Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Watch Assemblers - Some Inside Baseball

This is a topic that has been touched on here before, but it seemed worth airing out again in light of an article I just read on a popular retail-cum media outlet regarding the ongoing ETA saga. The article pointed to statements that Hayek the Elder made prior to the launch of ETA's one-way express trip to crazy town. His statement was, essentially, that any asshole could go to a white label company and create their own watch, and by golly, that was WRONG! He referenced a conversation he had with a fashion house who approached him to make a watch for them, and he pulled an Enzo Ferrari on him, essentially telling him to stick to making tractors (or, in this case, suits). Now history will note that the Zegna watch was realized with the assistance of Girard-Perregaux/Sowind, and it fared about as well as could be expected - not very. But I would also remind you, gentle reader, that this bluster came from the fellow who brought us the SWATCH phone, sunglasses, and...

Who could forget that unforgettable fragrance -

                                                                     Courtesy of Omega

Yes, you too can smell just like a Co-Axial escapement! So it would seem that a call is overdue from the kettle to the pot regarding its hue.

While it's easy to look down your nose at someone and tell them to "stick to their lane", it is a bit ironic coming from the man who had his finger in so many pies ; )

It bears mentioning that A LOT of the brands you see out there are using white label companies to assemble their watches. Some quite old and literally dripping in hyperbolic watchmaking lore. So, does this mean that those are no longer real brands?

Now for me looking back? Hayek the senior's hyperbolic characterization about the gall that some brands had in calling themselves, well, brands was a little disingenuous. When we talk about the world of modern (meaning in the last 20 years) watch production, marketing and sales, private label assemblers are responsible for a much larger percentage of the Swiss watch industry than you might think. And I will pick my childhood favorite (and red-headed stepchild of the SWATCH group) Mido as a case in point.

A little over four years ago I found myself in Switzerland on other business and I managed to arrange a visit to Mido HQ in Le Locle. Now curious to relate, the HQ occupied less than a full floor of an administration building that was (at least at that time) shared with Tissot. I had asked if it was possible to visit the factory to see Mido assembly in action, and I received a fairly evasive response that essentially made it clear that for whatever reason, this would not be possible. When I asked where the assembly took place, this again was not anything that anyone was anxious or willing to share with me. Ever wonder why the factory pictures you see for some of the SWATCH brands are all "old timey"? Ever wonder why you don't see other heroic journalists visiting brand production sites other than Omega, Blancpain, and Breguet? Ever see leading horological luminaries of the Fourth and Fifth Estate visiting and reporting on the production facilities of some of the smaller, more affordable, less sexy brands in the SWATCH stable?

Yeah, not so much.

A reasonable assumption would be that the SWATCH group relies on a large internal facility or facilities to assemble these more mass market watches for several of the group's brands. In essence, a private label - private label.  We would all agree that these are real brands, would we not? And for the record, if I am way off base and there is a shiny (or even not-so-shiny) Mido or Certina factory churning out watches in the Alpine hinterlands? Well, I will sit in the corner and wear a funny hat.

But taken with Hayek Senior's hardline stance on what made a brand legitimate?


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