Verbatim Friday, July 16th 2010
Ever since the mechanical watch returned to the fore, numerous master watchmakers have set their seal on this revival with timepieces that carry their name. A first flurry of new companies appeared in the 1990s, and this trend has been bolstered by the surge in interest in prestigious mechanical watchmaking of the past ten years. According to the Convention Patronale de l'Industrie Horlogère Suisse, which regroups employers in the sector, the number of companies (all branches taken together) went from 564 in 2002 to 629 in 2008, an increase of more than ten percent.
Designers and investors have joined established watchmakers in launching these new ventures, among them Créations Horlogères de Lully, Snyper and Artya. In doing so, they are carrying on a centuries-old tradition of timepieces sold under their maker's or makers' name. The crux of the issue, however, is whether and how these companies will outlive their founder, a matter of interest to aficionados of prestigious watches who want the assurance of continued after-sales service. Time Aeon took the first steps towards a solution: each of the five independent master watchmakers in the alliance agreed to repair and service timepieces by any of the others, if they were unable to do so themselves.
But is this enough? Watchmaker-creators have their own personality and expertise which don't lend themselves easily to imitation. In a bold bid, Bulgari is marketing the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta collections, minus the eponymous watchmakers, under the Bulgari name in the belief that these two niche brands will boost its credentials in the Fine Watch segment. Blancpain, meanwhile, has declined to launch a "Vincent Calabrese by Blancpain" collection after gaining control of the Vincent Calabrese brand. The Franck Muller group is carrying on the Martin Braun and Rodolphe brands, both "orphaned" by their founders. Is the long-term survival of these firms contingent on takeover by a larger entity, or is the "small is beautiful" business model the right road to take? Whatever the answer, the challenge always comes with a risk. ■