Replacement bracelets should not just be sold only when a customer comes in needing a repair, they can be part of a retailer’s marketing effort to bring people more frequently into stores. A fresh strap can breathe new life into an old watch, and multiple straps can make a single timepiece work stylishly with many outfits. Austrian company Hirsch has been in the leather business since 1765 and making watch straps almost as long as the wristwatch industry has existed. Now the latest member of the Hirsch family to take up the reigns is Nikolaus Hirsch, who wants consumers to ask for his brand by name.
It was 1765 in Lower Austria that Johannes Franz Hirsch opened a small workshop producing leather for shoes and saddles in a tiny tannery. 170 years later, the family business was still going when in 1935 it filed its first patent, which was for the Hirsch vacuum belt, which was invented for the nascent automobile industry.
It was not until 1945 that Hans Hirsch started to produce watch bracelets made of leather from the Carinthian shoe industry, using his kitchen table in Klagenfurt as his work bench, and a pocket knife and a household sewing machine.
Ten years later the company developed a way of binding the upper leather of a watch strap to its lining. This method, which was patented by Hirsch, is now a standard in the world wide watch bracelet industry. The invention drove rapid growth at Hirsch, which saw sales top the equivalent of 1 million euros in 1957.
The deep history of Hirsch matters because it is a pivotal manufacturer for the watch industry that most consumers will never have heard of. In 2012, under the leadership of Robert Hirsch, the Austrian company celebrated the production of its 250 millionth watch strap, a major achievement for a business that only started making straps 67 years earlier.
Continuity is a massive part of Hirsch’s DNA, which is demonstrated by yet another generation of the family making a mark in the form of Nikolaus Hirsch, head of sales and marketing at the company.
One of his first decisions was a break from the past, with Hirsch (also known as Hirsch The Bracelet) choosing not to exhibit at Baselworld for the first time in 30 years. It came down to a simple cost/benefit analysis after which the company decided it would be better going on a world tour to visit all of its distributors in their own countries rather than paying a fortune for a stand and hoping that those distributors turned up.
Nikolaus Hirsch also told WatchPro that it wanted to invest more in raising the profile of Hirsch bracelets with consumers, so an expensive pitch to the trade was less relevant. “We are trying to make Hirsch a brand that consumers request,” he explained. “Our aim is to highlight that one watch can have many looks and styles by changing its strap, and that Hirsch can bring that additional value to every timepiece,” he added.
The big news from a product standpoint in 2019 is the expansion of Hirsch’s Viazza collection, which has a new season line of colorful bracelets in bright colors that, the company says, “Radiate the cheerful mood of a new beginning and highlight serenity with elegant casualness. Enjoy the lightness of being with the fresh and cheerful shades of the Viazza color range and make your very personal fashion statement with a new outfit for your watch. Give free rein to your creativity,” Hirsch urges. Fresh colours include a powerful new magenta shade of pink, a blue/green teal, a vibrant lime green and a neutral taupe.
The message that fresh straps can give new life to watches will take sustained promotion to customers, but retailers have a role to play too, and can profit from offering straps from such an established business as Hirsch.
In an age when watch shops are struggling to attract ecommerce-obsessed customers into their stores, replacement straps can be a winning play. “Retailers are struggling with footfall because of the shift to ecommerce, which makes Hirsch a great partner because we bring people into shops,” Mr Hirsch suggests.
The fresh Viazza range, which started feeding into wholesale in April is a good platform for repeat sales. The female-friendly colors mean one watch can be given several looks to match multiple outfits. “We want to encourage women to buy two to three styles,” Mr Hirsch says.
Quick release and replace straps have become a significant trend for watchmakers in recent years with brands like Cartier, TAG Heuer and Hublot creating innovative ways to attach different bracelets and straps. Hirsch welcomes the move towards raising the importance of straps, but believes there should be a global standard rather than multiple watch brands making their own proprietary systems so that third party strap makers cannot provide replacements.
Another rapidly emerging trend is for sustainability across fashion and retail. Hirsch has an answer for this in the form of bracelets made from natural products including stone, slate and from 2019, wood. “A limited edition bracelet made from wood will launch this spring,” Mr Hirsch reveals.
Hirsch is certainly moving with the times, but that has always been part of the philosophy for the company. “From the very beginning, the success of our company has been largely marked by three things,” the brand states on its website, which lists its long and successful tradition of leather working, a constant striving to develop and an ambition to actively contribute to the market and present new developments, as its enduring objectives.