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QUICKFIRE Q&A: HK Watches answers watch consumer needs’ with customizable collection

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Alain Kobler, founder of Hermann Kobler Watches has a vision to take the brand right to the very top of European watchmaking.

Already with a strong demand from the USA, WatchPro finds out more about the DNA behind the brand:

What’s the story behind Hermann Kobler Watches?

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The idea for Hermann Kobler Watches (HK Watches) was born from my passion and fascination for the Swiss watchmaking tradition and the urge to become part of that brilliant industry. At the time of company incorporation, I studied business administration at the University of St. Gallen (HSG).

To gain professional experience and earn some extra money (which I reinvested into some lovely new timepieces), I worked part-time as a salesperson in one of the most renowned watch retail stores in Switzerland.

This did not only allow me to enhance my knowledge within the field of watches but furthermore I observed a continuously recurring customer need that is still not satisfied today.

My hometown Lucerne (Switzerland) is renowned for being one of the largest selling hotspots for exquisite timepieces. Due to the incomparable selection of luxury watches, customers from all around the world flock to the city to purchase a watch. However, many of the young customers were overwhelmed by the sheer number of offered timepieces.

Often, they would find themselves stuck between different models as they preferred a specific dial of one watch but desired the case or the watch strap of another one. Further, the high price often was an issue. The intriguing exchanges and memorable discussions with customers brought me to a so far unsolved issue which inspired me to create a product that would fulfill the increasing demand for customisation.

Since the different components are not easily interchangeable, the customer was forced to make a decision. The idea for the HK Watch was born.

For me, this problem brought forward multiple issues which had not been solved yet with a satisfying result within the aimed price range.

Firstly, the statement of quality as well as the design appearance of these offered watches were not in line with my standards. Secondly, there was a remaining lack of customisation and respond to customer’s needs.

To solve the first problem, the design of the HK Watch stands with its simple lines as an homage to some of the great classic designs of the Swiss watch industry. The high-quality standard of the watch is also be portrayed in its design. In order to create an outstanding timepiece, it was essential that the heart of the watch is produced in Switzerland.

Therefore, a cooperation with a local movement producer was established. The same counts for the assemblage and the last control of the watch which is done in the Southern part of Switzerland to ensure excellent quality and precision.

The more challenging part was faced with the second problem of ensuring a high level of customisation. In a timespan of over one and a half years, I created with Lucerne based watchmaker a simple but unique mechanism which challenges the status quo in two ways.

Firstly, it allows the customer not only to exchange the watch strap but goes a step further by enabling the watch owner to exchange the entire face in accordance to the specific occasion the watch is intended to be worn to. Secondly, it opens up a new way of customisation and an easy way to adjust your watch for each occasion and fashion trend.

In other words, there are no limitation and countless variations of how you customise your very personal watch. I personally think, it’s a fun way to easily adapt the appearance of your timepiece and try maybe more daring colour combinations.

Therefore the “actual” journey began 2018 in Lucerne. With the help of a local watchmaker, we developed a mechanism that allows the customer to exchange the dial (so-called TIME CAPSULA), the strap and the case. Many hours and several prototypes later, we held the very first HK watch in our hands.

Although the first milestone was reached, the goal of a complete production chain was still a long way off. Over the course of the next year, we contacted potential manufacturers all around the world. As being a Swiss myself it was essential for me to produce as much as possible within Switzerland to support local producer and ensure high quality. After having chosen them carefully we could finally start the production of the first collection, namely the Nautic Timer 01.

What makes a HK Watch unique?

The Hermann Kobler Watch consists of three individual components: the case, the TIME CAPSULA, and the bracelet/strap. The introduction of a modular system allows an extensive customisation of the watches according to the customer’s specific needs.

The TIME CAPSULA is a self-contained and closed watch system consisting of a Swiss quartz movement, as well as the dial, hands, crown. Each TIME CAPSULA gives the Nautic 01 wearer a completely different look, different hands, colours, and indexes. With only a gentle push of your fingertips any TIME CAPSULA can be inserted into or released from a Nautic Timer 01 case, and voila the Nautic Timer 01 has a totally new look.

The case itself is designed as an homage to the founder’s beloved and late grandfather (Hermann Kobler) and his collection of 1950’s watches. The case is specially designed to allow the TIME CAPSULA to be removed and inserted instantly and effortlessly. Not only the introduction of a customisable watch is close to our hearts, but we at HK Watches are committed to giving back to the communities it serves.

With this in mind, a limited edition is launched every year, where a portion of the proceeds of the LIMITED EDITIONS is donated to a charitable organisation. The 2021 limited offering is the PINK RIBBON SCHWEIZ (Switzerland), dedicated to the fight against breast cancer. This special edition is all in pink keeping with the Pink Ribbon image. For each Pink Ribbon watch sold, CHF 30.00 will be donated to Pink Ribbon Schweiz (Switzerland).

Tell me more about the first collection.

Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by my grandfather Hermann’s pocket watch. This very piece inspired me years after his passing to create a watch that would be an homage to his timeless yet elegant and minimalistic Omega pocket watch. In honour of my beloved grandfather, I decided to name the watch Hermann Kobler. The case shape is distinguished by its simplicity, minimalistic but yet refined elegance, finished with a modern and multifaceted touch. It was of highest importance to me that the watch dial with the Lucerne blue hands remain the centre of attention of the watch’s appearance.

