Wednesday, September 26, 2018

We Sail Tonight for Singapore - The Voyage Continues

Numbers, they say, don't lie.  But sometimes they fib.

Courtesy of FH
Yes, numbers are up.  EXPORT numbers.  And interesting to relate, the US is again up.  Which makes sense because the big three as well as Rolex and Patek have subsidiaries here and they can "park" a lot of watches here.  In speaking with my friends in the retail sector, they are not exactly going out and buying a new sports car.  And some once very influential and successful retailers are seriously contemplating whether or not they will make it through this year.  Because what we often fail to understand when we read the (insert the metaphor of your choice) love-story-comeback-feel good-triumph story put forth by some of my colleagues in the 4th and 5th Estates is the reality that exports are not the same as sales, and more importantly, the increase in exports is very likely to level off fairly dramatically once the new SWISSNESS standards are fully in force.  December 31st the clock will strike midnight, and many of the small and the mighty in the industry will watch the  stock that does not meet the standard still remaining within the Swiss borders turn into pumpkins. 

And apart from that, there is one very curious statistic that I will share, the phenomenal improvement shown by that titan of watch sales... Singapore! 
Mighty Singapore showed an uptick of, wait for it, +25%!  Point of full-disclosure, I have never been to Singapore, but I suffer from a distinct sense of incredulity in believing that the demand in Singapore is that great right now.  Is the Grey and Soft Grey market demand great?  Sorry, silly question ; )

And now a little inside baseball for all of you who think I might be full of it, ever wonder how the grey-market and soft-grey market always seem to have so much product?  And have you ever heard the near comedic response of brand managers and their Swiss and German ownership claiming to be just as shocked and concerned as their frustrated and pissed-off retail partners?  Well, to quote that other great commentator on the watch industry - Gabriel Byrne as Tom Reagan (Millers Crossing) -

“I’d worry a lot less if I thought you were worrying enough.”

Here's hoping that I'm wrong.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Trying to Break Stuff - Casio Day 2

The second day of our visit to Casio started out with a bus ride from our hotel in Shinjuko to the Hamura Research and Development Center which is in Hamura-shi, Tokyo-to.  Now for those unfamiliar, allow me to acquaint you with some realities about Tokyo.  It is really, really big.  How big?  Really big.  And it was sort of bringing it all back home for me as we heard military jets overhead, and it suddenly occurred to me that we must be fairly close to Yokota Air Base which is located in Fusa, and just around the corner from where I used to live in Hachioji -



That would be the blurry city name in the top position of the green sign ; )

But I am not going to waste your time traveling down my personal memory lane.  What I am going to do is share what a lot of 10 year old boys (and I suspect girls) enjoy doing - trying to break stuff!

The whole idea of the G-Shock was to make something that could not be broken (more on that tomorrow), but you can't just say something is unbreakable, you have to prove it.  And this wonderful center in the Tokyo hinterlands has created a facility where they can try to imagine every stress, situation, random bad thing that could happen to a watch, and replicate it.



The original G-Shock was born of a lot of different things - anger, loss, frustration, denial, determination, and finally triumph.  But it was a long, slow process.  The photo above is, for me at least, truly symbolic of that painful process.  Spoiler alert, the creator of the G-Shock was wearing a traditional, normal watch that fell off his wrist and was what insurance adjusters would term, a "write off".  Out of that loss, and need to build a better mouse trap, the G-Shock was born.  The single biggest item on the punch list?  Make it unbreakable.  And the notion of a ball bubbled to the surface as the ultimate shock-absorber.  The item above is part of the journey from "watch in a ball" to the G-Shock of today -


Courtesy of Casio

But needless to say, Casio did not get to have the baby without the labor.  Before we got to the "rumpus room", we got a very solid briefing about the foundation of the G-Shock within Casio.



Along with the type of visual displays that would be the envy of many other brands -


Courtesy of Casio
I draw your attention to the display above and the one below.  


Courtesy of Casio

Still think that quartz is simple, or basic, or dumb?

Think again.

Now, on to the (controlled) chaos!

First stop - the dunk booth!



No, that is not a chocolate milkshake in process, it is a custom made machine designed to test the functionality & reliability of the push pieces not only in a wet environment, but also one that has grit, debris, mud...


