mm tonneau-shaped case in steel and sapphire crystal. Inside beats a Seiko NH 35 automatic movement. From €459.
“My debut watch – the Paon – is neither completely round nor completely oval. It’s a new shape. The strap is made up of 55 links, each individually cut and assembled. You’ve never seen a crown, dial or hands like these before; they’re unique!” says Vincent Rouillard, founder and CEO of Menintime. This designer, whose interest in watchmaking was born in his grandfather’s repair workshop in Nantes (FR), wanted to create “a jewel for men, sober and contemporary at the same time”. To do so, he got in touch with a network of subcontractors in La Chaux-de-Fonds and produced a 100% Swiss-made watch. With its oval case melding with the beautifully composed strap of 55 individually cut and assembled links, the Paon – French for “peacock”, but no strutting here; all sobriety and delicacy – has a shape unlike any other. With its vertical signature on dials pared down to the essential, or featuring geometrically arranged figures, the Menintime, powered by an ETA 2895-2 automatic movement, presents itself as “a new brand in Swiss watchmaking” and indeed resembles nothing we have seen before. An elegant proposition, understated, contemporary and beautifully designed.
How do you make an object, intended from the moment of its creation to be unchanging, evolve? The French start-up Hegid has developed a concept of watch heads which combine with a series of different casebands and straps. The identity change should take no more than 10 seconds – thanks to an exclusive system – which makes the notion of “evolutionary watch” sound far less formidable. With this project, the brand hopes to recast the very foundations of wrist sociology. Seizing on the fashion for modularity, which is increasingly popular in watchmaking, Hegid has applied it to mechanical watches and is pushing the exercise to the very limits. These evolutionary watches start at 2,400 euros for a capsule called Neo or Retro, equipped with a Swiss-made movement. The casebands, round or square, cost between 250 and 400 euros. Lastly, the straps in calfskin, alligator, ostrich or buffalo skin are available at 80-200 euros. There is even a new selection of straps in SuperLuminova (made in collaboration with Atelier du Bracelet Parisien) and Squama, an environmentally friendly material made from marine leather (in partnership with Cuir Marin de France). Each watch comes in a box precisely designed to accommodate the different modules, casebands or straps. Hegid has already announced new modules for its capsules: a power reserve indicator, date, and even a second time zone. (S.M.)
Born in Brussels in 1974, David Rutten was quite naturally inspired by Art Deco, the city of his birth being a centre of that movement. Like many others of his generation he was also influenced by Japanese sci-fi anime films – Cobra, Ulysses 31 and Albator. Having graduated from La Cambre design school after producing a portfolio based on a collection of watches inclined at 15°, he was looking to produce a “total oeuvre”: in his words, to “perfect every aspect of a watchmaking project, from the storytelling and the philosophy to the style, shape, ergonomics, graphic universe and also the typography and packaging”. The result of this “total” dream, the DR01 Streamline, is intended as a manifesto of his approach to watchmaking: “a brand entirely based on cases made of a material virtually unexploited in this context: the metal meteorite.” He is talking about the Muo Nio Nalusta, a meteorite that landed in Scandinavia around one million years ago. Discovered in 1906, it is 4.6 billion years old, which makes it the oldest known material on earth, dating from the very beginnings of our solar system. The generously sized 37mm aperture display allows the fluted, retro-futurist case carved from this meteorite to express itself to the full. Displaying the hours on a jumping disc and the minutes and seconds on a trailing disc, the watch is powered by a “round mechanical calibre (which is not an ETA 2892 !)” [sic] that occupies all the space in the case and has a five-day power reserve. 88 items available solely by subscription, priced at €8,500.
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The watchmaking incubator Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have provided unexpected new opportunities for watchmaking launches, often on the basis of just a couple of simple 3D software programmes and a good sense of communication. As for ideas, there is no lack of those, as proven by the hundreds of brands, or trial brands, that are hatched every year. To find out the exact status of subscriptions to this watchmaking exchange, open 24x7, the best plan is to look directly at the sites devoted to the uberisation of horology. The situation changes daily. And if you look closely enough, you can also see that projects which did not succeed in collecting the anticipated sum, or were just abandoned by their owners, are still in there. For some, it’s a paradise, for others a long purgatory, and for a great majority a fatal slide into the cemetery of stillborn ideas. There, watchmaking does or dies, publicly. But it also continuously reinvents itself, and the show goes on. Here are eight examples among the hundreds of ongoing projects.
