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 Watchuseek.com’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.