NORQAIN thought it had timed its entry perfectly when its first watch collections launched in 2019.
The company had been founded a year earlier in the Swiss watchmaking heartland of Biel and, thanks to the pedigree of the family behind the venture, father and son Mark Küffer (chairman) and Ben Küffer (CEO), the brand was warmly received and secured placement with Westime, Tourneau and Govberg in the United States as well as Watches of Switzerland Group in the UK, Bucherer in Switzerland, Wempe in Germany, Seddiqi in the UAE and 30 partners in Japan.
Marc Küffer brings over 45 years’ experience heading Swiss luxury watchmaking ventures.
For quarter of a century he was on the Board of Directors for the Swiss Watch Industry Association.
Bringing additional financial muscle, watchmaking expertise and enviable contact books to the management team and board are Ted Schneider, a member of the family that owned Breitling for nearly 40 years, and Mark Streit, the Swiss ice hockey legend and Stanley Cup winner.
Deep pockets and cool heads were called for in early 2020 when the pandemic first hit Asia.
Ben Küffer was in Japan at the time promoting NORQAIN to retail partners.
“Everybody was terrified,” he recalls in a conversation with WATCHPRO. “Nobody could be sure what would happen, but we knew we could forget expansion of our distribution for a while and we would need to get much more active on digital.”
NORQAIN was founded at a time when Mr Küffer could see the explosion in demand for independent watchmakers; the likes of F. P. Journe, Philippe Dufour, Kari Voutillainen and many others. “But there were all at the very high end. We believe an independent like NORQAIN can have the same success at a more reasonable price for a wider audience,” he suggests.
The company set out to create something new for consumers, although not that new. NORQAIN’s watches are designed to appeal to the sweet spot of the market right now: sturdy steel sports watches that can be worn on the beach or in the board room.
A deal with the Tudor-backed movement maker Kenissi gave the business an early point of difference and spoke to its depth of experience and contacts in the Swatch industry.
Two of the company’s first watch collections were to use chronometer-certified Kenissi calibres, the NN20/1 three hander and NN20/2 with a GMT hand. Both have 70 hour power reserves.
There is no denying that the pandemic was tough, but NORQAIN made it through and now has around 75 retail doors around the world. Mr Küffer says his team spent the year helping watches sell through at those retailers by supporting their ecommerce efforts with digital marketing, working with bloggers and other influencers.
Retailers were encouraged to stick with the brand by the energy that a younger, more nimble company can bring. “While the rest of the Swiss watch industry was handling like an oil tanker, we were like a speedboat. We could make decisions quickly and capitalize on opportunities as soon as we saw them,” Mr Küffer he says.
Importantly, the company’s shareholders and suppliers also stood by the fledgling business and using almost exclusively Swiss parts gave the business an advantage over rivals struggling to source from Asia, Mr Küffer suggests.
NORQAIN Adventure Neverest
With the vaccination roll-out taming covid, Mr Küffer is confident that western nations will not lock down again, and this has encouraged NORQAIN to move forward with its most significant launch so far this year, an extension to its core Adventure collection called Neverest, the first to use the NN20/1 Kinessi movement.
The Neverest name is designed with a double meaning. “Never Rest”, speaks to the brand’s positive attitude, momentum, while the obvious similarity to Everest is about conquering new summits and also links to a charity project NORQAIN supports called Butterfly Help Project in Nepal, which was founded by Norbu Sherpa and Andrea Sherpa-Zimmermann of Wild Yak Expeditions and supports children going to school in the country.
Ten percent of the sale price of each Neverest watch sold will go to the charity and NORQAIN has committed to sending 50 children to school in 2021 and supporting them in the coming years.
“I am deeply touched by the stories of Sherpa families in Nepal, and I speak for the entire NORQAIN team when I say how honored we are to be involved with the Butterfly Help Project and their admirable cause. With this partnership, we can positively impact the lives of children in need and give them a brighter future by sending them to school. This is the most important thing we have done as a brand”, Mr Küffer says.
There are three models in the 40mm Neverest collection, all using the Kenissi movement, visible through an exhibition case back, and are water resistant to 200 meters.
An all steel piece named Glacier has a textured white dial and grey bezel. It comes on a stainless steel bracelet for CHF 3,250, a textured rubber strap at CHF 3,050 and a fabric strap (CHF 3,050).
There is a limited edition with a black and grey dial with rose gold markers and a black ceramic bezel inset with gold.
It is also offered on bracelet, rubber or fabric strap with prices ranging from CHF 4,380 to 4,580.
The third piece is in green and black with different strap/bracelet options taking prices to between CHF 2,990 and CHF 3,190.
Every watch comes with a five year warranty.
NORQAIN is positioning its family of watches into two tiers with pieces using Sellita movements retailing at below CHF 2,000 and those housing Kenissi units selling at CHF 3,000 and upwards.