DEPANCEL “FABRIQUÉ EN FRANCE” CULEM SOLD ON GMT Launched in May 2019 by Matthew Cule, “passionate about travel [he writes a travel blog] and fine watches”, Culem quite logically devotes its first collections – Portal, Lights and Frame – exclusively to GMT watches. The dial features a three-dimensional world map, while on the back are engraved 24 destinations in GMT and BST zones. The watch is powered by the inevitable automatic ETA 2893-2 and encased beneath a sapphire crystal in an elegant and sober 40mm stainless steel case.
Clément Meynir, originally from the French Jura region and a graduate of the Arts et Métiers science and technology school, launched Depancel in 2018. A contraction of Delage, Panhard and Facel Vega, famous French cars no longer in production today, the name says everything about his inspirations: cars and the industrial vision, and expertise “made in France”. And he provides a perfect demonstration of these with Renaissance, an “anti-conformist” collection, the case of which echoes the superb grille of the Delage DB-120 of 1936. It is crafted, assembled, regulated and decorated in France. The movement is the excellent Miyota automatic calibre 9120. €499 if pre-ordered, retail price €649.
RICHARDT & MEJER NORDIC BEAUTY Born of a friendship and a shared passion, Richardt & Mejer was founded in Copenhagen in 2015. As its two founders say: “We make watches without any pretentions but are uncompromising as to their geometry, craftsmanship and design.” A wholly Scandinavian attitude and aesthetic. Of this, The Lineup, their first collection, is a textbook example. Take the Automatisk / Moss, (Swiss-made calibre STP1-11) and its dual-layer dial in moss green, both matte and with sunray brushing. The case design is impeccably balanced in its Nordic simplicity. A great achievement, for sale on the site by subscription at $656. Future retail price $875.
LARUZE TOTEM CARRIES IT OFF Laruze first saw the light of day on 1 September 2015 after a modest, but “400% successful”, international crowdfunding campaign (€37,216) by Audrey and Cindy, two project creators who work for a fashion communications agency in Paris. In June 2019 they launched their first signature collection, the elegant Totem, comprising a three-hander automatic plus date, and an automatic chronograph, both powered by Seiko. But what really catches the eye is the interesting 40mm faceted steel case with a domed sapphire crystal. Rounding out the watch is an interchangeable strap system. Retail price: €495.
WATCH AFICIONADO | 29 Over its 90-plus-year history, Europa Star has seen many brands rise and fall.
SEQUENT THE TESLA AUTOMATIC OF SMARTWATCHES A genuine Swiss star on Kickstarter, having raised more than 1.2 million dollars in pre-orders in 2017, crowned this year with a Red Dot Design Award and already delivered to 135 countries, Sequent can pride itself on being the sole smartwatch to have a battery powered by an automatic movement. It converts the kinetic energy of your wrist to electrical power. Designed and perfected by the Zurich-based start-up Sequent, a leading smart-tech enterprise in the consumer health sector, the Sequent-SuperCharger2 explores the path of hybrid technology and solves – ecologically, brilliantly and tastefully, because the smart watch is simple and beautiful – the thorny problem of battery autonomy. A new and highly innovative sector that could also turn into a lifeline for the struggling segment of mass-produced mechanical watches. Price: from $179.
TEMPORE LUX VINTAGE FROM MAJORCA
XERIC WITH THE SUPPORT OF NASA
JW WATCH THE JW-EX, STANDING FOR “EXAGGERATION”
Based in Majorca, David Ramirez ran an online watch boutique for ten years before throwing in the towel and launching his own brand which, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, will be kicking off in November 2019. Still online though, because you have to “remove all the costly intermediaries who are often responsible for the fact that product quality is not as high as the price. I know what I’m talking about.” His first collection, The Vintage One, is a robust diving watch (down to 300m) with a steel cushion case, sapphire crystal and a rotating ceramic bezel. It comes in two versions: a three-hander plus date and a chronograph. Both are equipped with a Seiko or, for a supplementary charge, Sellita automatic movement. From €349.
