When BNB Concept was founded by three associates and an investor back in June 2004, nobody had heard of this new watchmaker, allegedly a specialist in the creation of prestige watchmaking movements. And yet, five clients – by no means the least eminent – had placed orders for certain timepieces that would be presented at the Salon de Bâle 2005 trade fair. Among them were such names as Hublot, DeWitt and Jacob, all willing to pay one third of the price up front to allow BNB to start its business. Result: the five names all went on to present a completely new tourbillon, based on the BNB 1000, the basic caliber fully developed and produced – including the escapement – in-house, except for the balance-spring and jewel bearing.
In short, a flying start for this watchmaking start-up which, according to founding BNB Concept member and majority shareholder Mathias Buttet, arrived in the right place at the right time. However, there was no question of making the limelight; in the early days, the company agreed to stay in the background and, in the words of Mathias Buttet, act as “surrogate mother” for some of the industry’s leading names.
Change of setting
More than three years later, BNB Concept sought a change of setting in every sense of the word. The company recently moved its headquarters to Duillier, near Nyon (Vaud, Switzerland), in a brand new workshop representing a perfect model of pared down industrial design in concrete and glass. This high-tech showcase effectively mirrors the workshop’s end products. The company has also changed in terms of notoriety. Whilst BNB had become an unavoidable player for any watchmaking firm wishing to market prestigious products, but without the industrial capacity to do so, until recently its name was still essentially unknown to the public. This is no longer the case. “Something is certainly changing” affirms Mathias Buttet. “Certain names such as Romain Jérôme, Bell & Ross, Horus or HD3 by Jorg Hysek no longer hold back from revealing that we develop some of their movements. They are clearly looking to position their products at the high end of the market.”
BNB has come a long way in a short space of time to attain this result, and Mathias Buttet is not one for half measures. After its initial success at the BaselWorld event, BNB quite simply made a vertical lift-off. Its client portfolio quickly went from 5 to 10, then 15, and now some 20 names who turn to this complicated watch specialist for very limited editions of no more than 100 timepieces. Staffing levels have naturally followed suit. After starting out with a team of four, the company now employs 130 staff members, roughly 50 of whom were hired in the last six months, with an average age of 27 (see our Training column). And this is just a taste of things to come, such is BNB’s meteoric growth. Indeed, the watchmaker’s sales are on the increase by some 200% every six months, and there is no sign of a slowdown given its three-year back order.
Reorganization of capital
“In the early days, we took on everything” recalls Mathias Buttet. “We said yes to every offer, just like any other budding company. However, as time went by, we became a little more selective to avoid depending on just one or two clients for sales. At the moment, no one client accounts for more than 10% of our sales. This explains why we don’t work for the big watchmaking groups, with the exception of Concord, which belongs to Movado. Moreover, we give priority to limited editions. Our production facilities and our work organization aren’t suited to the mass market. If we increase our industrial capacity, the goal is not to increase our volume, but to be quicker, more flexible and more reactive.”
Whilst this level of reactivity is prized by Mathias Buttet, it has not been to everyone’s liking. Not only has BNB Concept acquired an enviable position in the Swiss watchmaking microcosm, its headlong ascent also left its initial partners, who would have preferred to advance more warily, rather out of breath. In the middle of last year, they thus decided to go their separate ways. Mathias Buttet bought BNB’s majority interest while seeking a financial solution for the rest. He wanted to avoid offering the company on a platter to rival watchmakers, who would have quickly laid down their conditions. This especially holds true given that these same rivals have made it clear that they are out to get this impertinent, talented newcomer. And so, with its independence and respect at stake, BNB found private equity funds to invest in its capital. The transaction will be finalized at the end of February 2008. BNB has thus cast off its start-up badge once and for all, and now faces the future as a fully fledged SME.