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Small is beautiful
Point of View

Small is beautiful

Friday, 30 January 2009
By Florence Noël
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Florence Noël

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5 min read

Smaller brands appear to be weathering the economic storm, carried along by their modest size and flexible structure.

Were the young brands presenting their collections outside this year’s SIHH to choose a motto, it might well be “Never bite off more than you can chew.” Content with their modest size, these brands appear to be navigating today’s stormy waters with relative ease. While none of them deny that business has slowed to some degree, in these uncertain times, their small size is proving to be a big advantage. Indeed, a flexible structure means they can adapt almost instantly to the changes that each new day seems to bring. Urwerk, de Bethune and Antoine Preziuso are three of the brands which, rather than rolling out a stream of new models, prefer to seduce their customers with what they do best: Fine Watches.

Urwerk, the space invader

Already known for its extraterrestrial creations, Urwerk continues to send its astonishing mechanical satellites into watchmaking orbit. “They are our hallmark and strong point. It would be a shame not to build on that,” explains Martin Frei, designer and co-founder of the brand. With 12 years’ experience under their belt, Urwerk’s founders have always invested in R&D for products whose technical accomplishment leaves no doubt. A strategy that pays off in these challenging times. “Our customers are loyal to the brand. We aim to go on surprising them with continued innovation,” reveals Martin Frei, before launching into an enthusiastic description of the brand’s latest model, Tarantula.

Based on the iconic UR103 collection, this new timepiece incorporates the unmistakable characteristics of a Urwerk watch, beginning with the famous four arms bearing four discs, each inscribed with three numerals. These simultaneously revolve to display the hours on a dial that wouldn’t look out of place alongside the Starship Enterprise! “In our first watches, this satellite mechanism was hidden under a shell. We decided the time had come to reveal all,” Martin Frei explains with a smile. With a spider-like movement, the hour discs advance in a futuristic ballet, imprisoned inside an extremely shock-resistant shell. In another new development, Urwerk has made official its collaboration with the independent engraver Jean-Vincent Huguenin, through a limited-edition collection. Urwerk’s futuristic designs combine with the traditional symmetry and forms of Art Deco-inspired engravings to produce some phantasmagoric timepieces.

UR103 Art Deco © Urwerk
UR103 Art Deco © Urwerk
de Bethune, the master

An independent manufacture, de Bethune could be held up as a textbook example of how to weather crises. The Oberson-based brand is able to adapt to the trials of an adverse economy and no doubt a drop in orders thanks to its flexible structure and modest size. With a staff of just 50, the economic constraints of adapting production to demand become easier to bear. Meanwhile, the brand is focusing its strategy on its exemplary savoir-faire. “We’ve never had a pure marketing strategy,” explains communications manager Esthel Brunschwick. “We prefer to invest in research and development.”

Advocating a return to exclusive creations, de Bethune brings its full expertise to the fore in 2009. Three new calibres, bringing the total number of in-house calibres to no less than 11, and a particularly innovative adjustment system were on display this year. Used to equip the DBW1 (Dream Watch One), one of the great advantages of this new system is that it allows the wearer himself to finely adjust the watch’s timekeeping precision. The concept is dazzlingly simple but no less impressive. “A light pressure suffices to penetrate the heart of the watch. A system of arms and levers adjusts the seconds to within perfection. For optimal use, an aperture on the back acts as a gauge to indicate maximum adjustment in red,” Esthel Brunschwick explains.

DBW1 (Dream Watch One) © de Bethune
DBW1 (Dream Watch One) © de Bethune
Antoine Preziuso, the authentic watchmaker

May Preziuso is crossing her fingers. So far the crisis seems to have left the brand unscathed. “We’ve had no cancelled orders, on the contrary! Demand is high, in particular online. We’ll shortly be opening a boutique in Dubai too,” she says, while highlighting the brand’s consistent strategy. “We’ve never dealt in large quantities. We’re a tiny structure keeping tight control of production, which is why we can bounce back so easily.”

A welcome authenticity, as befits a watchmaker such as Antoine Preziuso, for whom quality has always presided over quantity. “I’m a watchmaker first and foremost. I create out of passion and nothing gives me greater joy than to convey that passion to others.” Quality products and quality service too. Now one of the sinews of war in a highly competitive market, after-sales service stands out as one of Preziuso’s greatest strengths. That said, it’s virtually unheard of for one of his watches to be returned for repair. “We belong to a very exclusive segment and how we approach our customers is of the utmost importance,” May Preziuso observes. Antoine Preziuso also has some surprises in store to seduce this demanding clientele. He has created the brand’s first square watch whose large date function is also a first for the brand. It was completed in just a month and a half. “Our structure meant we could pull off such a feat,” the watchmaker explains. “We no longer depend on any outside suppliers for our watches’ external parts. This enables us to pay particular attention to the finish and details of our watches, which doesn’t go unnoticed among our customers.”

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