Three pro­lific watch­mak­ers share their ex­pe­ri­ences as in­de­pen­dents.

Esquire Singapore Watch Guide - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Leong Wong

Three pro­lific watch­maker—De Bethune, MB&F and Urwerk, share their ex­pe­ri­ences as in­de­pen­dents.

ESQUIRE: How are the in­de­pen­dent watch com­pa­nies do­ing in th­ese hard eco­nomic times?

Alessan­dro Zanetta of De Bethune: Be­ing a real man­u­fac­ture in this dif­fi­cult pe­riod is not easy. Hav­ing a pro­duc­tion of 300 to 350 pieces per year and 60 highly qual­i­fied peo­ple with a unique know-how gives an added value to our watches, but the in­ter­nal costs are enor­mous. But it al­lows us to adapt our pro­duc­tion to the mar­ket de­mand, as well as re­alise some spe­cial projects and be re­ally re­ac­tive.

Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser of MB&F: It has al­ways been dif­fi­cult for in­de­pen­dent cre­ators, but clearly times are now even more chal­leng­ing for them. The big brands have be­come so large that they oc­cupy all the ter­rain both in the me­dia and in terms of dis­tri­bu­tion. As a small ar­ti­san, it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to be heard and seen to­day. So­cial me­dia has helped even the game a lit­tle. And luck­ily we have The Hour Glass, who have made it their mis­sion to ed­u­cate their clients and pro­mote the most cre­ative ar­ti­sans in high-end watch­mak­ing. In­ter­est­ingly what nearly killed us last year is ac­tu­ally al­low­ing us to have an incredible 2015. We de­cided a few years ago that we would start de­vel­op­ing from 2014 on­wards two new move­ments a year, in­stead of one a year. Well, guess what? There is no way our cash flow will al­low this, and we learned it the hard way last year. But at the same time, com­ing up with the LM101 and the HM6 last year and two new cal­i­bres this year is giv­ing us a stel­lar year.

Felix Baum­gart­ner of Urwerk: Times are hard. No­body can deny it. But we’ve al­ready been through harsh times. Urwerk was born in harsh times. We, the in­de­pen­dents, just like the big brands, have two op­tions: either cry over a glo­ri­ous past and look pas­sively at the fig­ures point­ing in the red zone, or seize the mo­men­tum and be even more cre­ative, by do­ing what we do best, which is of­fer greater value and real crafts­man­ship.

ESQ: In the early days, the in­de­pen­dent watch­mak­ers faced a lot of pro­duc­tion chal­lenges and de­liv­ery prob­lems. Has any­thing changed?

DB: From the start, we grad­u­ally or­gan­ised the man­u­fac­ture to be au­ton­o­mous and in­de­pen­dent. This means be­ing able to de­velop a struc­ture that can per­fectly fol­low up each step of the pro­duc­tion. We have started to pro­duce our own cal­i­bres in 2004, and nowa­days, we have 19 cal­i­bres. This was re­ally hard at the be­gin­ning, but we are im­prov­ing year by year.

MB&F: It is even tougher. Many sup­pli­ers have dis­ap­peared or have been bought up by the big groups. The best in­de­pen­dent crafts­peo­ple are there­fore sub­merged with much more work than they can cater to. Luck­ily, we have in­cred­i­bly strong ties to all the ar­ti­sans whom we work with—and now have the in­ter­nal fa­cil­i­ties to re­touch or craft pieces when needed.

Urwerk: Well, it’s dif­fi­cult to talk for all in­de­pen­dents. At Urwerk, we are only pro­duc­ing 100 pieces a year. It was more or less the same eight years ago. We are try­ing to re­main sta­ble. What did change is that we had four peo­ple work­ing for Urwerk in 2005; to­day, there are 16 mostly watch­mak­ers and CNC tech­ni­cians. We are get­ting more in­de­pen­dent, we can bet­ter man­age time lim­its, and we have a bet­ter con­trol of pro­duc­tion process.

MB&F: The na­ture of in­de­pen­dents is to stay in­de­pen­dent! A few of us have man­aged to present to­gether in com­mer­cial and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties (think Basel­world, for ex­am­ple), but I don’t think we will ever man­age to pool to­gether for manufacturing ac­tiv­i­ties. ESQ: There has been talk about the in­de­pen­dents get­ting to­gether to man­u­fac­ture their own move­ment with joint resources to avoid the pit­falls and the chal­lenges that the watch­mak­ing industry cur­rently faces. Is this true? DB: Be­ing a real man­u­fac­ture that de­vel­ops and pro­duces their own cal­i­bres since 2004, we have no need to band to­gether with other in­de­pen­dents.

URWERK: The watches that we pro­duce are so par­tic­u­lar, and our needs so spe­cific, that it would be dif­fi­cult, al­most im­pos­si­ble, to share a pro­duc­tion line.

ESQ: How did your watch com­pany start? How did your de­sign in­spi­ra­tions come about?

DB: The com­pany started from the de­sire of my fa­ther (David Zanetta) and De­nis Fla­geol­let to recre­ate a com­pany with a real watch­mak­ing spirit. This means re­spect­ing the knowhow of the past, but al­ways try­ing to add new tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als to let watch­mak­ing evolve (ex­actly as the best watch­mak­ers of the past did). The aes­thetic sig­na­ture al­ways be­longs to my fa­ther, the only de­signer of De Bethune.

MB&F: It was my fa­ther’s pass­ing 14 years ago that made me re­alise that even though I was in the mid­dle of a fan­tas­tic ca­reer, this was not the life that I wanted to live, not the life that I would be proud of on the day I die. So I started dream­ing about what would later be­come MB&F: a very small com­pany where I cre­ate for my­self and work only

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