Courtesy of Casio
Beyond mere mud, there is also water itself in terms of depth, and Casio had just the machinery to gauge that as well -


Courtesy of Casio
Keep in mind that one of the central tenants of the G-Shock is water resistance - typically starting at 200 meters.  Well, the folks in Hamura weren't satisfied with the typical testing devices used by other watch companies.  So they use quite a few devices.


Courtesy of Casio
Safe and dry.

Courtesy of Casio
But if we get back to the birth of the G-Shock, we are reminded that this was triggered by a broken watch.

Courtesy of Casio
So if you can't gum up the pushers with silt, and you can't drown it, maybe you can break it by dropping it, or hitting against something hard?



Well...


Courtesy of Casio
not so much!

And then there is that nasty old problem of gravity.  What if you drop your watch from, say your desk or bedside table?


Courtesy of Casio
Or maybe even something a little out of the ordinary, height-wise?


Courtesy of Casio
Welcome to "Thunder Dome".  But in this instance, both watch and tester came out fine, and still ticking.  

What is particularly cool about the R&D center and the testing area is the fact that this is not standard equipment that you order from Borel.  The demands put on the G-Shock represent a level and commitment to testing that is not really found anywhere else in the watch making world.

And should you encounter Electro?


Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide info-web

Well, the G-Shock team has you covered -


Courtesy of Casio
And I have to laugh a bit every time I see copy, marketing or pr pieces extolling how bad-ass their watches are, primarily based on size and the stature of their celebrity friends of the brand.  After an afternoon spent trying to break stuff, I can honestly say that the G-Shock is the real deal.

We wrap-up tomorrow, stay tuned!




Saturday, September 22, 2018

What the heck is the AuroChronos Festival?

As I endeavor to bring you the stuff that you might miss from the bigger outlets (you know, actual news, etc.), I was very happy to be forwarded the information about this year's AuroChronos Festival.  I wanted to give the folks behind the fair the opportunity to tell you about it in there own words, so here you go -



 
What the heck is the AuroChronos Festival?

A lot of people asked this question last year when our event appeared for the first time. The word Festival and watches have never gone together. So why now and what the heck is AuroChronos?  The name of the festival is a blend of two words and it expresses the core values of Aurochs, a distant predecessor to today's domestic cattle.  It was an enormous, strong and wild ox whose posture commanded respect. It doesn’t only represent the strength, freedom and the perseverance needed in the constant struggle to make a mark in the watch market, but it also symbolizes the rebirth of an appreciation for watches and craftsmanship in creating unique pieces and the exceptional character of independent brands. The Greek god Chronos is the personification of time and the symbol of creation. Symbolized by an hourglass the symbol of passing time.  For us it is time to return to the roots and the rebirth of the tradition of small independent manufactures with unique style and individuality.

OK, we got that covered, but why a Festival? The International Festival of Independent Watch Brands AuroChronos,  is a hybrid of a watch fair and a festival review. It means that there is an International Jury that selects unique watches and the winners receive AuroChronos Awards. Last year they were premiere watches awarded and this year, there will be interesting new categories such as "Independent Men's Watch", "Independent Women's Watch", "Discovery of the Year" and so on.

AuroChronos is also a place for people who are just thinking about purchasing their first watch and want to learn something more about watches before making a decision. It is a platform for exchanging experiences and opinions on watches and trends and there are numerous presentations, lectures and workshops that are definitely an added value and a magnet for visitors. The year's invitation to Lodz was accepted by several notable people:
  • Kalle Slaap - a well-known Dutch watchmaker, advocate of micro brands and founder of a watchmaking school  
  • Tomasz Miler - entrepreneur and influencer, creator of Miler Menswear, Miler Spirits and Manumi (classic suits, strong spirits and men's leather accessories)
  • The Special Guest of the Festival will be Theodor Diehl. A spokesman and watchmaker of Richard Mille Watches, author of the book "Kari Voutilainen: Horlogerie d'Art" and specialist in independent watchmaking with over 25 years of experience in the industry who will give two lectures at the AuroChronos Festival.

There are strong partners that support our initiative. I’ll just mention some of the most prominent ones: 
  • PKO Bank Polski, the largest bank in Poland 
  • “Zegarki i Pasja”, the biggest quarterly on watches in Poland,
  • The largest and most active Facebook group on watches in Poland “Czasoholicy” 
  • The lifestyle magazine “LOGO”.

