Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to make your millions... in food or watches

William Chase (founder of Tyrrell's crisps and the award-winning Chase Vodka) has been talking to MSN recently about making one's millions in food (see the full article here). Reading the article got me thinking that there really doesn't appear to be much difference in the approach to marketing and selling food (crisps), drink (Vodka, gin and liqueurs) or watches in the luxury market.

William sets out his five top tips for making money from food, but these could just as easily be used by new (or existing) watch companies. So I thought I’d try and take his five points, and see if they worked…

1) You need a unique selling point / good strapline. With the luxury (and indeed microbrew) watch market becoming increasingly crowded, the need for a valid USP becomes ever more important. Back in the seventies, it may have only taken the words "Swiss Made" on a dial to make it sell, but the market today is a little more challenging. How many times have you looked at a watch companies strapline and thought, wha? 

Honorary mention should go to (in no particular order) Patek Phillippe: "You never actually own a Patek..." (presumably because it'll be quicker to pay off your mortgage), and TAG Heuer’s new The Knights of Time adverts, which somehow manages to evoke the memory of the main characters in one of my favourite movies - Time Bandits (but it’s probably just me).

2) Have a brand that's genuine - no fakes. The internet is awash with dozens of reasonable-priced, if not downright cheap, watches that have all the functions of a luxury watch, but without the eye-watering prices. Many of these cheaper brands are "re-using" other company's designs, and producing homages / clones / or other watches *inspired* by the designs of yesteryear. As a luxury retailer, it’s easy to dismiss these as mere copycats, and to deride them in public (see’s sponsored forums, for example). 

However, one needs to ensure that the brand really is genuine before you begin to throw stones (Doxa, and affiliate company Doxa in Asia, take note)

3) No twee marketing stories - you're talking to intelligent customers so need to be sincere. The definition of "twee" is key here (as is intelligence - most members of watch-related forums appear to be referring to themselves as Idiots, so please take care out there). The sincerity of the message is important, but even these can be misunderstood by customers. Bremont is a relatively new brand, having only launched in 2007. Their strapline – Tested beyond endurance – has a certain ring to it, as does the story of the two co-founders, who gave up their jobs in the City following the death of their father in an aerobatic accident, to build their own watch company. I must admit to a) owning more than one of these watches, and b) believing that this is a sincere story; probably because it chimes with many of my own experiences. However, with a more cynical hat on, I could easily be persuaded that this is pure “marketing”. The same can be said for other successful brands – but it does illustrate the careful line that needs to be trodden – even if the marketing stories are true, and backed up with some impressive facts.

4) Stay true to your roots. This is a tricky one. Sinn watches began almost 50 years ago, as a builder of instrument / timepieces for aircraft and pilots. The designs were taken from a rich aeronautical heritage, and were simple, almost austere in their design. Since the sale in the nineties, Sinn has gone from strength to strength, increasing manufacturing and building an extensive range. Sinn now sells a series of ladies' watches, and even devotes a range to famous financial centres. Have they stayed true to their roots? I would argue yes – regardless of the “novelties” that Sinn are producing, there is a common thread that seems to run through the entire range. Their watches remain well-made, robust, well-finished and affordable. They do not appear to have strayed far from their roots. 

Marvin might be another interesting example. Relaunched in the past few years, Marvin is a name that goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. While their recent watches have focussed largely on quartz models, the soon-to-be launched Malton 160 range appears to draw more from the rich history of the brand. They have incorporated elements of previous designs and ownership into their watches (e.g. the “M&E D” company seal on the lower left side of every watch case standing for Marc & Emmanuel Didisheim, who founded Marvin in 1850).

5) Provenance (e.g. quality / sourcing of components). The final point is a perennial question on the many watch-related fora which have sprung up on the internet over the past decade. Movements, and even movement components, are being discussed with a fervour that suggests that there a either a lot more closet watchmakers out there, or the interweb is full of people who seem to regurgitate the same information time and time again. You only have to look at the fuss made about “Swiss Made” vs German or Asian watches to see that this is a highly emotive subject. Manufactures should be honest about the provenance of their cases, movements and finishing, in order to avoid any confusion.

