French startup Reservoir exhibited at Baselworld for a second time this year, presenting a coherent collection of retrograde minute and jumping hour watches inspired by vintage counters and gauges. A few months later WatchPro hears that the watches will be stocked by one of the most respected family jewellers in the UK. How did this fresh face come so far in such a short time? Rob Corder looks behind the scenes of the Parisian business to find out.
Reservoir is a case study in how to successfully create and launch a watch business. The company appeared from nowhere at Baselworld in 2017, presenting a range of prototype watches that were only made possible thanks to a crowdfunding campaign that raised £390,000. By Baselworld 2018, the company was presenting its second full production collection, and meeting with some of the world’s most prestigious retailers.
One of those retailers was George Pragnell, one of the most respected family jewellers in the UK (see interview with managing director Charlie Pragnell), which has already committed to stocking Reservoir watches from June this year. CW Sellors, a watch retailer specialising in independent watch brands at its 16 UK boutiques, has also listed the brand this year. These are the types of reference deals likely to encourage even greater interest in the fledgling watchmaker, according to Neil Duckworth, managing director of Reservoir’s UK distributor Veritime.
The speed at which Reservoir has reached this level of recognition is not unique, but it is rare, particularly for a company producing Swiss-made mechanical watches with patented designs that sell for around £3000.
The first way to look for clues to this success is to use the method of legendary investor Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest men in the world, whose research always starts with the owners and management team of any business he might back. In the case of Reservoir, this uncovers two key men: chief executive and founder François Moreau and angel investor Thierry Chaunu, whose company Beau Geste Luxury Brands is also distributor for Reservoir in North America.
Mr Moreau is new to running a watch company, but is entirely comfortable in the world of high finance and high net worth individuals who might become customers of Reservoir. He is also a global citizen, having worked in the highest echelons of the banking industry, mainly the wealth management division of HSBC, in France, Japan and Hong Kong since 2000. Before that he was a senior executive at Leroy-Somer, a world leader in engineering, industrial scale electric motors, drives and power generation.
The Parisian set up Reservoir in his home city with the support of Mr Chaunu, a man steeped in expertise for luxury watches and jewellery. His career in the business started in the 1980’s with Cartier, where he was a senior product manager in Paris, before he was promoted and transferred to New York as vice president marketing for the brand. In 1991 he joined Christofle as president North America, before become president of North America for Chopard, a role that made him a regular at red carpet events rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sir Elton John, Sharon Stone and Brooke Shields. In 2005, he became president & COO of diamond company Leviev, opening flagship boutiques in London, New York, Moscow, Dubai and Singapore. These experiences led him into consultancy for brands including Louis Vuitton High Jewelry, Chaumet, Mauboussin, Jacob&Co, L’Azurde and the establishment of his own distribution company Beau Garde.
On the business development front is Francois Nakkachdji, who joined Reservoir from Rolex, where he was a general manager for the watchmaker in China. And Guillaume de Bonvouloir, who spend five years as sales manager for TAG Heuer in France.
With credentials, reputations and finances from entrepreneurs like Mr Moreauu and Mr Chaunu, Reservoir was never going to be launched without ambitious targets, and so it has proved.
Appearing at back-to-back Baselworlds before the business had sold more than a handful of watches is the sort of ballsy move that will make or break a startup company, and it appears to be the making of Reservoir. The company has also exhibited at Couture in Las Vegas this month, alongside Eberhard and Chronoswiss, which are also distributed by Beau Geste.
Reservoir’s current collection illustrates a clarity of thought that is driven by a passion for watchmaking, design and also business. The entire range runs off a modified ETA 2824-2 movement, a workhorse unit known for its reliability and accuracy. It drives watches with a retrograde minute hand that dominates the top two thirds of every dial, with a jumping hour below the centre and a 37-hour power reserve indicator below that at 6 o’clock on the face.
All watches are assembled, checked and calibrated by a watchmaking partner in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, so that Reservoir can display the Swiss Made stamp of quality on each of its dials.
These are the fundamentals of the business that give it every chance of success. Everything else is sales, marketing and a question of taste. Ultimately the company will only grow if enough people like the design of Reservoir watches enough to spend £3000 on one when they could instead buy an Omega, TAG Heuer or Breitling for the same price.