We have managed to do all of this in just over a year and there would be nothing unusual about it if we were professional event planners. Truth be told, our Festival is organized by two watch enthusiasts from outside of the industry. Maciej Mazurkiewicz - a doctor specializing in oncology and Paweł Zalewski - a trainer and translator.  We are both in our thirties and one day noticed that there was an event missing on the European watch scene. So we decided to create one. Our commitment and enthusiasm to the original idea made the first edition in 2017 a great success. The festival was visited by over 750 guests. This has paved the way for the development and preparation of our second edition. The AuroChronos Festival 2018 will host over thirty exhibitors from Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

We hope that you will join us September 29th and 30th and visit Lodz, Poland. The AuroChronos Festival 2018 will take place in Expo-Łódź, al. Politechniki 4, Lodz, Poland (Saturday 29th 10:00 – 18:00 and Sunday 30th 10:00 – 15:00). For more information visit www.aurochronos.com.
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Friday, September 21, 2018

Biver Leave's the Party - Maybe this Time for Sure...

So you've read it everywhere else, the last emperor is perhaps now finally, really, actually leaving the party.  Well, this time seems more likely than previous retirements.  


Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide info-web
But to quote that other great commentator on the watch industry, Lieutenant Columbo - 
"Something's still bothering me..."

So I'm going straight up on the "Columbo-tip", and ask a few questions that are, perhaps, not being asked elsewhere.

I held off putting anything out there yesterday because, frankly, I felt that there was more to this than an ill executive stepping aside to focus on his health. Moreover, it was the guy's birthday. A little respect was in order. But remember, we've been down this road before, when he announced that he was stepping down, and returned with an even broader mandate a few months later.

And the fact that there were two names being "mooted" as possible replacements was not accidental. And today's press release from LVMH HQ confirms what I suspected -

After an extraordinary career spanning over 40 years in watchmaking, Jean-Claude Biver, together with LVMH, has decided to relinquish his operational responsibilities and assume the role of non-executive Chairman of the LVMH watchmaking division.

Stéphane Bianchi has been appointed CEO of the Watchmaking Division, with effect from 1st November 2018. He will directly lead TAG Heuer, with the CEOs of Hublot and Zenith reporting to him.

Frédéric Arnault has been appointed Strategy and Digital Director of TAG Heuer.


Okay, let's consider this from LVMH's perspective - You've got a strong, dynamic leader in charge of 1 of your most important brands, and "overseeing" 2 others. But what you also have is a wee bit of a cult of personality. And I want to say something very clearly - that is not a dig at Mr. Biver, it actually underscores his charisma, popularity and ability to lead. But what also happens in this situation is that you then find yourself without a real contingency plan, and more than just a small power vacuum just waiting to happen.

Hublot, while having a CEO not named Biver, constantly finds Mr. Biver front and center at a LOT of its operations. Tag Heuer? Mr. Biver has been the defacto CEO for several years, and there still does not seem to be anyone lined up and ready to take the helm, even though he has said frequently that it would be a priority to develop a replacement. And Zenith? Sure, lots of interesting new models, but if the conversation I recently heard two US retailers having about sales is anything to go on? Not exactly punching their weight. Now I also want to clearly state that these points are merely anecdotal. But when taken as a whole, they are worth considering.

Mr. Biver admittedly has been having health troubles, but as one person who knows about these things confided, Mr. Biver has had, and worked through several rather serious health issues for the past several years and has still remained at the helm. Moreover, we are talking about a guy who LOVES what he does, and has worked through similar challenges. And the last point about the health concerns, he has stated in his brief comments that he is now starting to do better health-wise. If so, why leave now?

And more pertinent, if it was really about health, why would the replacement not be starting until November? My sense is that someone at LVMH who has a last name that might begin with the letter "A" has a case of the fidgets.

It bears considering the language used in the release:
Jean-Claude Biver, together with LVMH, has decided to relinquish his operational responsibilities and assume the role of non-executive Chairman of the LVMH watchmaking division.

