Victorinox, with its famous Swiss Army Knives and indestructible timepieces, is a masculine brand that is as comfortable on a desert adventure as a mountaineering challenge. So it was something of a surprise at Baselworld this year when the company’s CEO of the company’s watchmaking business, Alexander Bennouna, spent half an hour showing ladies’ timepieces to WatchPro. It is a timely shift of focus, particularly in the UK where women are just as likely to enjoy extreme pursuits, and want reliable and stylish accessories as they attack them.
“This year we have decided to celebrate the ladies,” says Alex Bennouna, CEO of watches for Swiss manufacturing giant Victorinox as soon as WatchPro sat down with him at this year’s Baselworld. “It took us a few years to develop watches that we are happy with in terms of quality and very high functionality. This year we feel that time has come. Three years after introducing the I.N.O.X. collection we have a collection for ladies,” he adds.
Nothing has been compromised in the creation of the I.N.O.X. V range for ladies, and no female fripperies like crystals or diamonds have been added. “We call it the V collection, which could mean vivacious, victorious, versatile, visionary. It is not a normal ladies watch with a mother of pearl dial and diamonds, it is a more bold interpretation of what a modern lady wants,” Mr Bennouna explains.
Although it has a similar shape and proportions of men’s I.N.O.X. watches, it is much more than just a smaller version. “We tried to approach this in a very exhaustive manner, not just reusing the dial and having a smaller version for ladies, but rethinking the design completely. If you take it in your hand, turn it around, you will discover that the proportions are reworked to be more round, more generous, more feminine in the design,” Mr Bennouna describes.
The V collection is also just as tough as its male counterparts. “These watches pass the same 130 tests as the standard version so it is definitely a collection that is made for modern, active, passionate ladies of today,” Mr Bennouna says.
The £399 watch is on sale in the UK now, and is offered with a white rubber strap or steel bracelet. There is also a range of rubber bumpers — a bit like the silicon protection you get for a mobile phone — that can be attached to change the look of the watch and make it even more rugged.
Retailers, which are served by Victorinox’s distributor Burton McCall in the UK, are said to be very enthusiastic about the V launch, according to Mr Bennouna. It opens up a new market that the company admits was not really catered to well. “If we want to expand our market share then we need to address a new audience. We have the right message for the usual Victorinox audience, and taking the I.N.O.X. story to ladies is a very powerful statement,” he adds.
Victorinox’s UK retail network, which includes H.Samuel, Goldsmiths, independent jewellers and department stores, know that it is the men’s collections that will make the greatest impact, and they have not been disappointed by the advances made in the full-sized I.N.O.X. range. The focus for a few years has been on using innovative materials, and this has continued in 2017 with the launch of “dense, durable and dependable” I.N.O.X. Carbon. The watch combines extremely high structural rigidity with scratch resistance and hypoallergenic properties. Along with passing the same 130 tests that Victorinox inflicts on all its watches, the composite material used in the Carbon can survive temperatures as high as 1,260 degrees centigrade. How do they know? Because it is the same carbon composite that was used to protect space shuttles from re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere.
A lovely option for both the women’s I.N.O.X. V collection and the men’s editions is a paracord strap. First seen in 2016, the straps are woven from the same cord used in parachutes, and makes a style statement as well as being practical, comfortable and strong.
Mr Bennouna becomes increasingly animated as he describes how Victorinox can save people’s lives if they are lost in the wild using a couple of the company’s products. “If you are lost in the woods, what you need to survive is string, a knife and fire. We provide string because you can unravel the paracord to make a nice long and really strong length from the watch strap; and we provide the Victorinox knife. You can even make fire using the paracord string because you can use it to make a bow that turns a piece of wood into a drill,” he explains.
Top of the I.N.O.X. range is the Titanium Sky High Limited Edition, which is designed to go into space. As well as the high tech titanium case, the watch has added a material called technora to its white paracord strap. Technora is even stronger than paracord, and has been used in the parachute attachments of a rover lander as it floated to the surface of Mars.
The Titanium Sky High will launch towards the end of the year in a limited run of just 2000 pieces, most likely selling only in the London flagship for Victorinox on Bond Street.
That flagship has been a success for Victorinox, and accounts for around half of all sales for the brand in the UK across its watches, knives and travel products. “We are happy right now. We have better penetration in the UK than in any other market. We look at sales from our flagship store in London and it is delivering about 50% of total sales. This is important because the flagship helps us to present the Victorinox story in a very authentic manner,” Mr Bennouna concludes.