Mes­sage in a time­piece

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Push­ing bound­aries.

Through its watches, in­die watchmaker H Moser & Cie has given lux­ury watch consumers

much to think about. Still, its CEO Edouard Mey­lan wants more to be done.

Be­ing small doesn’t mean that you can’t have a voice. In the lux­ury watch­mak­ing in­dus­try, one brand is mak­ing waves, rais­ing ques­tions and straight-up go­ing to town on the ar­eas where oth­ers fear to tread. H Moser & Cie is an in­de­pen­dent, Swiss, fam­ily-run busi­ness that has a thing for chal­leng­ing the norm, even if that means ruf­fling a few feath­ers along the way.

Lead­ing the charge is its CEO Edouard Mey­lan, who is an ar­che­typal Swiss gentle­man from Le Bras­sus. In the six years that Mey­lan has helmed the com­pany, he has tripled its rev­enue, in­creased over­all pro­duc­tion ef­fi­ciency and evolved its image from one of a tra­di­tional and unas­sum­ing man­u­fac­ture to a dy­namic and creative brand backed by im­mense man­u­fac­tur­ing depth.

Nat­u­rally out­spo­ken and very elo­quently so, Mey­lan, 42, is a na­tive of Val­lée de Joux. That’s prob­a­bly why he’s so fiercely pro­tec­tive of the tra­di­tions and val­ues that de­fine Swiss watch­mak­ing. His over­haul of H Moser & Cie in 2013 started at a time when the in­dus­try was still reel­ing from its great­est trial since the 1970s quartz cri­sis.

Goi nG a Gai nst t he Grai n “As an in­de­pen­dent brand, you need to be dif­fer­ent, you need to be sin­gu­lar in a way. Moser has an amaz­ing tra­di­tion, with beau­ti­ful man­u­fac­tur­ing and great prod­ucts. My role was to take these and make it dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers. We brought a fresh dy­namic touch that’s rare in tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing. We still have the same his­tory, we still man­u­fac­ture ev­ery­thing in-house, but we’ve brought a lit­tle sex­i­ness to the brand,” says Mey­lan.

Mey­lan ac­quired H Moser & Cie and its sis­ter com­pany Pre­ci­sion En­gi­neer­ing to­gether with his father and brother. His father is Ge­orges-Henri Mey­lan, who was CEO of Aude­mars Piguet from 1968 to 2008. Through Melb Hold­ing, of which the se­nior Mey­lan is pres­i­dent, the fam­ily also owns another in­de­pen­dent Swiss watch­mak­ing brand, Haut­lence.

At the be­gin­ning, there were over 75 em­ploy­ees at H Moser, but that num­ber came down to 40. Says Mey­lan: “We saw quite quickly who agreed with our vi­sion and who didn’t. We also saw our team get­ting younger. The ones who left did so be­cause they couldn’t adapt to the new man­age­ment. We speak dif­fer­ently, we ad­dress one another by our first name, there’s a more in­for­mal way, a more start-up cul­ture and that was dif­fi­cult for some peo­ple.”

Mey­lan also made changes to the in­ter­nal pro­duc­tion pro­cesses to in­crease ef­fi­ciency and en­hance flex­i­bil­ity. This would al­low H Moser to make limited edi­tions, unique pieces, new di­als and so on in a shorter amount of time. This proved dif­fi­cult for the older gen­er­a­tion to ac­cept, and be­ing un­able to adapt, they chose to leave. But as time pro­gressed, the com­pany grew again, this time in a more stream­lined man­ner. Ac­cord­ing to Mey­lan, staff strength by 2017 had in­creased to 60 and more cru­cially, rev­enue tripled, which clearly proves that the strat­egy im­ple­mented by the new man­age­ment is work­ing.

With the com­pany back on its feet, Mey­lan de­voted him­self to re­defin­ing H Moser & Cie for the mod­ern con­sumer and a dig­i­tal au­di­ence. The col­lec­tions are pri­mar­ily the same, but there’s a height­ened fo­cus on qual­ity watch­mak­ing. Spe­cial de­signs, such as the smoked fumé di­als in an ar­ray of colours, be­came one of the most de­fin­i­tive fea­tures of H Moser & Cie time­pieces, so much so that the com­pany could make and sell watches with­out a logo but col­lec­tors in­stantly recog­nised them as a prod­uct of the Schaffhausen man­u­fac­ture.

