Saturday, October 13, 2018

Searching for Severin

Contrary to what some of my not-so-collegial colleagues would have you believe, I truly hate seeing people and companies fail.  But the news about Corum withdrawing from BaselWorld has deeper implications than many people want to consider.  While I realize that they are (at least on paper) separate entities, the fates of Corum and Eterna are now intimately intertwined.  And the current state of affairs at Eterna is (to be diplomatic) not great.  And that is simply on the watch front.  

The other, more concerning aspect is the fate of Eterna Movements.  The word around the campfire is that after some "away time", and a few tentative moves forward had been made Eterna and the Eterna Movements might do a "JEANRICHARD".  The "sleeping beauty" strategy is starting to become a somewhat worrying trend.  We often think back wistfully of similar "Prince Charming" happy endings in the 80s, where the plucky young entrepreneur gently kissed the slumbering watch brand, bringing it back to life, while Jim Kerr (Simple Minds) gently crooned in the background.  But I don't think that Jean-Claude Biver is going to be donning a Polo shirt and bomber jacket, regenerate a wedge hair style (complete with perma-gel) and ride in on his moped to save the day any time soon.  Because those (Blancpain and others) were brands that had been beaten, lay down their hands at the table and walked away.  They did not exist any longer.  But Corum and Eterna?  These are brands that have now passed through several sets of hands before landing at City Champ.  And the sense that many of us are getting is that City Champ can wait it out hoping for their own Prince Charming to come in and buy them out of the current quagmire.  

And as I often say when acting as a mediator in my dispute resolution practice - we didn't get here overnight.  This didn't just happen.  This is a series of decisions - some good, some clearly bad, that have led to the situation these brands are now in.  And I turn back again to that (seemingly) crazy guy who took a fairly basic idea, priced it at an appealing level, and brought Corum back to life.  The Bubble that caught everyone's imagination was not a $5,000 watch.  It was much more attainable.  And it sold.  I realize that Corum is much more than the Bubble, but the Bubble is somewhat emblematic about the dysfunction in the decision making paradigm.  The belief that Corum must be priced at very high levels in relation to what the other brands are selling for, has put them in a bit of an unworkable corner.  The result?  Too many SKUs languishing, unsold.  Severin Wunderman was unique in that although he was rich, successful, and in later years lived a lifestyle many would be envious of, he understood what people wanted.  And he also understood pricing.

Two things -

One - I don't claim to have any special "insider" knowledge about the current situation at any of these brands, and I have been wrong before.  But I also can read the tea leaves well enough to know that when news stops flowing, new models cease being released, shows are cancelled... let's just say it raises more questions than it answers.

Two - Running a watch brand is hard, hard work.  Watch enthusiasts all think that they can do it, and do it better than the people doing it.  We are, of course, wrong.  Having said that, the watch industry is also an incredibly forgiving industry which tends to attract people with a certain degree of moral flexibility, where people are promoted, fail, crash, and come back reborn multiple times.  And it is not to say that people don't deserve second (or third, fourth and fifth) chances.  It is to say that when you continue to pursue the same path, strategy, philosophy even though it has failed repeatedly, then perhaps you need to rethink the entire premise of how you do business.

If I were City Champ?  Well, if the stories are to be believed, they have plenty of cash.  They do not need for their Swiss investments to start shitting Tiffany cufflinks right away.  On the other hand, they are not stupid.  The smart play would be to simply not put any more money into either of these brands until they can either straighten themselves out, or find a buyer who is looking for a hobby to dump his/her millions into.  

We all wanted something better for Corum and Eterna, and you never know, there could indeed be a happy ending out there.  So get your hair gel out, and bust out that soundtrack to Sixteen Candles!

Friday, October 12, 2018


From Oris -

Courtesy of Oris

As this is a charitable cause, I will let the folks at Oris tell it in their own words -

Oris is extremely proud to work with independent men’s health charity Movember and to support its Movember moustache-growing fundraising initiative. The second watch produced in support of the charity’s mission is based on the iconic Oris Big Crown Pointer Date. Help us as we look to raise funds for the charity’s vital work. Grow a Mo. Wear the watch. And feel good.

Here are the pertinents -

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Overtime with the NOWA Shaper Blue Matter

Courtesy of NOWA
So I've gone well-past overtime with my review of the NOWA Shaper Blue Matter, but as I learned the hard way with reviewing both the Withings, and more frustratingly the Kronaby connected watches, you have to really see how a connected watch performs over a longer time frame.  The prior two disappointed on several levels in terms of functions actually working following the review period.

So it goes without saying that I was a bit skeptical about yet another connected watch delivering on what was promised.  Suffice it to say, NOWA was facing an uphill battle on convincing me.

The NOWA packaging is pretty basic - cardboard box with instruction manual.  That's all.

One key differentiator for NOWA is design.  To produce a connected watch that actually looks good.  And in terms of design?  It's a winner -

A very clean, minimal design.  And this already points to a certain fallacy perpetrated by some of the other brands.  They have tried to jam several functions into a watch, slapped in various push buttons, and fairly thick cases.  Not so with NOWA -

Courtesy of NOWA
The case itself is 9.75 mm thick.  In comparison the NOMOS Orion neomatik is 9.4 mm.  

The fit and feel of the NOWA was great. Although the diameter is 40 mm in diameter, owing to the flatter, thinner case height, it fits nicely.

The lug width is 20 mm in diameter, and the lugs are proportional, not massive, not "tinny", but to quote Goldilocks, they are just right.

