There are certain milestones in the life of a brand. For Norqain, established in 2018 in Nidau, near Biel/Bienne in Switzerland, its long-term strategic partnership with Kenissi is one. Not only because it puts the up-and-coming brand, under the stewardship of the Küffers father and son, on the radar of industry observers who might not (yet) have heard of it, but also because this alliance speaks volumes about Norqain’s expectations in terms of quality and the objectives it has set itself.
Kenissi is another name to have found its way into the spotlight of late… through its association with brands that carry sufficient weight in the horological microcosm for everyone to suddenly take an interest in a manufacturer few people had heard of before. The epitome of discretion as a supplier of sapphire crystals across the industry, Kenissi continued to work quietly behind the scenes making the first proprietary movements for Tudor, presented at Baselworld in 2015. It was later announced that Tudor, part of the Rolex group, and Breitling were to share movements: the B01 chronograph calibre for Breitling and the MT5621 three hands/date for Tudor.
It was clear from this agreement, a rarity in the profession despite making sound business sense, that Kenissi planned to ramp up production, bearing in mind that Tudor sells around 200,000 watches a year (according to Morgan Stanley estimates) and Breitling slightly less. Chanel’s acquisition of a 20% stake in Kenissi in 2019 and the project to build new facilities in Le Locle, where production should start in 2021, confirmed suspicions: there was a new kid on the block of Swiss movement manufacturing. Quality movements, of course, in line with standards imposed by Rolex as well as Chanel whose new J12, which was given a full makeover last year, is fitted with Calibre 12.1 by Kenissi.
The partnership with Norqain is another step forward for the movement-maker, as this is the first time it will deliver to a company outside the inner circle of Chanel, Tudor and (through Tudor) Breitling. In the current context, where the Swiss anti-trust regulator Comco is creating uncertainty over movement supplies as it drags out its decision regarding deliveries by Swatch Group’s ETA, the arrival of a new alternative on the market is a welcome development. Provided Kenissi is willing to add to its client list. Personal contacts exist between the movement-maker and Norqain, and these will definitely have played a part in bringing the two together. Jean-Paul Girardin, who oversaw the development of Breitling’s manufacturing capacities, moved to Kenissi when Breitling changed hands in 2017 following a buyout by CVC Capital. The seller and former owner of Breitling, the Schneider family, was represented by Théodore whose son, Ted, is part of Norqain’s management. In other words, Jean-Paul Girardin, at the head of Kenissi, and the Schneider family, including Ted who has a seat on Norqain’s board of directors, go way back.
Breitling changes hands
The recently announced partnership between Norqain and Kenissi takes the form of Norqain’s first two in-house movements, namely the three-hand calibre NN20/1 and the GMT calibre NN20/2. The construction of the NN20/1 has already been seen inside Tudor’s North Flag in 2015. A transversal balance bridge with a two-point fixation ensures the solidity of this COSC-certified movement that delivers 70 hours of power reserve. On the GMT calibre, which is also COSC-certified, a jumping hour enables the wearer to easily set the local time and change the date forwards or backwards at any moment. Both calibres will be making their debut in Norqain’s three Adventure, Freedom and Independence collections. “We had our eye on Kenissi almost as soon as we set up Norqain for the quality, reliability, precision and robustness of its movements,” says Chief Executive Ben Küffer. “These two calibres will equip the new models in our collections that will launch in June. We’re already working on future developments, bearing in mind that Kenissi currently offers three movement families.”
These robust calibres are the perfect match for Norqain, whose watches are all about adventure. It’s no coincidence that the brand, whose double-N logo symbolises the Alps, has already forged close ties with the world of sport, not least through a partnership with the North American National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA). The brand’s ambassadors are also all world-class athletes. In fact former ice-hockey player Mark Streit, one of the few Swiss players to have been crowned with glory during his time in the National Hockey League, has a seat on Norqain’s board of directors, where he’s in the good company of Ben Küffer, who brings to the table twelve years of experience in the watch sector, and his father, Marc, previously the owner of Roventa-Henex, a prominent private label manufacturer, who also spent 25 years on the board of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. This sum of experience will no doubt have helped the brand develop what is already an impressive network of retailers that includes such big names as Bucherer in Switzerland, Wempe in Germany, Westime, Tourneau and Govberg in the United States and Seddiqi in Dubai, in addition to 35 points of sale in Japan. Says Ben Küffer, “Japan has become an important market for us, alongside Switzerland and the US. I have to say, it’s been a promising start. We expected to sell around a thousand watches in a dozen stores during our first year of activity in 2019. We in fact sold more than four thousand. The next stage should bring us to the 10,000 mark. This is a more than comfortable figure that we’re confident will allow us to carry on in the spirit of family and adventure that has always been ours, with quality automatic watches offered at affordable price points starting at around CHF 1,500.” With these two new movements, Norqain looks all set to continue its ascension.