Switzerland’s second oldest watch brand Favre-Leuba announced its return to the watchmaking fold with an appearance at Baselworld 2017 after a long period of inactivity. A watch company with a storied past but with very little to show to its name in the last two decades, it has over the years seen ownership change hands from the Favre-Leuba family that helmed the business for eight generations, to Benedom SA and even LVMH.
It was eventually bought by Titan for €2 million in 2011. Titan is part of the Tata Group and is India’s most prominent watch brand and retailer. In Fall this year, Favre-Leuba returned to the Middle East in association with retail partner Rivoli. The new Favre-Leuba has been reinvented as retro-futuristic tool watch brand that riffs on the brand’s past heritage. CEO Thomas Morf tell us more about the brand’s long road back to the watchmaking industry.
ON REVIVING A LONG LOST BRAND
Thomas Morf: The biggest issue we faced with the revival was that when LVMH owned it, they took the brand in a completely different direction and thereby changed its positioning. They had no clue about how to keep the brand alive. They did everything wrong with the brand. That’s a matter of fact. The biggest challenge in reviving a brand is about restoring confidence. A brand has a lot to do with consumer confidence. We have to restore this confidence and this is not going to happen overnight.
BUILDING A BRIDGE TO THE PAST
Favre-Leuba was a household name in Switzerland, not just in the industry. It had so much to offer, so much substance. When I took over the assignment of reviving the brand, I decided to skip the 90s. If you’ll notice our anniversary book, you’ll see that we have ignored that period in our history. It is irrelevant to the brand because the 90s had nothing to do with its hey days, when the brand was making high performance watches like the Bathy, the first mechanical diving watch with a depth gauge; the Bivouac, the first mechanical watch with an altimeter; high frequency movements, and so on.
Favre-Leuba was a truly innovative brand with true legitimacy, it is not a manufactured history. It was never perceived as a high-end luxury brand but was always a utilitarian tool watch brand. So we had a good base, good history to build on. My goal was really to build a bridge back to the brand’s glory days in the late 60s and 70s.
ON POSITIONING THE RESSURECTED BRAND
Innovation is going to be a big driver moving forward. Today, if you just build watches that are simple – round, three hands – you are not going to bring any attention to the brand. We really want to dwell on on the functional aspect of the watch, Favre-Leuba is not about complications. We are trying to bring in a new spirit, not the traditional Swiss watchmaking story.
We are talking about high-perceived value, stress on great design inspired by elements of the past. I call this a retro-futuristic design wherein we look to our past to bring in the future. Secondly, our flagship products have to be innovative; for example you’ll never find a watch like the Bivouac 9000 anywhere else today.
The third pillar is the pricing – the brand has to have high-perceived value. I claim that in its price segment ($7,000), the Biouvac 9000 is the best watch you can buy. Our core price point will be the CHF3,000-6,000 (Approx. $3,000-6000). We aimed to price all our watches under CHF10,000 unless of course we are playing with an expensive case material.
ON THE PRODUCT STRATEGY
We have no intention of creating many different families. Favre-Leuba has two lines, Chief and Raider; and the extensions will be within these two model lines. We will bring new versions of existing lines and new technologies to these families. We start at 34 mm even for our ladies quartz models.
The Raider is our flagship line. It has the potential to be an iconic model. If you look at great brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet or Porsche, there is one line that shines even if they have 2-3 successful lines. Not everybody may like the Royal Oak, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to please everybody.
ON WORKING WITH PARTNERS
As far as partners go, we work with the best suppliers for things like our movements though our team heavily modifies them. Our basic range of movements are supplied by Selita and ETA. We are not going to bother investing in manufacture movements because I think a lot of brands have made a big mistake by going down this route. We are an engineering-led brand but we’ll find the right partners to manufacture parts according to our specifications.
ON THE GROWTH PATH
We are making 1,000-1,500 pieces this year. We are not selling in all markets but as we expand these production numbers will go up. It’s also a journey into the luxury industry for our parents, Titan Industries. We are already in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Middle East. We are going into Europe now – Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. We are selling online in the US. Titan has given us full freedom.
The unabridged version of this interview appears in the Winter 2017 print issue out on newsstands now.