Strong demand, limited production and the ability for independent watchmakers like H. Moser & Cie. to speak directly with clients around the world made them particularly resilient to the downturn suffered by larger, more industrial, watchmakers over the course of the pandemic. However, although Moser’s retail sales grew by 27% last year, the company’s CEO Edouard Meylan tells WatchPro he needs to get to physically presenting watches in order to maintain the brand’s current momentum.
WatchPro: How would you define an independent watchmaker as oppose to any other watch brand or manufacturer? Do you think it has to mean a business that hand-makes a very low number of watches from scratch every year, or is it more about a state of mind or simply being self-owned?
Edouard Meylan: Being independent is more about a state of mind. In many cases, it is linked to the idea of being self-owned, which forces you to go further in terms of creation and communication and to take risks only true entrepreneurs can.
WatchPro: How much of your design and manufacturing do you outsource and how much do you do yourself?
Edouard Meylan: We do the design internally but used to work with external illustrators until 2020. Now it is fully integrated. In terms of production, 80% of the movement is made inhouse. We outsource the habillage.
WatchPro: How has the pandemic affected your business? Some trends like acceleration of luxury watches being promoted and sold online should have helped independents. What has your experience been?
Edouard Meylan: 2020 was a good year for H. Moser & Cie., with a double digit growth. Ecommerce was a real driver, digitalisation helped a lot.
But digitalisation also has its limits: it is fine on a short term basis because our contacts know us and we have earned a capital of sympathy.
But on a long term perspective, we need to have real contacts with our customers and partners. We need human contacts. People need to see and touch the products.
We are conscious that we cannot abuse digital and that a good balance between digital and real life is mandatory.
Aside from digitalisation, we also launched good products.
The Streamliner collection was an accelerator which allowed us to establish the brand in the most important market segment: watches with integrated bracelets.
Today, the brands that stand out are brands that are strong in the integrated bracelet. A most remarkable fact is that our sales exploded in April, right during the lockdown.
We registered +12% in sell in and +27% in sell out.
WatchPro: Do you think more collectors are getting into independents because they have reached saturation point with big brands?
Edouard Meylan: Collectors are attracted by the rare and the exceptional. Once they own the handful of pieces difficult to get from the establishment, they naturally turn to independents because they are the brands bringing the most exclusivity, creativity and innovation.
WatchPro: Could this lead to more retail partners wanting to work with you?
Edouard Meylan: We get more demands to open, however our strategy is to reduce the number of points of sale as we currently don’t have the capacity to fulfil the high demand for our watches.
WatchPro: What are your most successful ways of connecting with customers?
Edouard Meylan: In the past, events were the best way. Today digitalisation and social media help us engage in very interesting discussions with our clients.
WatchPro: Have any countries performed particularly well over the past year, and why do you think that has been?
Edouard Meylan: The USA. We have put a lot of efforts in the recent years to build brand awareness there and this combined with the shift towards independent has helped us grow at an amazing rate there.
WatchPro: What have your most successful watches been this past year?
Edouard Meylan: The Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic, which we launched in January 2020 in Dubai, has been an amazing success, confirmed by the Streamliner Centre Seconds Matrix Green introduced in August 2020.
WatchPro: What are your hopes, plans and expectations for the rest of this year?
Edouard Meylan: I hope we will be able to travel and meet our partners and friends face to face again.