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Alain Silberstein pleads in favour of a collaborative model
Point of View

Alain Silberstein pleads in favour of a collaborative model

Wednesday, 24 February 2010
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

Speaking at the Geneva Time Exhibition (GTE), Alain Silberstein shared his views on what the future holds for independent watchmakers.

What are your thoughts on this new January event in Geneva?

Alain Silberstein: When I decided to pull out of Baselworld in 2008, I already knew the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) was moving to new dates in January. It reminded me of a few years ago, when we watchmakers would meet at a trade event that was held early in the year, in Vicenza. This gave us a chance to visit distributors then get confirmation of orders in Basel three months later, the ideal schedule for planning production over twelve months. So I think it was a smart move to organise the SIHH much earlier in the year, as well as being economically sound.

Waiting until Basel means no orders for the first quarter, and no hope of making up for lost time in the second half of the year. Plus Basel is like a fortified city, where everyone pulls up the drawbridge to their castle. There’s no sharing, whereas distributors have much closer relations. It’s not this kind of “every man for himself” strategy that will nurture the profession.

There are plenty of watch creators in Geneva this year. Will you be getting together?

Whether at Belles Montres in Paris in 2007, at the Watch Factory in Basel the following year, and now at GTE in Geneva, you can expect a gathering of watchmaker-creators, a generation of people who share the same constraints and face the same challenges. Might I say that any self-respecting trade fair, and I’m not talking about watches, sets aside a section for creators. To a certain extent we’re the poor relations of a profession that has too much of a tendency to “keep it in the family.”

But credit where credit is due. Ever since Maximilian Busser launched the Opus project at Harry Winston, shining the spotlight on the master watchmakers behind these different pieces, it’s as though the artisans of time measurement suddenly began to exist. GTE is the continuation of this, although it’s obvious we should be at Palexpo, alongside the SIHH, given that we fulfil the three criteria of innovation, quality and service without which our profession would disappear. Having said that, to have 60 brands exhibiting across Geneva is a remarkable event.

So there is a community of spirit among watchmaker-creators?

We represent the first signs of a new economic model, as applied by a generation of independent creators who go against the grain and do what they want to do. A jubilant, passionate generation of rule-breakers. This explains why there’s not a stand here at GTE that doesn’t have the brand CEO on it. You can smell the sweat. A stand without a boss would be unthinkable! A brand that produces a thousand creator’s watches a year must build a personal relationship with its customers. Just one example: when MB&F launched its Horological Machine n°2.2 in Asia, which I worked on, Maximilian Busser and I travelled there to meet followers. And it was a successful trip. We have to know how to explain to customers that we are there for them.

Although this isn’t necessarily the solution in terms of distribution.

There is one fact we creators can’t get around: we are negligible in terms of sales revenues for retailers who work with the big groups. When the chips are down, we’re first to go. This is why we need to be as innovative in our distribution as we are in our products. In my view, anything less than 30% direct sales and you can count your chances of survival on one hand. For the remainder, we very probably need to be thinking along the lines of multi-brand collaborative points of sale so as to minimise risk and not be held hostage whenever the economy goes into crisis. Put simply, we need to work by affinity to pull together and find financial partners.

The big groups are segmented in a way that leaves a tiny window for watch creators. We have to keep this window open by developing synergies, on our scale of course, but with products that draw on the same talents. Of course, if we independent creators exist, it’s also thanks to the energy and drive of the major groups. Now it’s up to us to prove we exist for a reason.

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