Elie Bernheim, the youthful CEO of Raymond Weil, reckons that soon the Internet and e-commerce will level the playing field when it comes to the fight for a potential customer’s attention. Smaller, independent watch brands have often claimed that they are at their wits’ end trying to fight the bigger, more powerful groups for retail space.

Bernheim is the grandson of the founder

“It’s a problem that existed 10 years ago, and it’s a problem now, and will be in 10 years’ time. It’s a fact of life for a small family-owned businesses like ours,” says Bernheim.

“However, with the rise of e-commerce, we can now do something about the cards we’ve been dealt. E-commerce will change the way we do business and change the way we interact with the customer in the future,” he asserts.

As more and more luxury brands explore e-commerce as a possible marketplace to sell their wares, traditional watch brands that have hitherto been reticent to take their business online have been forced to adapt in the face of slowing demand in their traditional retail channels.

Powered by the first inhouse caliber RW212

For Raymond Weil, this represents a huge opportunity. “The competition will be fairer between smaller and bigger brands. It’s now a question of being smart – it’s about how we can be clever about bringing people to our e-commerce platform,” says Bernheim.

The brand has in the past sold watches online through local partners but Bernheim plans to launch an ecommerce platform in the second quarter of this year. “We will adjust our strategy but that depends on the market. Things have changed a lot and in the new world, it’s important to understand digital.”

The result of a partnership with Les Paul Gibson

“I thought it would be easier to sell the lower-priced watches online, but I believe now there are no limits. I think unfortunate events like the terrorist attacks in Europe are forcing customers to rethink how they buy luxury goods… Buying online is so much easier now because of the returns policy. Going forward, virtual reality will help watch brands sell more, help customers experience the watch better,” he says.

The Geneva-based brand, named for Bernheim’s grandfather and founder, made a big announcement at Baselworld this year with the launch of its first in-house movement, the Caliber RW1212. The self-winding automatic ‘time-only’ movement is presented in the Freelancer Caliber RW1212 watch and is distinguished by an openworked dial that reveals the regulating organ at 6 o’clock. The balance-and-spring assembly, held by two bridges, reveals a construction echoing that of tourbillon regulators.

The limited edition David Bowie Freelancer

Movement-maker Selita produced Caliber RW1212, but it was designed and developed in-house at Raymond Weil. “We’ve been partners for more than 30 years and when we developed the movement, we found nothing but open doors at Selita thanks to [CEO] Miguel Garcia. At the end of the day, we have both happy with what we achieved,” says Bernheim.

It took them a total of two years to conceptualize, design, develop and produce this movement in their regular production-line watches. Bernheim is quick to point out that this new movement doesn’t really signify a change in direction for the brand, which has about 60 per cent of its watches powered by mechanical movements at the moment.

“We will continue to work with movement specialists and other partners. We need a certain number of quality suppliers that will support our vision. Selita is one of them,” says Bernheim.

Raymond Weil positions itself in the affordable luxury segment with prices starting from CHF750 (about $750) and going up to CHF3,000. Its core business is in the CHF1,000-2,000 price range.

Read the rest of the interview in the Summer 2017 print edition that will hit newsstands on May 15.