The design is certainly memorable. Every watch is inspired by some sort of counter or gauge, be that from a car’s dashboard, the instruments of an aircraft or even the panel of a submarine. The Longbridge, which WatchPro reviews above, is a typical example. It is based on the speedometer of a classic 1960s Mini, and uses colours, typefaces and even the same needle shape for its retrograde minute hand that the carmaker used to mark miles per hour. Another 2018 novelty first seen at Baselworld is the GT Tour Carbon, a more contemporary design in all black with a forged carbon steel watch case and a sandblast finish dial inspired by the coating of motor racing tracks.
The company divides its watches into three easy to understand families headlined Cars, Aeronautics and Marine. This is hardly a unique arrangement of watches, but that is the sort of clear thinking that gives potential watch retail partners confidence.
Like all young companies, Reservoir will need a bit of luck to execute its plan and reach its potential, but this is a business that will make its own luck along the way, which is why WatchPro will be watching its progress with considerable interest.
24 hours with Reservoir’s Mini-inspired Longbridge watch
Reservoir is little more than a year old as a watchmaker, but the Paris-based business made a significant impact at this year’s Baselworld with its collection of timepieces inspired by the functionality and the aesthetics of vintage measuring instruments.
The company is the brainchild of Francois Moreau, who made his fortune managing the finances of the ultra-rich as a C-level executive at HSBC bank in Japan, Hong Kong and eventually his native France.
He must have rubbed shoulders with plenty of seasoned watch collectors in that time, and told WatchPro at Baselworld that he developed his own passion for haute horology over the years.
When he quit the banking rat race in 2015, he decided that he would rather be making watches than simply buying and collecting them, and assembled a team of designers and watchmakers that could bring his dream to life.
Along with a love of watches, Mr Moreau also adores the design, engineering and history of industrial machinery and, obscurely, has a particular passion for the measuring instruments that are such an essential part of mechanics found in aircraft, cars and even submarines.
These industrial instruments informed the fundamental design of Reservoir’s watches, which have retrograde minute hands that looks like the needle of a car’s speedometer, an airplane’s altimeter or a submarine’s pressure gauge.
They all have a jumping hour indicator at 6 o’clock, which might be mistaken for a car speedo’s mileage counter, and a power reserve indicator below the jumping hour that looks just like an old fashion fuel gauge.
The 2017 collection from Reservoir was the company’s first, and WatchPro was already intrigued, but in 2018 the concept truly hit the bullseye with the release of the Longbridge, a watch designed to look like the speedometer of the classic Minis that rolled off the production line of the Birmingham car maker in the 1960s.
The watch comes in a ladies’ and men’s versions, and it is the British racing green dialed model that WatchPro most admires and spent time with for this review.
The dark green immediately says motoring, and the black croc leather strap with green stitching is a perfect shade and style to complement the look.
So many details on the dial link back to the Mini, including the font of the hour markers, the indent at the centre and the shape of the minute hand.
There are even tiny red and blue dots labelled as engine and beams diodes; an ultimate homage to the original indicators of the Mini.
Reservoir has taken no chances on the mechanics of the Longbridge, powering the piece with a modified Swiss-made ETA 2824-2 movement that operates the retrograde minute hand, jumping hour and 37-hour power reserve.
The 39mm steel case is sharp and angular with a mixture of polished and unpolished surfaces. The screw-in crown is stamped with Reservoir’s four-sided logo. The winder connects to a special clutch in the movement that protects it when the time is being adjusted, and prevents any damage to the retrograde mechanism as you wind through the hours.
The detail and finish are impressive for such a striking £3500 talking piece of a watch and it is a delight to wear.
The 39mm size is smaller than all other Reservoir men’s watches, but I would encourage the watchmaker to adopt it more widely across its collections because it feels more modern than the larger models.
Two prestigious retailers have already committed to stocking Reservoir watches in the UK, perhaps attracted to the British styling of models like the Longbridge. The stature of these partners, which WatchPro will reveal in the coming weeks, will surprise many of their peers, and will likely nudge several other buyers to consider the brand.
That would be well-earned success for a start-up brand that has genuinely created a different, instantly recognisable style that we feel will find a significant customer base in this country, especially those who remember their first car was a Mini.