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Tales of riches to rags to riches in watches

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By Oliver Carding

What do the Rolex Milgauss, Zenith, Romain Jerome and Jaquet Droz all have in common? They are all watch industry riches to rags to riches success stories. 

The Rolex Milgauss owes its renewed demand to market trends. First launched in 1956, it was produced to meet the needs of nuclear research labs. By the 1970s the Milgauss was unpopular and in 1988 it was discontinued.

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Thanks to current recession-orientated trends of vintage and upcycling the Milgauss is experiencing a renaissance as consumers seek rare and vintage timepieces. Therefore Rolex made the decision to resurrect this timepiece and in 2007 introduced three new models including their limited edition Glace Verte model. The result? The Milgauss is currently being endorsed by Roger Federer and was worn by Daniel Craig – a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a discontinued timepiece.

Zenith is the maker of the El Primero movement, the first automatic chronograph movement ever produced which became famed for being more precise than any other. However the quartz revolution in 1969 meant that new, Japanese battery-powered timepieces, both accurate and cheap, posed serious competition to mechanical timepieces. 

After Zenith was taken over by Zenith – an American firm of the same name – they stopped production of the El Primero movement to focus on quartz. Sales floundered but in 2009, after Zenith got new management who wanted to recapture mechanical timepieces, the El Primero was resurrected.

The result? Zenith agreed to be the official timekeeper and sponsor of Baumgartner’s ambitious jump from the edge of space. The Stratos Flyback Striking 10th watch was developed and became the first timepiece to be directly exposed to a supersonic free fall through the stratosphere, becoming the fastest wristwatch on Earth.

Romain Jerome and Jaquet Droz owe their change in fortunes to one man only: Manuel Emch. He started his career in 2001 with Jaquet Droz and spent 10 years building a new philosophy, identity, and logistical infrastructure. The result? Jaquet Droz’s turnover increased 15,000% to about €30 million (£23.6m).

Emch left Jaquet Droz to join Romain Jerome where he dramatically improved sales and profitability too, realising total sales of CHF25 million (£17.3m), three times the initial objectives in 2008, followed by a year-on-year increase of 400% in 2009 and growth of about 25% in 2010.

Four brands and four great tales of riches to rags to riches.

This column was taken from the April 2013 issue of WatchPro magazine. If you work in the watch industry and would like to write a guest column for the magazine email the editor at rachael.taylor@itp.com.

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