Please be aware that this post is peppered with references to comments / discussions in obscure, and not-so-obscure, online watch-related forums. The views expressed here are my own, but I take no responsibility for the views expressed on such forums.

      Thursday, October 07, 2010

      Beuchat Genesis 4000 HPS

      Right. This one's a little different.

      Most of what I know about this watch has been gleaned from French dive watch forums (see list below).

      There was a project in the mid-90s to develop oil-filled watches in order to resist incredible pressures (below 300ATM). Beuchat approached a company called Innovation Capital who devised a watch which incorporated an oil-bathed movement (ISA quartz) and toughened glass. Beuchat therefore embarked on their models, which incorporated a Hydraulic Pressure System or HPS.

      However, they were, apparently, pipped to the post by the Bell & Ross Hydromax with its whopping 11,000m WR. This set Beuchat back a bit, but they were able to use Bell & Ross' experiences (and indeed Sinn's) to modify their models (the 6,000m-rated Abyssal and the 4,000m-rated Genesis). Apparently they were able to modify the flexible membrane at the back of the watch to successfully remove any gas bubbles. This apparently works by allowing water to compress the flexible membrane through the small holes in the case. I'm not (yet) convinced by this explanation and need to do some more research...

      The watch is not subtle - yellow and black scream "warning" or "danger". An odd combo, and one that's not used in too many designs. However, it's smaller (38-39mm) and a lot slimmer than many modern divers. The bezel is solid enough, with a decent "click" to it. There is no lume on the bezel.

      The use of oil means that refraction is significantly reduced, allowing the watch to be read at all angles above and below the water.

      The battery needs changing, so I'm going to have to find a Beuchat AD somewhere - presumably on the continent - or send it back to the guys in Marseilles...

      As I said, it's an interesting piece - relatively rare (probably around 200 made) with an interesting history. Beuchat's new owners plan to release a new version of this watch in due course.

      Info from:

      • Forum - MDP
      • Chronomania
      • FAM

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Mid-dive-table mediocrity or how to spend $1000 on a watch (Part 1)

      Spurred on by recent claims from new entrants that there is little to offer the consumer in the $1000 dive watch market, I thought I’d try and provide a brief synopsis of what's really out there. 

      As I see it, consumers have three basic choices in this market: 

      1) tried and test, "prosumer" watches, such as Seiko and Citizen

      2) low production number watches from (largely) new entrants

      3) vintage / pre-owned dive watches (following a suitable service).

      In the prosumer* market, two watches stand out at this level**: the Seiko SBDC003 “Sumo” [approx. $598, available Seiyajapan] and the Citizen Aqualand Professional Jp1030-02l [£349, available here]. The former provides the diver with a large, highly legible dial, sapphlex crystal, 200m WR and the sweetly ticking beat of Seiko’s 6R15 mechanical movement. As a true “diver’s” watch, you can rest assured that it’s guaranteed to meet the relevant ISOs, and the Prospex moniker (shared by the top of the range Marine Master) gives additional comfort. The bezel is large, rugged and easy to operate with cold fingers / gloves.

      The latter, whilst similar in size, is an ani-digital, with sub- and supra-readouts providing water temperature, depth, elapsed time and even an audible ascent warning. While the Citizen is battery-powered, its large hands are reassuringly old school, and the pronounced bulge on the left hand side of the case is retained from the original late-80’s models. The manual may be the size of Belgium, but the Aqualand is easy to strap on, and, being water-activated, you can plug-and-dive.

      The watches come on a variety of rubber strapsand stainless steel bracelets, with plenty of after-market options. At the price-point (a shade under $600) I was almost tempted to overlook both of these, as it really doesn't seem fair to compare them to $1,000 watches. However, the Sumo is so well-made, and so nicely finished, that it beats many other watches in this bracket and could easily sell for $100-$150 more if it were made by a different manufacturer. The Citizen is a veritable dive tool, but seems to me to be an interesting starting point.

      Both of these watches mark the owner out as someone with at least a passing interest in the water, and wouldn’t be out of place on the outside of a drysuit off Shetland, nor adorning the tanned wrist of a diver enjoying the tranquil blue waters of the Red Sea. The orange-faced Sumo requires a little more effort to wear - if only because the dial can be startling in bright sunlight!

