This is the second part of a series on the revival of Swiss brand DuBois et fils . You can read the first part here.
Thomas Steinemann had a clear vision of the reborn DuBois et fils. It would return to its LeLocle roots in Switzerland. Featuring a completely new product line-up, positioning and logo, the brand would henceforth manufacture only mechanical watches in limited production (not more than 99 of each reference) to emphasize Steinemann’s vision of the new luxury.
The new DuBois et fils is aimed at those who appreciates fine watchmaking. The product portfolio now includes five lines with prices starting at CHF4,950 (around $5,000 or AED18,550) for the DBF003 line. Steinemann says he is steering clear of the manufacture trend that seems to have taken a stranglehold over the industry.
The brand prefers to work with suppliers and partners. The chronograph models use ETA 2892 movements fitted with a Dubois Depraz module for big date while the entry level DBF003 uses an in-house movement based on a Revue Thommen caliber. For the 230th Anniversary Edition DBF004 models, the brand used a modified version of a vintage handwound Record movement.
“Brands are not ready to admit that verticalization is a huge problem in the industry now. You may need up to 30 different suppliers in the creation of a watch. If you want to do this all in-house, it’s not going to be possible to hire all the best people. I want to work with the best suppliers. So today if I want someone to finish a movement well, I can get help. I believe in the old etablissage model,” says Steinemann.
A chance meeting with a 74-year-old watchmaker, has given the brand a unique opportunity to extend its product offering. Last year, a Swiss watchmaker in Fribourg let Steinemann in on a little secret that he and his wife had harbored for decades. The couple had collected over 250,000 vintage watch movements over the years, most of them from companies that shut down during the Quartz Crisis. DuBois et fils has now acquired these movements, produced between 1920 and 1970.
“You must remember that during this period Swiss companies focused on making precise and interesting movements, devoid of marketing spins. There were no double tourbillons and the sort. It was a simpler time when we had plenty of handwinding, automatic, chronograph, day, day-date movements, and alarm complications. There was no obsession with creating big complications in the first 70 years of the last century,” says Steinemann.
“These vintage movements fit perfectly in our strategy. I believe people are yearning for simpler watches now. They don’t need a calendar watch accurate for the next 100 years. They don’t need a double or triple tourbillon. Some of these movements are fascinating from a technical point of view, but most of them are ugly. Who really needs them? I don’t believe in such marketing stories,” he says.
The new range fitted with vintage movements will be a unique offering from the brand, especially relevant at a time when there’s renewed interested in vintage watches. “For example, we have a stock of alarm movements developed by Adoph Schild. Adolph - brother to Urs Schild, the founder of Eterna and ETA – was the technical guy in the family and took over the running of the company after his brother’s death. A watch fitted with a movement by Adolph Schild has such a strong story, it offers so much additional value,” he says.
This far the brand has been selling online or through select retail partners because it is important to have select touch and feel points for the brands to experience the product. Steinemann knows that a niche brand like his will be lost in a multi-brand store.
As part of this expansion project, DuBois et fils will now be available in the watch department at Robinsons Department Store at Dubai Festival City. The rental model is currently only open to shareholders, family and friends now but the brand plans to roll them out with in the Middle East with a local partner next year.
Steinemann knows it’s an uphill task but he says he’s relishes the challenge and the support of his shareholders has been encouraging. “The important thing is we stay true to the brand, we remain authentic. We make about 400 watches annually now and our production is tied to sales. We do not want to overproduce and over-distribute. We don’t need to stray from our path to make a quick buck,” Steinemann signs off.