Mak­ing de­branded watches In 2015, H Moser & Cie started mak­ing watches with all those hall­marks but no logo. The Con­cept Se­ries, which in­cluded mod­els like the Ven­turer Small Sec­onds Pu­rity, em­bod­ies a ‘less is more’ phi­los­o­phy and was a sub­tle dig at brands built on noth­ing but mar­ket­ing and hype.

It prob­a­bly wasn’t planned as such, but the Con­cept Se­ries ul­ti­mately be­came the first of a suc­ces­sion of horo­log­i­cal con­cepts that con­fronted is­sues that ev­ery­body in the in­dus­try was think­ing, but no­body was say­ing.

“If you look at the Swiss Alp Watch, it’s re­ally about ask­ing peo­ple what their take is on the con­nected watch. Is it a threat to the watch in­dus­try? There are so many brands tak­ing me­chan­i­cal watches and mak­ing them con­nected. Peo­ple have asked me if I’ll make a con­nected watch. I said no. We wanted to ex­press in a provoca­tive way what Moser stands for. Moser is about tra­di­tion yet open to the rest. We want to com­bine a very mod­ern de­sign in­spired by con­nected watches, but make it me­chan­i­cal be­cause that’s what we be­lieve in. Our vi­sion of the future of watch­mak­ing is about stay­ing true to tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing even if there are other things com­ing,” says Mey­lan.

He elab­o­rates: “If the me­chan­i­cal watch had to die, then quartz would have killed it. Or the mo­bile phones. So why would smart­watches kill the me­chan­i­cal watch? No. We need to live to­gether and find a way to col­lab­o­rate and that was the best ex­am­ple we could find. Even if it was provoca­tive, it com­mu­ni­cated the right mes­sage about what we stand for.”

next caMe a w atch Made of cheese With the Swiss Alp Watch in 2016, H Moser & Cie spoke up about con­nected watches. With the Swiss Mad Watch in 2017, it con­fronted a dif­fer­ent and more se­ri­ous is­sue: is Swiss-made re­ally Swiss?

“At that time peo­ple were su­per ex­cited about the new Swiss­made reg­u­la­tions, think­ing that we were im­prov­ing the Swiss­made la­bel and that it’s go­ing to be stronger. I spoke to col­lec­tors and they all thought that Swiss-made means 100 per­cent made in Switzer­land,” says Mey­lan.

In 2017, Swiss au­thor­i­ties an­nounced a change to the Swiss Made la­bel. From that point on­wards, for a watch to qual­ify as Swiss-made, at least 60 per­cent of the en­tire pro­duc­tion cost must be in­curred in Switzer­land, as op­posed to 50 per­cent. In other words, the Swiss govern­ment has made the cri­te­ria 10 per­cent more strin­gent than be­fore. Yet 60 per­cent is still not 100 per­cent.

Says Mey­lan: “I wanted to ad­dress that, but if I write it down in a let­ter who’s go­ing to read it? Then we re­alised that, some­times, pic­tures or prod­ucts or sym­bols say more than words. This is the rea­son we cre­ated the Swiss Mad Watch and it worked ex­tremely well.”

He be­gan by think­ing about dif­fer­ent ideas of mak­ing a watch that was lit­er­ally 100 per­cent Swiss-made, so Mey­lan needed to come up with Swiss ma­te­ri­als for the move­ment, strap and case. The idea for the strap came while driv­ing back home from his of­fice one day.

“I saw this kid on my way home from work car­ry­ing a back­pack that all Swiss kids car­ried. It was made of cowskin. For me it’s typ­i­cal Swiss. So I said we needed to make the strap in cowskin. But for the case, it’s more chal­leng­ing. We don’t have gold. We also talked about choco­late, but the ca­cao we use is im­ported. Then there’s min­eral quartz and salt… and then we thought of cheese. That’s it,” he re­calls.

Nat­u­rally the idea was a lit­tle hard to swal­low at first but Mey­lan con­vinced his team, who as­sured him that a cheese watch was im­pos­si­ble to make. Yet be­cause Mey­lan had had the chance to work with Richard Mille and picked up on the tech­nol­ogy used to make the spe­cial NTPT cases, he was adamant it could work.

“We tried for six months and at the be­gin­ning it was re­ally crap. Some stunk like a dis­as­ter, un­til we fi­nally found the right way to pro­duce one piece,” he re­veals.

Launched in Jan­uary 2017, this high-cal­cium time­piece was all the watch in­dus­try could talk about. A cheese watch made in Switzer­land—that sounds so wrong yet so right. But love it or hate it, at least the mes­sage was clear and H Moser & Cie suc­ceeded in high­light­ing the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the Swiss-made la­bel.

