More than 50 per cent of Invicta customers own ten or more Invicta watches. Such loyalty is not surprising when you investigate the price and value proposition. Invicta doesn’t undercharge – it simply offers “real watches for everyday people”.
Eyal lalo, the 40-year-old CEO of Invicta watches, isn’t saying much about the Subaqua Noma VI, due for launch next year, other than that it will be, he promises, “the most complicated watch we’ve ever produced, which will result from a combination of the different elements built into it and how those are used for time-telling”.
It’s a cryptic statement, but, he says, a telling one. “What this watch will say is that we’re able to do anything we visualise – which is pretty neat.”
Before then will come a new ProDiver model – “the New Grand Diver we think it’ll be called but we’re still playing with a few names,” says Lalo – which will have its own patented design, a kind of dual-layer bezel in which the wall of the outer ring also displays the usual minutes elapsed information. It’s one of those simple ideas, “it’s just about thinking about the bezel in three dimensions,” notes Lalo, that it is hard to believe hasn’t been done before.
But then the Florida-headquartered Invicta has, over the last 15 years of its 178-year-long history, somewhat rapidly developed a reputation for its progressiveness in engineering. For instance, in 2013, after four years in development and after the hiring of two engineers just to work on one watch – the SubAqua Noma V– a new pusher system for diver chronographs was introduced that allows it to be operated with more assurance underwater. Compared with a conventional screw-down crown system, this patented method elevates the pusher while the locking system stays in place, giving what Invicta says is 20 times more water resistance. It also has the benefit of giving a diving watch an aptly more streamlined shape. The system has been successfully scaled down for use in a women’s watch for this year too.
“although the intention was to improve water protection for a chronograph, we also wanted a more elegant solution to the big pushers you usually see sticking out of the side of diving watches, which sometimes are so big they look like a canteen,” jokes Lalo. “That meant you could wear it as much in the boardroom as in the water. The watch’s beauty is that its improvement is functional, but it gave us an aesthetic improvement too.”
Remarkably, the watch won a prestigious Red Dot design award – remarkable because this is not reserved for watches; any product can be entered for independent assessment. And, in fact, the Noma V was up against some 4,662 examples of industrial design from over 1,800 manufacturers. “The watch represented a revamped brand and a statement of intent in our introducing a more complex piece, especially in an industry which is, I think, pretty stale, in its comfort zone, and not making much progress,” says Lalo.
“There was a certain pride in winning that because it reflected a certain understanding of the complexity of the manufacturing, and an appreciation of that. When you work like this you become very judgmental of the products out there. You look at a Ferrari, say, and the level of engineering in it is incredible – it justifies the price. But you can’t say that about many things.”
And that brings us to the other remarkable aspect of many of Invicta’s watches, the bench-
mark SubAqua series in particular: the price. If there are more famous, considerably more expensive diving watches on the market, most are essentially unchanging in their engineering. Invicta – Latin for ‘invincible’ – aims to push for functional improvements with each new iteration of its series, and offers it for a few hundred dollars.
This was the pitch too of Raphael Picard, the man who founded the company with the belief that Swiss timepieces could be sold at modest prices, one that seemed to be working until the ‘quartz crisis’ of the 1970s almost scuppered Invicta entirely, the brand not seeing revival until its purchase from the Picard family by an investment company in 1991.
Now the watches are made in Switzerland and the Far East, with some pieces still wholly-made in Switzerland. The company is also continuing to develop its own proprietary movements. Today, for shoppers who still fall into that trap of fallacious human psychology – in equating price with value – it is an eye-opener. Lalo describes Invicta as the watch equivalent to companies in other sectors – the likes of Zara in fashion, or Ray-Ban in eyewear – lacking the flash factor perhaps but offering style and build quality at what feels like a fair, rather than a daunting, price. Such companies and their life represent a new paradigm in savvy consumerism. Invicta’s eyewear, jewellery and pens even offer them some competition.
“Our focus has always been the building of complicated timepieces at an accessible price,” Lalo explains. “We’ve built the brand so men were able to build a collection, to wear a different watch on different occasions, an idea which has typically been considered one only for the very wealthy. A lot of people in the watch business have said we undercharge – that we’re somehow downgrading it by giving away the secrets of what is a high margin industry. But the fact is that anyone can comparison shop now – and I think you’d have to pay five times the amount to get the same engineering from another brand. The watch industry has turned too much to the luxury consumer – but few companies are offering what might be called real watches for everyday people.”
the company is not above producing some suitably ‘real’ marketing material either: its 2015 calendar – a throwback to pre-feminist times – features twelve shapely ladies who appear to share a passion for wearing not much at the beach, but never forget their Invicta diving watch (check the captions to find out more
about the ‘model’ and you get not the ladies’ names but their watch’s number).
Yet the result, argues Lalo – a man refreshingly outspoken about the marketing mechanisms behind the watch industry, and not best pleased about most of them – is the kind of loyalty that most watch businesses would give their right arm for (leaving the left one to wear a watch on): astoundingly, over 50 per cent of Invicta customers own ten or more Invicta watches. Small wonder the company – which has over 3,000 different styles of watches across its lines – reports a steady 30 per cent year-on -year growth over recent years. That’s big enough to preclude the company from being one of the “little guys” that, Lalo argues, the oligarchic mindset of the industry’s major players tend to squash.
Maybe InvIcta’s progress stems from the fact that, while Lalo still thinks of Invicta as a watch company (his father and grandfather before him both worked in watches), it seems to operate more like an engineering company that happens to make watches. It has submitted watches for the Red Dot awards this year too, while Lalo speaks of the need to “keep raising the bar, because it’s important to keep progressing in order to retain customers, but also because that’s what’s exciting – we often wonder if we’ve maxed out on a collection but always find a way to do something new. Besides which, there’s only so much you can do with movement and materials – the only way you can do something really new in watches is in the engineering.”
Lalo adds, “I’d be very excited to see more investment in the new by brands out there – but I don’t see much in terms of design and engineering. Sure, you certainly expect it from a massmarket company like Invicta, but there it is. We’re product-focused because we can’t compete on status. Unfortunately, lots of brands’ vision starts with status and marketing, with working out how much they can milk a product, how many they can sell while retaining the prestige of the brand. But that’s not us.”
Well, we did say he was outspoken...