So at least insofar as LVMH goes, this is the end of a truly dynamic career. And if I am being honest? I think that there will be some changes coming within the brands as well, because when there is someone with that much personal involvement, who commands the type of loyalty that Mr. Biver has? Let's just say that for some, there might be some uncomfortable questions that cannot be ignored any longer.

Another way to look at it is what a person inside the industry has referred to as the "Biververse" or "Biversphere". Meaning that at the center of it all, you have Jean-Claude Biver, and orbiting around him are the satellites, such as Ricardo Guadalupe. There have been others, who have seen their career trajectories greatly altered once they have been uncoupled from the mother ship. The rare exception to this perhaps being Jean-Frederic Dufour, who landed perhaps one of the safest and most secure gigs out there when he landed on the Green Planet, Rolex. Aldo Magada is laboring on an obscure and dark planet with Anonimo and Vulcain. Stéphane Linder who resigned unexpectedly from Tag Heuer (which led to Mr Biver taking over at Tag) stopped for a glass of Tang at Gucci (less than 2 years) a brief stint as a consultant, then off to Breitling-World where he is now piloting the LEM with Georges Kern, potentially arguing about who will be the first to walk on the moon. What has not happened in recent years, which had happened in previous Biver regimes was the development of new talent. Many people felt (and rightly so) that a stint at Biver U could help develop someone to lead a brand of their own one day. This explains the 2 appointments announced by LVMH today. I do not claim to be a great friend or confidant to Mr. Biver, but I feel confident is saying that I think he would have looked for someone with actual industry experience, and probably would not have looked to promote based on family connections.

I think to sum it up, in many ways, Mr. Biver was the patron of the watch making peloton, and while you couldn't really argue with the overall results, it eventually led to a set-up that was entirely too dependent upon him to oversee, and as such it was inevitable that it would end. Sooner or later time is called on all of us, we just don't always know when it will be, or how it will come about.

Now on to the two New-Jacks. Per the LVMH announcement -

Stéphane Bianchi has been appointed CEO of the Watchmaking Division, with effect from 1st November 2018. He will directly lead TAG Heuer, with the CEOs of Hublot and Zenith reporting to him.

This breaks the Biver model, because while Mr. Bianchi might have been a titan in the cosmetics/perfume industry? This is quite a different thing and goes contrary to what Mr. Biver has said in more than one interview, and I quote particularly from an interview he had with Wired, essentially? You have to learn the ropes before you try to take command of the ship. He often reflects back to his beginnings and his stint at Audemars Piguet where he was put through an internship at half-salary for one year to learn the inner workings of the business. Something tells me that Mr. Bianchi is not taking a similar path. You could argue that at his age that would be unreasonable, but then again we do need to consider the title that he has been given. Time will tell, but from an outside perspective, I suspect that this appointment was driven more by the LVMH folks and was probably not taking into account too much feedback from the folks who actually work in this particular sector within the group.

And as for Arnault the "even younger"? Firstly, age is not necessarily a requirement for ability. Having said that? Well, it is interesting that Arnault the "slightly older" was invested with a luggage company, and now another family member is being inserted into a fairly high level position within the group in a company that he has spent some time with, but in an industry that he has very little actual experience in. So again, we will see what develops and how things go, but it doesn't hurt that he shares the same last name as the owners.

But if anything is abundantly clear given today's announcement, it is that LVMH is making a fairly serious change in how the watch brands will be managed, and I suspect that while this is a very big shift, there are more to come. And in this instance, I do not think that we will see Atlas shrug.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The KLOK-01 Midnight Blue

This is a long-awaited release for kloker's fans, the KLOK-01 in Midnight Blue -

Courtesy of klokers
This is the latest addition to the klokers family and I think it's safe to say that it will be a crowd pleaser.

Here are the pertinents -

Courtesy of klokers


KLOK-01 MIDNIGHT BLUE DIAL WATCH-HEAD

  • Dimensions: Ø 44 mm, 11.5 mm deep
  • Casing: 316L stainless steel
  • Glass: transparent polymer with built-in magnifying lens
  • Water tightness: Water Resistant
  • Swiss Made
  • Driven by a high-tech Ronda movement (high precision Quartz movement)
  • 1,5 V battery
  • Two-year warranty against all production defects
  • The klokers key: a pushbutton at 8 o'clock to unlock the watch head from its base
  • Color: midnight blue dial