Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Few Minutes With Pierre Nobs


I am lucky.  I get to write about what I like, I get to cover what I think is interesting, and sometimes?  I get to interview people I have always wanted to meet! 

Courtesy of Pierre Nobs
Pierre Nobs most assuredly falls into that category.  Like me, he is a bit of an "inside outsider".  He has certainly worked in the industry and done some AMAZING things.  But he is not a one-trick-pony.  He has been able to work across many industries, many so-called "specializations", and at a time where many of his contemporaries might decide to hit the cruise control button?  He's partnering with a long-time colleague to bring out something AWESOME!

Courtesy of Bólido
If you missed out on Ventura, not to worry!  Because Bólido is here, and has now successfully reached its crowd funding goal!  And I mean this as sincerely as I have ever said this -

It is the SHIT THAT KILLED ELVIS!

So I was particularly grateful that in the midst of all of the craziness of launching a new brand, Mr. Nobs was kind enough to field my questions.  And now Mr. Nobs and his colleagues are ready to rock your world once again.

So now, a few minutes with Pierre Nobs -

Tempus Fugit:
Tell me about your first watch?  Was it a gift?  Is there a story behind it?
  
Pierre Nobs:
I don’t remember, I had watches very early in my life; born into a family with many of its branches engaged prominently in the watch business, I had opportunity to change to the latest models frequently.



Tempus Fugit:
When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you "grew up"?

Pierre Nobs:
Something creative that would make me money too. :-)



Tempus Fugit:
Where did you go to school?  What did you study?
  
Pierre Nobs:
Early grades in the Swiss capital Berne, thereon in Zurich. I wanted to become a commercial artist but my father insisted that I study mechanical engineering, which I did with little enthusiasm but I passed graduation OK.



Tempus Fugit:
What got you involved in watches in the first place?

Pierre Nobs:
In my early forties as a local Swiss manager in a major Japanese trading company. My first important deal was to sell 25’000 pieces of pioneering LCD watches made by Casio under the Tissot brand to SSIH, now the Swatch Group. In those early years of digital timepieces, I developed with my employer a 40-million dollar business of selling Japanese electronics to major Swiss watch groups. At the peak, I decided to take the plunge by starting my own company and remained entrepreneur in watch-business ever since. 

Courtesy of Bolido
Tempus Fugit:
You and your colleague (Simon Husslein) have both been involved in the watch industry previously, but what brought you two together on this project?

Pierre Nobs:
After starting up the Ventura watch company and fostering a new trend of creating architectural watch design, I came to work closely with the eminent Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein. Simon was his right hand then and worked out the details of Hannes concepts for Ventura. After Hannes’ demise, Simon took on as Chief Executive Designer of the Hannes Wettstein Studios before starting his own studio. So, we go a long way back and share a very similar understanding in regards to how a contemporary watch should look like.   



Tempus Fugit:
What was the inspiration for Bólido as a brand?
  
Pierre Nobs:
Since my retirement, I have worked as a consultant to watch companies and have had mandates to explore the challenges and opportunities presented by the new Swiss-made ordinance for watches that has been in effect since January of this year. Many small and mid-size brands struggle because the manufacturing of watch cases (especially in the lower price range), has moved in a broad way to China over the last decade.  The capacities of the remaining Swiss producers are fully taken-up by the large brands who can afford to pay the high prices demanded. As a student I learned, that the most economical manufacturing process is automatic lathing. This process, known as “Décolletage” is a very competitive industry  in Switzerland, with its largest customers being German car manufacturers. The biggest challenge in using this method is its inherent limitation in design. I took this problem to Simon earlier this year and he immediately became interested.

Courtesy of Bolido
The “making of Bólido” is described on our website www.bolido.rocks; and achieved by adding a second axis, Simon created a very reduced iconic form. Applying the monocoque construction technique that we used for both Ventura models and for the BRAUN watches designed and produced by Ventura.  So, it became clear that we had a very bold contemporary timepiece concept that needed a name to match.  The word “Bólido” is Spanish for meteor.  That name had been  in the back of my mind for a long time, and a quick search revealed that it was available for registration in classification 14, the trademark category for watches.  I also discovered the URL (Domain) bolido.rocks was also free for registration. And perhaps most importantly of all, an international watch brand needs to be pronounceable in as many languages as possible.  And best of all, somehow Bólido just befits Simon’s design.