“if the me­chan­i­cal watch had to die, then quartz would have killed it. or the mo­bile phones. so why would smart­watches kill the me­chan­i­cal watch?”

A trib­ute to the icons gone Awry Next, H Moser & Cie set out to tackle the is­sue of over-mar­ket­ing. In what must have been the most con­tro­ver­sial prod­uct cre­ated in the his­tory of watch­mak­ing, Mey­lan wanted to un­der­score the fact there are two kinds of brands: those built on sub­stance and those built on hype.

“The goal was to cre­ate some­thing very pos­i­tive. I wanted to make some­thing that peo­ple can stand for, be a proud part of the Swiss in­dus­try. That’s why we made a watch that’s iconic of all that makes Swiss watch­mak­ing suc­cess­ful,” he re­lates.

His good in­ten­tions to pay trib­ute to the great­est icons of the in­dus­try, un­for­tu­nately, got mis­taken as a cruel lam­poon­ing of eight ma­jor lux­ury watch brands. The Swiss Icons Watch had a Rolex GMT Mas­ter-in­spired 24-hour bezel insert in blue and red; a Pan­erai-in­spired crown guard and hour mark­ers; an IWC-in­spired logo de­sign; Breguet hands; tour bill on with G ira rd-Per reg aux­in­spired ar­row head gold bridge; blue Patek Philippe Nau­tilus-in­spired dial; Hub lot-in­spired H-shaped screws; Cartier-in­spired fluted crown with cabo­chon sap­phire; and an Aude­mars Piguet Royak Oak-in­spired oc­tag­o­nal bezel. It was a ter­ri­ble-looking watch, but in Mey­lan’s de­fence, that was not the point.

Mey­lan ex­plains: “It was an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise be­cause we found some big brands that didn’t have any­thing to be in­spired by. Un­for­tu­nately, we didn’t im­ple­ment our cam­paign prop­erly and the mes­sage got mis­un­der­stood by peo­ple. It didn’t work the way we in­tended. This watch was sup­posed to be a trib­ute to the icons.”

He con­tin­ues: “We were try­ing to crit­i­cise cer­tain as­pects of com­mu­ni­ca­tion from cer­tain brands who don’t pro­duce any­thing, are not true man­u­fac­tures, and just rely on in­flu­encers and bull­shit mar­ket­ing. So we’re try­ing to say these are the good guys and some oth­ers are the bad guys. But it got mis­in­ter­preted.”

Will H Moser & Cie con­tinue to cre­ate prod­ucts that spot­light key devel­op­ments in the watch in­dus­try? Mey­lan makes no prom­ises but as an in­de­pen­dent brand, the com­pany def­i­nitely has the free­dom to get its opin­ions out. He as­serts that peo­ple need to un­der­stand there are dif­fer­ent types of brands. “There are real, true, non-op­por­tunis­tic brands based on tra­di­tion and are pro­duc­ing in­no­va­tive prod­ucts and not just mar­ket­ing. Peo­ple must look be­yond the ar­ti­fi­cial image that any­one with enough money can cre­ate.”

“I think the watch in­dus­try has be­come so driven by num­bers that even­tu­ally brands start flood­ing the mar­ket [with watches]. Huge num­bers flow over to the grey mar­ket be­cause peo­ple were not mon­i­tor­ing sell-out but sell-in. And there’s a sud­den back­lash be­cause de­mand re­duced, ev­ery­thing was dis­counted, de­stroy­ing beau­ti­ful brands. Over­pro­duc­tion is prob­a­bly the big­gest is­sue… a lot of short­cuts and com­pro­mises on the prod­uct. For a time, peo­ple thought they could sell any­thing to any­one,” says Mey­lan.

Driven by his pas­sion for watches and love for the Swiss watch­mak­ing in­dus­try, Mey­lan’s am­bi­tion is for the in­dus­try to be com­pletely trans­par­ent, with fairer prac­tices in place, so that consumers know ex­actly what they’re get­ting into. Even if it in­volves slay­ing a few sa­cred cows, he’ll find a way to de­liver the bit­ter pill that the in­dus­try so des­per­ately needs.

“over­pro­duc­tion is prob­a­bly the big­gest is­sue… a lot of short­cuts and com­pro­mises on the prod­uct. For a time, peo­ple thought they could sell any­thing to any­one.”

Will the unique Swiss Icons watch ever see the light of day?

At H Moser & Cie, ev­ery watch is fin­ished by hand and checked be­fore it leaves the man­u­fac­ture.

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