IN­VIN­CI­BLE IN­VICTA

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”.

Plaza Watch International - - Invincible Invicta - WORDS JOSH SIMS

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...

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