A deafening silence surrounds independent watch brand ochs und junior. Founded in Lucerne in 2006 by Ludwig Oechslin, erstwhile curator of the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds and inventor extraordinaire, with CEO Beat Weinmann, it keeps a profile so low as to be virtually off-radar. Nonetheless, it has won the admiration of purists all over the world, many of whom are outside the circle of watch enthusiasts and collectors. Ochs und junior owes its success to a simple and efficient formula: be radical.
Keep it simple
“Ochs und junior mirrors Ludwig Oechslin’s mindset, i.e. focus on the essential and don’t be distracted by the superfluous,” says Beat Weinmann. “This philosophy is the cornerstone of our brand identity, evident as much in our watches and mechanisms as the way we present and sell our products.” Down on the ground, this translates into what could be termed the “invisible brand’ concept: ochs und junior invests not a single kopek in advertising, sells all its watches directly, and makes a point of giving each customer one-to-one, personalised service. The owner of an ochs und junior can even customise their timepiece with materials, finishes and ideas that have never before been tried in watchmaking. “For example, we cut a moon-phase disc out of a piece of ultra-hard steel taken from the American aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was for one of the ship’s captains, who actually brought us a piece of the vessel himself. The steel was incredibly tough and it was quite a battle, but our engineer eventually got the upper hand!”
Tight management means ochs und junior is able to invest a maximum amount in the actual production of its watches and satisfy even the most off-the-wall requests. “We’re not looking to maximise profit but rather to consolidate a business model based on customer satisfaction. On the production side, we’ve built up a network of subcontractors that specialise in manufacturing prototypes. The majority work in industries outside watchmaking. Their capacity to handle new requests and always respect specifications is essential to meeting our objectives.” Most of the 150 watches that ochs und junior makes each year are for orders placed by customers. Beat Weinmann deals personally with each one. “Being close to our customers is how we form a bond with them, and keep costs under control. Personal service is all the more important as we get the majority of our business by word of mouth. We count more on the satisfaction of customers whose watch exactly meets their expectations than any advertising campaign. And it works.”
The power of digital
Conscious that a traditional mechanical watch is a source of emotion and satisfaction, ochs und junior hasn’t completely turned its back on modern communication tools, starting with the internet. “We looked carefully at the best way to exist in the public’s mind, and based on our findings we decided on a website which we are constantly improving, backed by a selective presence on social media such as Facebook.”
This carefully honed communication is one of the pillars of the brand. Enter Cail Pearce. He met Beat Weinmann while visiting Switzerland from the US. A usability expert with Google in California, he decided to leave his old life behind and join the up-and-coming watch firm. He’s now the brains behind all its digital communication. The website is designed as a comprehensive interface showing everything ochs und junior does with a spot-on simplicity rarely seen in the watch sector. “For example, we studied the customisation tools that some of the German luxury automakers use and concluded there were too many options, and that the 3D animations were superfluous to requirements, even counter-productive. We instead went for a much simpler system based on good quality photos that give the absolute best possible rendering of the product to create that emotional spark.”
The logical follow-on to its first project, in 2003, to create MIH’s official watch, ochs und junior now sells within a price range of CHF 6,000 to CHF 24,000, customisation included. Its structured, low-profile approach seems to be working in its favour, as clients come for the product and what it stands for rather than the brand behind it. Comments posted on its website are further proof that this is a winning formula. In a world where consumers expect to choose every last detail of the products they buy, ochs und junior is the Savile Row of watchmaking, at prices many people can afford.