The strap is a very soft, extremely comfortable leather.  Fairly basic, but absolutely in keeping with the aesthetics of the watch.

Quick release spring bars are used, allowing easy swapping of straps.

A nice, simple claps secures the watch to the wrist -

The case back has a somewhat raised back, but this does not impact the comfort in wearing the watch.

You will note that there was some very slight scratching on the central portion.  It is worth noting that this area has a high polish finish, making it more susceptible to light scratching when writers are less than gentle.  The main backside of the case is a matte finish, with the bezel, crown and lug tops being polished.

So let's ask that awkward question - how was the functionality?
Spoiler alert - it absolutely delivered on every function as promised.  Unlike Kronaby where you select from a menu of different functions, the folks at NOWA selected a specific set of functions that they felt most people would want, and opted not to try and offer everything.  Per NOWA, the features are:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wempe and NOMOS are Kaputt

So you've probably read it elsewhere, but I thought I'd give it to you with a little bit of commentary.

Wempe have dropped the bomb and NOMOS will no longer be carried there.  Wempe's contention, and a fair one, is that they have worked pretty hard (and for a pretty long time) with NOMOS, several now iconic and sought-after limited editions.  Both sides have put in time and effort.  But it is also safe to say that nothing is forever, and here is the proof.

The key reasons cited by Wempe include:

A.  Chrono 24 for factory authorized refurbished watches
B.  Chronext for factory authorized new watches

In essence, too much availability online, an abandonment of what made the brand special.  And a big part of what made the brand special was that you couldn't get it just anywhere.  

On the one hand, it would be more than fair for NOMOS to say that this is the way it is, sorry if you don't like it (which it appears that they did).  

But on the other hand, NOMOS is not exactly bursting in multiple retail locations, particularly here in North America.  Moreover, a lot of these locations are not exactly red-hot, and when you multiply that by the "chain" reality - Tourneau, for example, it gets dicier.  
Again, I live and work near two retail outposts for NOMOS and they are not exactly "jumping" at the moment.

It's interesting, because a lot of these realities were already existing before Wempe decided to throw in the towel.  NOMOS has had their own online distribution for several years, and at least here in the US they have been sold through Watch Buys for quite some time in addition to all of the other retail stores they have/have had.  And with the weird church and state mash-up that is the Hodinkee media (we'll tell you what to buy) retail (and then we'll sell it to you) model it is safe to say that the way watches are bought and sold continues (and will continue) to evolve and change.  Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

Having said that, it also underscores a key word which I do feel gets lost, misplaced, and leveraged from time to time -
Partnership.  A partnership implies that two (or more) entities are working together towards a mutually beneficial outcome.  And what that used to mean is that a brand and a retail partner would work together to make good things happen.  Co-op advertising, in-store brand events and promotions, etc.  But some interesting things happened right around 2008.  A few retailers started to display what can only be described as extreme avarice.  Their feeling was that they were spending time and money to promote a brand and, damn it, they deserved a better, bigger slice of the pie.  Now what at least two of these retailers that I know of personally failed to mention in their hand-wringing tirade was this - they were actively discounting the watches by 30% off of the suggested retail price.  So it created a perfect storm.  Brands needed the retail outlets, and the retail outlets needed product.  But the retail outlets now said things like -
"sure, we'll carry your watches, but we won't pay for them.  At least not until after we sell them!"  And thus the golden age of memo was born.  

Memo.  I've written about it before, but in case you missed it, here is a basic outline:

1.  Brand is very, very anxious to be in retail store X.  Retail store X is well known in a major metro area and turns a LOT of product. 

2.  X agrees to take the watches, but they won't pay for it.  But don't worry, they will pay you after they sell them.

3.  Not really.  They will not tell you that they sold something.  You will have to send someone to count all of the watches in their safe, provide proof that they have, in fact, sold the watches, provide an invoice, and....


You will be extremely lucky if you are paid within 90 days.

And that is pretty much where we find ourselves now.  

So the bigger question really becomes, how can a brand afford to be in a retail store in the first place?

But let's look at it from the other side -

1.  The store commits showcase space, training for staff, and local advertising budget.  In the case of a bigger brand, particularly one from the groups, the store will have to commit to a 30/30/30 schedule of payments.  Keep in mind, many retail partners will avoid payment as long as they can.  In some situations this is understandable - they have payroll, expenses, etc.  

2.  The store frequently will have the customer coming in for exactly the one watch that they do not have.  As the store, you get a very quick understanding as to just how valuable you really are to the brand.

3.  You will frequently be undercut by your friendly (and not so friendly) competitors not only in your backyard, but around the country.

The situation with Wempe and NOMOS is really not unique, it happens every day around the world.  But when you see a partnership of that many years thrown out so readily?  It tells you that things have changed.  Whether it is for the better, or for the worse?

That remains to be seen.  

But one last thing that I think NOMOS and other brands don't realize is that they have taken the problems with retail, and transferred them to a different format.  Because the realities of the game have not changed - there are only so many watch customers out there.  So regardless of what medium you are selling the watches - brick and mortar or online, if you over saturate the market, you will be in exactly the same predicament, just in a different format.


Monday, October 8, 2018

About Kickstarter

A friendly note to folks getting ready to launch with a Kickstarter campaign -

Following some less-than-positive feedback from people who have bought Kickstarter watches and have taken the time to reach out and share their disappointment, the following policy is now in place:

No further promotion, dissemination, etc. of Kickstarter announcements until AFTER the campaign is completed, or I have seen, handled, tried-on and worn a prototype.  

Sorry, but I am getting too many messages from frustrated people who are feeling let-down.