The name of the first collection, NAUTIC TIMER 01, is inspired by the nautical theme. This comes as during the last years of my grandfather’s life, he enjoyed many hours on his beloved sailing boat. To underline his passion the coordinates of the Lucerne’s sailing club where Herrmann used to be a proud member of are alongside a sailing boat engraved on the back case of each TIME CAPSULA.

Regarding the details, all HK timepieces are Swiss Made and are powered by the Swiss Made RONDA powertech calibre 502 quartz movement. Cases are currently available in silver, PVD rose gold or PVD titanium. The Nautic Timer 01 has a diameter of 40.5 mm (a 36 mm case will be available later this year), a lug-to-lug measurement of 53 mm, and a thickness of 5.36 mm.

The TIME CAPSULA is currently offered with a white, green, blue, or black dial, with Roman or Arabic numerals or plain indexes. At present we offer 23 different watch straps in various materials and colours. More case materials and designs, as well as straps and dials will follow soon.

What price point and market are you hoping to target?

The current collection Nautic Timer 01 is offered at a price point between $275-332 while the TIME CAPSULA are offered at $171. This means we are aiming with the HK Watches for the premium segment. While this market segment is characterised by a high number of competitors, this is not the case when looking at Swiss Made watches in that range.

There the number remains’ small to this day. Therefore, the market or target customer we are hoping to pursue are young people with a sense for fashion, individuality, high quality products, timeless design, and passion for watches who like a fun and special product. Through the exchangeability the watches can be adjusted to current trends and seasons respectively the occasion it is worn to.

How is the business structured in terms of funding and staffing?

As we are still at the very beginning and resulting a small company the business structure as such is a flat hierarchical one. At present we are a team of three with all different field of expertise. Yet, all are very much involved in the daily decision processes as it is essential for me to involve the team as much as possible.

Therefore, all decisions are run through the team and not decided by a single person. In other words, we have rather a Silicon Valley like start-up structure. Referring to the funding structure as I am the sole founder of Hermann Kobler Watches I have founded the first collection all by myself as I think it is essential, if possible, for a company owner to be fully committed to the company and the project. In my eyes, this can mainly be achieved through founding the business to a majority or whole part by yourself.

In terms of watchmaking and design, how does the process work at HK?

Regarding watchmaking, the assembling process has been outsourced to trusted experts. As we are still a young and small brand, it is unfortunately impossible for us to develop our own manufacturing respectively assembling infrastructure. Therefore, we have partnered-up with our movement producers, who prove to be an exceptionally experienced and professional team of dedicated watchmakers.

From the beginning on their team has been involved in the process of creating the HK Watch. Their expertise and state of the art infrastructure allows small brand like ours to create top quality watches. This partnership is of high importance to me and we at HK will continue to involve them in the watchmaking process. When we look at the design process, the story is a bit different. Of course, the engineering elements are still overlooked by the assembly company.

Yet, the designing process is mostly up to my team and myself. Based on a market research as well as expert panels, we developed multiple design studies which we presented to our target customers. Based on their feedback we decided on a classical yet minimalistic and modern design where the dial and mostly the hands remain the centre of attention.

For future collections, we will definitely introduce a sportier as well as a vintage based case to enlarge the customer group. With respect to the dial design, we made some market research to analyse the best-selling models of different high-end luxury watches. Based on that design, we create our own design matching the case and the straps.

It was important to directly speak to the taste of different target groups which we achieved through a classic design (roman No.), a sportier design (arabic No.) as well as a minimalistic design with the indexes. To ensure a recognition feature, we decided to design the hands as well as the number eight (lucky number of my grandfather) in a beautiful Lucerne blue. In combination with the colourful straps the HK Watch appears fresh, funky, and fun. In short, a HK watch is an affordable luxurious appearing watch.

Geographically, which countries do you see as been the biggest fans of HK watches?

So far, we have sold our watches globally. Yet, the strongest market outside Switzerland seems to be the United States of America. This is as we believe mostly based on the rather big dial with 40,5 mm diameter. This comes as no surprise to us as the Americans in general are sophisticated when it comes to quality products as well as special and innovative features.

Additional to the US market, we hope to enlarge our brand presence in the southeast Asian market and of course Europe. It seems however, that the Nautic Timer 01 is too big in diameter for those markets. With that in mind, we have decided to launch a smaller version of the 40.5mm Nautic Timer 01 to serve the demand in those markets.

In terms of growth in the short and long term, what are your plans?

To meet the demand for individualisation, we are pursuing the vision of becoming the world’s most individual premium watch brand. The HK Watch should adapt to the wishes of the wearer and reflect her or his personality. Therefore, the colours and materials of the straps, dials and cases are constantly updated. In order to achieve our vision, we focus our efforts to establish our brand in a first step on the European and in a second step on the global market.

In the first instance, modern marketing measures such as influencers and social media are used to open up the market. However, traditional sales channels, whether online (www.hkoblerwatches.com) or offline in specialist shops, will also play a central role. This comes as the modular system encourages the customer to try and play with the mechanism as well as the different options in reality and not solely with help of our configurator.

In that sense, retailer channels will be a crucial point for us to sell our watches through. Then nothing can replace hands on experience where the customer can feel and touch the timepieces. As we are a new brand, it is essential for us in to increase the brand awareness outside of Switzerland with the clear target for the US and Southeast Asia. In the long term, we have planned to create a strong international retailer network.

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