How the CEO of independent watchmaker H Moser & Cie uses humour and a Marie Kondo-like obsession with decluttering to woo a new generation of collectors.
‘I understand irony, let me in.‘ This is the prompt to enter the Pioneer Chronicles website introduced three years ago by Swiss watchmaker, H. Moser & Cie. If you are not feeling the vibe, click on ‘I have no humour, let me out’ to exit.
Injecting humour in the watch industry
Much has been written recently about humour being employed as an effective tool to market luxury. But the irreverence you now see in a Valentino or Gucci online campaign was served up much earlier by the almost 200-year-old independent watchmaker based in Schaffhausen.
Edouard Meylan, H Moser & Cie’s CEO and owner since MELB Holding Group took over in 2012, is considered by some as a provocateur in the watchmaking world. In 2017, the engineer and Wharton MBA made headlines as the Swiss CEO who fashioned a fine watch out of cheese, an inside joke protesting the Swiss government’s legislation at the time to define what is ‘Swiss Made’.
Moser’s Swiss Mad Watch had real Swiss cheese in resin for the case, a strap from domestic cowhide and the price tag of 1,081,291 francs (Switzerland was founded on August 1, 1291). It was auctioned at Christie’s.
A year earlier at SIHH, Meylan had created a stir when he launched the Swiss Alp Watch, a dig at connected watches (rather, the Apple Watch). It was Moser’s response to that big question directed at watchmakers then — will smartwatches destroy the watch industry?
Dapper and outspoken, Meylan, 44, has since starred in many of his quirky campaigns (rocking a red beanie for the Swiss Mad Watch video or biting into an ‘apple’ and calling the Endeavor Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue ‘‘the original smartwatch’’ in another promo). But beyond the cheeky marketing, the CEO has a knack for presenting very short runs of a tidy number of striking and clutter-free watches.
Hard to miss those fumé dials in a lineup (particularly in variations of blue), you’d agree. Or downplay the mechanical mastery; all movements are manufactured in-house, including the hairspring.
“I am someone who likes minimalism and symmetry. As a lot of brands are trying to make watches look complicated, we want to create watches that are as simple as possible to use and to read,” begins Meylan when we get him on a video call with The Hindu Weekend during Geneva Watch Days (GWD) earlier this month. In one of his custom slim suits and facing a bank of lights and cameras for marathon video interviews, he is ready to talk about the Streamliner Perpetual Calendar, another home run for Moser.
Retailed at approx ₹39.5 lakh, it is a fusion between their Streamliner that was launched early last year and their perpetual calendar movement. “I want any watch from Moser to look like a three-hand watch, even if it’s a perpetual calendar, a chronograph, a tourbillon or minute repeater. Thus the decision-making process is much easier,” continues Meylan about one of the most talked about watches at Geneva Watch Days.
Interestingly, with the centre seconds display and clean design philosophy, one may not realise at first glance that all the data for this perpetual calendar is well accommodated (months, date, power reserve indicator). With a faintly visible logo in transparent lacquer, fumé dial, sporty red accents, the integrated steel bracelet, and the movement powering it being HMC 812, it’s no wonder the watch has a booking period close to two years. “We are at the beginning of this collection, so we need to create an identity, be consistent and stick to the same codes across the different models,” he explains.
A busy pandemic year
Upbeat about the brand navigating the pandemic – it grew by 12% last year — Meylan adds that they have been most productive. They set up an online platform within two weeks of lockdown — “we sell 10 % of our production direct now” — and proceeded to announce several unconventional collaborations over the next few months. The one with Max Büsser’s MB&F saw two watches that were distinct, yet with a common DNA.
In February this year came the Swiss Alp Watch Final Upgrade, marking the end of the series, with Moser’s calibre HMC 324 and a dial made from Vantablack— the darkest material ever known, as it absorbs 99.9 % of light. But the buzz was around the seconds display at 6 o’clock, a reference to the loading wheel on Apple’s products. At $30,800, the 50 units sold out instantly; in an interview with Austrian watch journalist Alexander Linz, Meylan observed that the Final Upgrade was selling in the secondary market at double the price.
Moser’s April Fool’s Day announcement this year, something of a tradition now, saw the Endeavour Concept Watch collab with Parisian artist seconde/seconde/. This time there were no numerals or logo on the dial, just their Funky Blue fumé with sunburst pattern and the hour hand shaped like a pixelated eraser. Limited to 20 pieces, it was another reminder of the brand’s strategy to keep it deceptively simple. And their ability to have a little fun, even while delivering the goods, something of a rarity in the serious watch industry. It is what the Moser tribe around the world connects with.
Impressed with their progressive products and refreshingly honest marketing, Stephen Foskett, the founder of Grail Watch, tells me, “As a watch buyer I love H Moser & Cie’s choice to de-emphasise their logo and let the product stand for itself. Those who know H Moser & Cie will appreciate their watches, and those that don’t never will anyway.”
What is it that brands like Moser, Czapek and others can capitalise on, especially at watch fairs and events like Watches & Wonders where the conglomerates are in full attendance? “The best move for high-end luxury brands is to connect with their clients like never before,” explains Foskett, who is also a historian and writer. “They can never compete with the big groups so Czapek, Moser, Parmigiani, and the rest should find their buyer, focus on their desires, and build lasting relationships.”
Meanwhile in India
Meylan certainly knows how to build relationships. His association with Pranav Saboo, CEO of Ethos, India’s largest luxury watch retailer, goes back 17 years. On a visit to the country in 2019, the father of four sat down for a promotional video with Saboo, and talked about everything from the cows he encountered on Indian roads to his first wristwatch. The latter was “a small mechanical watch with a blue dial”, if you are wondering, a Lemania, known for its incredible movements. And it was given to him by his father, Georges-Henri Meylan, the chairman of MELB Holding and former CEO of Audemars Piguet.
Moser has a small but strong following in India, where the watch market size is ₹7000 crores. Their watches are retailed at around ₹10 lakh onwards here, and industry experts agree it is a brand many Indian collectors invest in well after the ‘Big Four’, often Rolex and Patek Philippe.
More recently in May, Meylan connected over video with the Mumbai chapter of RedBar, a global organisation of watch-obsessed collectors, where he discussed recent developments. “I interact with a lot of Moser fans and clients and I know them better than if I travel to India once a year, meet them face to face and forget their name and face the next day. The (social media) handle is a great way to create a dialogue.”
Mohamed Muraj, a London-based marketing professional and founder of Watch Club on Clubhouse, agrees that Meylan has made the brand more dynamic and fresh. “I was hosting a Clubhouse room during the (recent) Swiss Alp Watch announcement and Edouard Meylan joined the room, totally impromptu,” he recalls, adding, “All I could hear was the passion and entrepreneurialism of creating the piece and that changed our perspective. That’s what an independent watch brand offers, in my opinion.”
Meylan plans to visit India later this year, but is currently working on introducing Moser lounges globally as physical touchpoints, including in Dubai and the US, and soon, mono-brand boutiques. “Meanwhile we have pop-up stores in China, and who knows, there may be one in India soon. Supply is a big issue for us at the moment, so before we open many points of sales, including boutiques, we need to first increase our production capacity,” he adds. The brand makes only 1,500 watches per year. Last year, he told Fortune magazine that they had reduced the time taken to assemble a perpetual calendar from 90 hours to 30 hours.
Clearly, this is a CEO who knows exactly where he is taking his brand.