Some lost causes aren’t actually lost at all. Anonimo, established in Florence, Italy, in 1997, could well be one. Throughout its early years, the brand played up its strengths to the point that they also became its weaknesses. As Julien Haenny, appointed CEO a little over a year ago after stints at Jaeger-LeCoultre and Technomarine, says: “it got lost along the way.” So when a Luxembourg-based investor and watch enthusiast bought the brand in 2012, there wasn’t that much to build on. It had a small following, but these were mostly Italian collectors. What it did have, however, was a recognisable style with distinct overtones of another Florentine brand that was now comfortably established on the international stage: Panerai. This “family resemblance” owed much to the fact that Panerai and Anonimo were from the same stock, a story that began in the 1990s.
The same genes as Panerai
For years, Panerai supplied the Italian Navy with precision instruments. Watches, such as the dive watch it produced specifically for its frogman commandos, were just one aspect of its business – a business that began to falter, despite attempts at reanimation. It would be the Richemont Group that would turn the “Officine” around, thanks to the intuition of a certain Franco Cologni. The year was 1997, and not everyone at Panerai welcomed this takeover with open arms. Part of the workforce, including the managing director, decided to jump ship and go it alone. This new venture would be called Anonimo. Of course, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As Julien Haenny notes, “the brand tried all sorts in the way of movements and materials, but much of what its founders had instilled in Panerai naturally came out in Anonimo’s designs, starting with the cushion-shaped case and the oversized numerals. It comes down to two brands sharing the same origins in Florence, successively led by the same team working with the same suppliers, in particular for their bronze.”
For six to eight years the new brand would enjoy a certain amount of success as it built up a following for its technical watches, produced in limited quantities and sold only on the Italian market. But as the number of collections grew exponentially, and it became harder and harder to pinpoint its identity, the brand struggled. Come end 2012, it was time to wipe the slate clean. The first decision was to move the brand to Switzerland, thereby giving it the benefit of local suppliers but also the all-important Swiss-Made label. “In a nutshell,” says Julien Haenny, “we kept the bodywork and put more reliable engines inside, namely Sellita movements with a Dubois-Dépraz module for the chronographs. We then focused our efforts on two flagship ranges, the Militare and the Nautilo, the aim being to move upscale so that perceived value would reflect product quality. The first watches were delivered in 2015. The second generation is in our current catalogue and we’ll be showing the third generation at Baselworld. These will be more urban, dressier models. We’ve grown along the way too. Production has doubled each year, from 500 watches the first year to 1,000 then 2,000 last year. We forecast production will reach 4,000 in 2018.”
Anonimo's military-inspired tool watches have the robustness, reliability and affordability that customers want.
Coming soon, a Cricket by Anonimo?
Anonimo’s positioning stood the brand in good stead during a chaotic two years for the watch industry. Its military-inspired tool watches, a throwback to the pre-digital age, have the robustness, reliability and affordable price points that a lot of customers are looking for, as well as the distinctive features that can make all the difference: a cushion-shaped case, either three numerals (12, 04, 08) or three markers in an “A for Anonimo” triangle, a patented crown-guard held secure by the strap at 12 o’clock, a ceramic bezel on the Nautilo dive watch, and bronze as a natural fit across all the ranges. At 44mm, these aren’t discreet watches by any standard, but they wear their size and vintage inspiration well. The brand is currently extending its network of traditional points of sale, in addition to opening pop-up stores. It also sells its watches online, in all world regions, and has enlisted some top-class athletes to help spread the word.
With Anonimo back on track, is Vulcain next in line? The brand was taken over last year by the same investor, and in a similar state to Anonimo when it started over in Switzerland. With just two people left holding the fort, Vulcain is hardly a picture of health but does bring something to the table, not least its fabulous Cricket alarm movement, and the kudos of having graced the wrist of numerous American presidents. “Again, we need to start afresh,” says Julien Haenny who also holds the reins at Vulcain. “The ultimate aim is to bring all the teams together under one roof. The first designs for the future Vulcain watches are ready to go, but our first priority will be to give the company a solid foundation thanks to its Cricket movement. It’s a unique and reliable calibre that’s likely to garner interest within the profession.” Starting with Anonimo?