In August 2019, Xeric, San Francisco, announced that its timepiece, the NASA Trappist-1 had received the support of 17,974 contributors, which made it the most popular watchmaking project on Kickstarter, with 5.4 million US dollars raised. It's a fine achievement for this young brand, now on its tenth successful Kickstarter campaign, whose aim is to flout the rules and shake things up with surprising watch propositions. Take the astonishing Trappist-1, for example, which has a grille on the dial inspired by the seven-panelled porthole, the Cupola, recently installed on the International Space Station. There are dozens of models in limited editions, with an automatic Miyota (retail price $450) or quartz (retail price $250) movement. Approved by NASA.
JW Watch was founded in Hong Kong by Jason Chan, a watchmaker-designer, and William Shun, the founder of Memorigin, a brand specialising in tourbillons, and a shareholder in a major manufacturing outfit that “has produced mechanical movements for Swiss brands for 30 years”. This marriage of a creator and major manufacturer allows JW Watch to offer highly innovative watches equipped with an original and exclusive skeletonised automatic movement, a beautiful and original finish and a power reserve of 80 hours. The chunky, polished steel case has three sapphire windows beneath which are displayed, on discs, the minutes (at 12 o’clock), the hours on the right and the seconds on the left, side by side with the – visible – balance. Retail price from €780.
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Unrest in Hong Kong Since the beginning of the year, we’ve heard nothing but bad news from the watchmaking metropolis, the historic hub of Swiss watches in Asia. The trade dispute between China and the United States, and political tensions with Beijing, have put the city in a very challenging position. Could the heart of the watch trade leave the island for the mainland? A long-term shift seems to be underway, with current events acting only as an accelerator. by
We can all bring to mind recent images of crowds of protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s streets, with giant Breitling or Omega advertisements in the background. However, when we arrive at the international airport one Monday in September, everything is calm. Things were clearly not so quiet the day before, when demonstrators against the extradition law (which has since been repealed) decided to occupy the area. Some fellow journalists, also in the city for the annual HKTDC exhibition, took five hours to reach the city centre. This week in Central, the historic heart of the island, the streets are quieter than usual... during the day. It is in the evening that things start to heat up. As soon as people leave the office, sit-ins and other forms of protest are organised all around town. Unlike what we saw in France last year, when the “yellow vests” staged their anti-power demonstrations, no shop windows are broken during the protests in Hong Kong, and working hours are generally respected. EUROPA STAR ARCHIVES
In Hong Kong, the demonstrators know that maintaining their economic dynamism will directly determine their special status in the People’s Republic of China (on the
In Hong Kong, the demonstrators know that maintaining their economic dynamism will directly determine their special status in the People’s Republic of China. basis of the “one country, two systems” principle, officially in force until 2047). The people of Hong Kong are also well aware that their economic weight has already lost some relevance since the handover to China. In 1997, the former colony alone accounted for 16% of China’s GDP. Today, that figure is just 3%. China has changed at high speed, and new metropolises have
surpassed Hong Kong in size, infrastructure and dynamism, starting with Shanghai. As a “gateway to China”, and with its special legal and political system, the island remains nevertheless an important hub for finance, services, and, of course, watchmaking. But for how long?