      Having dived with the Sumo on numerous occasions, I can certainly vouch for its legibility - even at depth (here seen at about 60 feet), the dial is extremely easy to read - with less diffraction than with many watches. 

      Honourable mentions should go, in no particular order, to:

       - The Suunto Elementum Aqua (RRP approx. $800-900) which is a good looking dive computer-style watch with all the elements of a good dive timer, but without the functions of a proper computer (no Nitrox? No Freedive mode?). It's stylish, and has innovative use of the pusher at 2pm (you twiddle it as well as push it).

       - The yet-to-be-released, but rather nicely styled Squale Professional 101ATM. Retro looks, from a decent Italian company, with great links to the past. ETA 2824-2-powered with WR to 1000m. Should be available in October from

      [To be continued]

      *I use the term "prosumer" lightly. Obviously, professional sat divers use Casios and the occasional COMEX. Dive guides and instructors tend to favour Stingers, it seems. Prosumer just refers to people who want a decent dive watch with a hint of the "professional". I'm not sure it's the correct term, but I prefer it to "tool watch" or, far, far worse, "tactical". Shudder.

      **defined as watches over $500, under $1000. I have purposely not considered any true dive instruments / computers in this piece, although there are plenty of good-looking models in this price range.

      Tuesday, October 05, 2010

      William Gibson and Cory Doctorow at Intelligence Squared

      William Gibson in conversation with Cory Doctorow

      I must admit to a couple of small confessions: I've been reading William Gibson's books for 22 years, and I've never before seen him live; I'll come to the second confession later. This Intelligence Squared event was therefore probably a little more exciting for me than it might have been for the dozens of other attendees last night at Cadogan Hall in London, many of whom appeared to have seen him many, many times before.

      Gibson makes it clear from the beginning that he finds ideas "through the narratives" of his stories, allowing them to "re-complicate, circle around and come back" rather than starting with the book's theme. He says that people often ask him whether this particular novel, Zero History, and the three-part oeuvre of which it is the final instalment, is a snapshot of the first ten years of the 21st century. He dismisses this - showing particular dislike for the word "snapshot", preferring to see it as a decade-long pinhole camera exposure - a palimpsest - with superimposing narratives.

      He doesn't appear comfortable at all, on stage, at a lectern. He's tall. Thin. Stooped. Dressed in a wind- (and presumable water-) proof jacket, chinos in a shade of olive green that probably has a particular name, striped socks and plimsoles. I think he'd like his shoes to be described as plimsoles, rather than sneakers. I noticed his socks as I was sat in the front row, almost at his feet.

      "We can no longer grow the full beef of bohemia - it's all veal now"

      Cory Doctorow dresses as he does on Twitter. What do I mean by this? Well, he wears the same, purple red, multi-button-holed, padded jacket that he does in his Twitter profile pic. He looks strikingly at odds with Gibson, although it's clear they share some history. Cory - once described as the Gibson of his generation - interviewed him back in 1999. At that point, they both agreed that change was coming - exponentially - and in unidentifiable ways. Sitting across from each other a decade on, one wonders what the next ten years will bring, although both confess to still having no clue as to what will happen next.

      Given the central premise of Zero History, there is the obligatory discussion about clothing. Gibson informs us that there is a particular way of dressing in Afghanistan that screams "operator". Striped Polo shirt, Ralph Lauren slacks. Presumably a gun. Where does he find out about this stuff?

      I must admit to smiling more than I had in a long time, nodding vigorously and probably looking like a loon, as I listened to Cory question Gibson on prophecy, bohemia, China, steampunk and cheese. Actually, there was no mention of cheese, but it was that kind of evening.

      Steampunk was punctuated by the production of a leather "gimp" mask, by Bob Basset, and a question from Cory as to why it's taken over 20 years since the publication The Difference Engine for steampunk to hit the mainstream. My view is that steampunk has taken a large detour through Japan first, having been gleefully reinterpreted by Hayao Miyazaki, before being pressed through the sunny streets of Harajuku and somehow arriving in the bizarre leather-work of a Russian named Bob. But what do I know?

      It was a fascinating evening, culminating in a book signing. The entire evening is available to listen / download here.

      Oh. I said I had another secret. I do. I asked @GreatDismal to dedicate my copy of Zero History. Hey ho.