From Peru to Polynesia on a balsawood raft, with nothing in the way of modern technology bar a radio and Eterna watches. That, and a good amount of courage, was all it took for the Kon-Tiki expedition to succeed in 1947. Seventy years later, Davide Traxler is facing an ocean of expectations himself, in his new role at the head of Eterna (in addition to his position as CEO of Corum). “The first step is to improve the brand’s financial health,” he says. Despite the backing of its holding company, Eterna is all at sea, and in recent years has lacked stability at its helm. Traxler’s strategy to put this historic Swiss brand back afloat could well set a precedent.
Luxury brands are reluctant to work with Amazon, but it's my view that sooner or later everyone will.
Eterna “set sail” in 1856 and has turned up a number of firsts throughout its history, including the invention of the ball-bearing-mounted rotor. This was good from a horological point of view but less so from a marketing perspective, as the brand slipped under the public’s radar and spent twenty years working behind the scenes, making movements for its then owner, Porsche Design. The brand finally came in sight of new land in 2011, when the Chinese group Citychamp Watch & Jewelry spotted its potential. Shortly after, the business was divided into two, with the Eterna brand on one side and the Eterna Movement Company (EMC), an alternative to Swatch Group’s ETA, on the other. Sister ships but each following its own route. So where does this leave Eterna? “It must represent an entry point into Swiss watchmaking, with recognised quality at an affordable price. We are focusing primarily on the KonTiki, except in classic markets where Eterna is well-established, mainly Germany and Switzerland,” notes Traxler. Not that he intends keeping the brand in familiar waters; the new CEO has already made some radical choices and is standing by them.
Amazon as official retailer
“Luxury brands are reluctant to work with Amazon, but it’s my view that sooner or later everyone will,” he says. “We’ve entered into a major agreement that makes Amazon an official retailer for Eterna in Germany, Spain and Italy. Amazon is the biggest online retailer and the best way into a world that isn’t ours. Obviously we’re targeting younger customers, but also online shoppers in general who want the rapidity of one-click purchasing, together with efficient service and delivery. No-one else has the force, the capacity, the rapidity or the level of innovation Amazon has. This is a unique experience for them and for us. We don’t have any immediate expectations. Amazon believes in having the courage to make mistakes. This test with one of the leaders in the sector is important for us too. We’re learning as we go.”
We're already developing synergies with Corum points of sale, particularly in Italy, Spain and the United States.
By teaming up with the online behemoth, Eterna is breaking a taboo, as luxury brands continue to wrestle with the question of how to sell rarity somewhere as populous as the internet. Traxler also raises the question of optimising big data to target digital consumers “who are extremely impervious to traditional advertising.” As for the conventional distribution network, “we’re already developing synergies with Corum points of sale, particularly in Italy, Spain and the United States. This doesn’t necessarily mean the same retailers, but we do have a sales force and a structure in these countries that can give both brands strong support.”
Value at a moderate price
Unveiled at Baselworld, the bronze KonTiki with in-house movement retails at €2,990/$2,950. At last a price that can justifiably be described as “only”! “I doubt that any competitor can offer a manufacture movement at this price. We’re targeting a younger audience, with the appeal of the Kon-Tiki expedition and everything it stands for in terms of courage and determination. Of course Eterna is a credible brand and no-one is questioning its historic legitimacy, but the point isn’t to “celebrate the ashes”, to quote Mahler. We want to reach out to the right customer with the right product at the right price. Maybe it’s a communication error but again, it’s about making choices!”
The KonTiki Bronze Manufacture is powered by EMC’s highly modular Calibre 39. Says Traxler: “The concept is the same as in car manufacturing, with the same chassis serving several models. Multiple major and minor complications can be sandwiched onto it. This leaves plenty of solutions open to customers. It’s something different, something interesting among today’s offering of Swiss movements, at an acceptable price. EMC is part of the group. Eterna holds a stake, but we’re very clear about this being a totally independent company so that it can operate and grow. Like Corum, we’re one of its clients and we buy under the same terms and conditions as other brands. Calibre 39 is a very successful product, in the US for example.”