Tempus Fugit:
What were some of the greatest challenges in bringing the prototype to life?

Pierre Nobs:
Designing a conceptually new timepiece is always a fascinating adventure and the challenges that come along are always unexpected. While the outer form was mainly dictated by the manufacturing method, it took us an unusually long time to decide on the final dial graphics.
But the biggest challenge had to do with our Kickstarter presentation. As long-time professionals, we did not feel that it was necessary to tinker with actual prototypes at this stage; Simon and I used 3D rendering for some time and animation has been our preferred method to perfectly visualize a project. After months of preparation, we submitted our presentation to Kickstarter for review and were completely destroyed when they said “sorry, no renderings”!

It took us some time to recover from that blow.  It was clear that we would have to replace our beautiful digital images, and to do that we needed prototypes for old-fashioned pictures and videos.  And we needed them in a hurry! Working 20 hours a day and using 3D metal printing, we managed to produce a couple of perfect samples and to rearrange the Kickstarter presentation in 8 days. I am not sure that words can describe our relief when Kickstarter finally gave us the green light.  



Tempus Fugit:
With so many Kickstarter watches coming out, what sets Bólido apart?

Pierre Nobs:
Hey, just look at the images! Most crowdfunding watch projects try to mimic conventional watches and work with the cost argument only. They use as many standard components as possible for reasons of availability and cost; few are projects with a totally new case design.  With the Bólido, the only standard part is, in fact the caoutchouc strap from Bonetto.  The Swiss STP 1.11 movement is customized, decorated and regulated by us, and all the other parts are entirely custom made in Switzerland.  We have a world-wide service plan already in place.  The fact that we will be able to provide spare parts and a reliable repair network within a Kickstarter project is highly uncommon; most start-ups talk about warranty and service, but have no clue of what it takes.  They often don’t realize that without a professional service network and the necessary logistical support, their warranty pledge is worth zero. I think that this is one of the most reassuring and convincing points in our presentation. 

Courtesy of Bolido

Tempus Fugit:
After the Kickstarter campaign is complete, what are the plans for distribution?

Pierre Nobs:
Firstly, we need to incorporate.  We just didn’t have the time for those trivialities until now :-).
A completely new website with a state-of-the-art online shop is in development so that it can be implemented right after the campaign.  Initially, we planned to sell only online through www.bolido.rocks directly to consumers only.  Having struggled in vain for years to establish Ventura as a retail brand, I was determined not to start fighting for shelf-space again.
But to my total surprise, it is now the retailers that are coming to us for Bólido!   They are hot for a stand-alone, stand-apart Swiss mechanical timepiece in a price range of $650 to $690.  So, we will give B2B an important role. Another possibility that we are investigating is to use 3rd-party online platforms in addition to our own online shop, why not take Bólido to main street?



Tempus Fugit:
Who do you feel the Bólido customer will be?
 
Pierre Nobs:
After the boom of smart watches, a lot of consumers are turning back to individually manufactured mechanical watches, ones that don’t require constant up-grading, charging, etc. They want to make their own statement with what they wear on their wrist. What has changed, is price awareness.  People are just no longer ready to pay these ridiculous prices!  But a nice looking traditional timepiece in the same price range as the Apple watch has a fair chance. We are looking at the same guys who use the convenience of a smart watch but like to own something “ticking” and long-lasting as well. 



Tempus Fugit:
Tell us about the Bólido model itself, what were the design clues?

Pierre Nobs:
As mentioned earlier on, there are not many ways to give a distinctive look to a ring turned on a lathe. Simon’s idea to use a second angle is as simple as it is brilliant. The virtue of Bólido’s design is that it does not appear to be designed; it’s a total reduction to a basic, archaic, ultimate mother of all forms. Its timeless…not bad for a timepiece, no? 


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