Trend: business repatriation to China The watch industry itself reflects the rise of mainland China compared with Hong Kong. In 2000, the Chinese domestic market imported 45 million francs’ worth of Swiss watches, compared with 1.4 billion francs for Hong Kong. Last year, China was the third largest export market for Swiss watches (at 1.7 billion francs). At the same time, Hong Kong has doubled its share to 3 billion francs... but mainly thanks to purchases by mainlanders. The repatriation of watch purchases to mainland China continues to accelerate. Admittedly, Hong Kong remains a tax free area, and retains some advantage on this account. But the government has made no secret of its desire to repatriate consumption locally, using either the carrot – prices coming into line with the rest of the world – or the stick – tighter border controls and the anti-gifting campaign. The long-term trend thus hints at an increase in home shopping, facilitated by the powerful logistics of the main Chinese e-commerce sites Tmall and JD (see our feature on China in our September issue). Swiss brands, which would generally have only one subsidiary in
The watch industry itself reflects the rise of mainland China compared with Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, covering the Greater China zone, are increasingly opening offices in mainland China and building local teams. There are also the traditional players such as Swatch Group or Titoni, which have already been there for decades. Similarly, watch brands are rushing to open WeChat accounts, the number one communication tool in the country.
“It’s going to last longer than a few months” Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, who is very familiar with the situation on the Chinese market, recently gave us his analysis of the impact of the demonstrations in Hong Kong: “We are seeing a sharp drop in air traffic. For most luxury brands, the decline in sales is proportional to the decline in air traffic, since this is a major tourism destination. Ticket reservations are a good predictor of sell-out levels.” “This is a new situation that affects everyone. We are entering an unpredictable era, which is likely to last longer than a few months,” says Davide Cerrato, head of watchmaking at Montblanc. Figures for Hong Kong from the Swiss Watch Federation (which
calculates exports) show a significant decline from June 2019, even if a complete meltdown is not on the agenda. Calculating watch sellout using figures provided by the Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, consultant Thierry Huron (Mercury Project) gives an even less rosy picture of the situation: in annual comparison, watch sales in Hong Kong were down by 16.9% in June and 24.3% in July. The market has lost 8.9% since January.
How much exposure? The situation is naturally more delicate for the watch brands most exposed to Chinese customers, for whom Hong Kong remains the hub, and which have not yet migrated their exposure to mainland China. At Bulgari, Jean-Christophe Babin is keen to play down his brand’s exposure: “We are not among those brands that have a majority of
For most luxury brands, the decline in sales is proportional to the decline in air traffic, since it is a major tourism destination. Chinese customers. These represent about a quarter of our customers. And Hong Kong’s share may be 5% of total sales. We sell many more watches to Chinese people on the domestic market, but also in Paris or other major luxury capitals. And
in the coming months, we will pursue an aggressive policy on Chinese tourist destinations because there will be more growth in China itself than abroad – although, it must be stressed, the trade dispute between China and the United States remains a concern because of the climate of unpredictability it creates.”
Demonstrations, an accelerator of change This year, the political events in Hong Kong will naturally have an impact on the watch industry’s balance sheet. The consulting firm Bain points to the “hesitant” recovery of the watchmaking sector, an effect largely of the very tense situation in Hong Kong, which is the main export market for Swiss companies. For its part, RBC Europe Limited estimates that Hong Kong represents 13% of Swatch Group’s total sales and 11% of Richemont’s total sales. Nevertheless, it is important to analyse the long-term situation for the future of Hong Kong as a watch hub, beyond the current volatile situation. Although a great deal of attention has been focused on the demonstrations of recent months, this eruption seems to be accelerating the more systemic fundamental risks that are already impacting Hong Kong’s dynamism: the repatriation of purchases to mainland China, the rise of Chinese cities as decision-making centres and, not to be overlooked, the uncertainty surrounding the impact of trade negotiations with the United States, given that Hong Kong is at the heart of trade between the two countries.
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Dennis Yeung, Managing Director of Oriental Watch Company
Carson Chan, Head of FHH Asia
Founded in 1961, Oriental Watch Company was the first watch retailer listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Over the years, the company has developed a retail network in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and has become one of the largest watch retailers in the region. The company now represents a hundred luxury brands, including Rolex, Tudor, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Girard Perregaux, Longines and Omega.
Carson Chan, an avid Hong Kongbased collector, first made a name for himself by helping to introduce Richard Mille to the Asian watchmaking metropolis, back in 2004. Since then, he has held a number of positions in the watch world: he is currently Vice-President of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong, a member of the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, and head of the Foundation for Fine Watchmaking in Asia. Within the framework of the FHH Academy, he has set up several high-quality watchmaking training courses in Hong Kong. “I studied in the United States, where my passion for mechanics was born… but in the automotive industry first. Back in Hong Kong, there wasn’t an interesting playground for cars on such a small territory,” he explains. The collector therefore “miniaturised” his mechanical passion by discovering watchmaking: “The language is similar, it is mechanical art on a microscopic scale.” If Hong Kong succeeds in maintaining its strong legal framework as well as its import logistics efficiency, it will remain the leading watchmaking centre in Asia, according to the expert, who lists other advantages for the island city: “Watches are more affordable than in mainland China thanks to its duty free status, and there is much more choice.” For him, the major risk is now that of a global recession caused by the trade dispute between China and the United States, with the chain effect of setting up tariff barriers. “We must look at the watch market from a long-term perspective, not month to month. In a time of global recession, everyone would suffer. It is therefore important to anticipate by determining how the industry as a whole could adapt to this situation.” Carson Chan believes in the virtues of education in particular to increase the size of the watch market on a global scale: “The watch is probably the only category of ob-
“We are concerned by the trade dispute between China and the USA”
“The outlook has shifted from positive to cautious.” “We operate 61 points of sale (including monobrand stores) throughout the Greater China region,” says Managing Director Dennis Yeung. “Our network is constantly evolving. In May, we moved our flagship store from 100 Queens Road Central to 50 Queens Road Central, a prime location in the heart of the luxury sector. This change will increase our sales.” Even more than the demonstrations that have taken place in recent
months, it is the impact of trade tensions between the United States and China that worries Dennis Yeung. Three years ago, Hong Kong’s retail sector entered a phase of stagnation: “All segments of the retail trade suffered, including watchmaking and jewellery. Compared to this difficult phase, the general environment had been improving since the beginning of this year. But the uncertainty created by the trade dispute between China and the USA has become increasingly worrisome. We are concerned about its impact on Hong Kong’s economy, and the outlook has shifted from positive to cautious.” Another major challenge for the retailer is that the price of renting commercial space in Hong Kong remains very high. “Some retailers tend to expand even in times of market downturn, but we are relatively cautious on our side,” says Dennis Yeung. “Thanks to this strategy, the impact of high rents in times of difficulty is less pronounced for us. In response to the challenge of high rents, we have also implemented a series of measures such as reducing inventories, negotiating lower rents with landlords, closing lossmaking stores or subletting stores.” As far as the company’s financial performance is concerned, weak market sentiment led to a decline in Oriental Watch Company’s annual results in 2016, which resulted in losses. The following year, the company returned to profit and continued its momentum with an annual profit of $139 million in 2018.
“Hong Kong must preserve its strong legal framework”
From left to right: Back in 1963, Europa Star travelled to Hong Kong to compile a report, which at the time was dedicated to the (still current) problem of counterfeiting. Hong Kong, the “open door” on China, as we wrote in 1994. 1993 watch industry statistics for Hong Kong. The “moveable feast” of Hong Kong was highlighted in this 2005 article.
ject that has gone from absolute necessity to total uselessness. The problem is that too many salespeople continue to present tourbillons as functional parts. And too many managers consider watchmaking as just a job. How can we talk about the mechanical watch in a more artistic way, about the beauty of mechanics? Crisis or no crisis, riots or no riots, that’s where the future of the industry will play out.”
“If Hong Kong succeeds in maintaining its strong legal framework as well as its import logistics efficiency, it will remain the leading watchmaking centre in Asia.” As such, there is a lot of educational work to be done in mainland China, which will also benefit the Hong Kong watchmaking business. Carson Chan continues: “Demand is high but it is still a market focused on marketing and not education. Most aficionados do not speak English and only identify the big names like Rolex or Patek Philippe. We must go further. Watchmaking must be more accessible to the public, not by price but by information. Today, the way watches are sold is not emotional enough. By comparison, it is not necessary to have a degree in art to appreciate a painting, and you don’t sell a painting by describing its setting, but by explaining how the artist created it.”