For independent watchmakers and small watch brands that are helping to make the watch market an increasingly dynamic arena, one of the biggest challenges is sourcing watch movements and other essential components.
Supply restrictions from some of the Swiss giants and a general lack of access threaten to stunt the growth and development of these fledgling or smaller companies. With that in mind, the launch of the VMF Private Label could open up opportunities for those watchmakers and smaller brands seeking more access to movements, components, knowledge and resources.
It was thanks to the Sandoz Family Foundation and its dedication to preserving high quality Swiss expertise that the Parmigiani Fleurier brand was established by Michel Parmigiani in 1996. The Sandoz Family Foundation is the main shareholder of Parmigiani and its associated manufacture, including the movements-maker Vaucher. Now, the Sandoz Family Foundation is bringing together a collection of watch manufactures, each of which has their own essential skill in the watch creation process, into a newly formed unit called the VMF Private Label, which is specifically geared up to sharing its production skills and output with smaller brands and watchmakers.
VMF Private Label comprises a selection of skilled watch manufactures including, Atokalpa, Elwin, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, Quadrance et Habillage and Les Artisans Boîtiers. Each of these companies is bringing to the table its luxury mechanical watchmaking expertise with the mission of giving smaller brands the opportunity to gain access to movements, dials, cases and finished products.
Previously, as part of a vertical integration strategy, the collection of companies in this Sandoz Family Foundation watchmaking group focused on the Parmigiani Fleurier brand. However, each of the companies also works with other luxury brands. Now, under the private label, these manufactures are combining their skills to support smaller brands. Between them, the companies within the private label possess all the skills needed to make a watch from start to finish. Their expertise and the resulting parts that are produced, including oscillators, precision-turned parts, mechanisms, cases and dials, are being opened up to smaller brands.
SUPPORTING SMALLER BRANDS
The VMF Private Label has been created with the very intention of seeking out smaller brands to work with and helping to strengthen their offer. For the Sandoz Family Foundation, the idea of the VMF Private Label is to encourage inventiveness and creativity, maintain contact between watchmakers and to “strengthen the spirit of enterprise and innovation, and to guarantee respect for the Swiss industrial tradition, a high level of quality and fundamental social values.”
The different expertise provided by the various companies means the private label offers everything required to create a watch. For instance, while Atokalpa, Elwin and Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier work with mechanisms, Quadrance et Habillage and Les Artisans Boîtiers are experts in packaging and casing.
Talking about the purpose of the union, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier managing director Jean-Daniel Dubois says: “We are offering talented brands the possibility of developing their business by personalising their mechanisms and allowing them to benefit from an established and independent production plant.
“In our prestige sector, we take orders of 25 pieces and upwards. We also offer services and products from Quadrance et Habillage and Les Artisans Boîtiers. We hope that this will allow us to contribute to preserving creative and diverse watchmaking skills and to help these brands grow as they benefit from our reactivity and fast delivery times. Our manufactory holds a large range of sizes adapted to our own supplementary models as well as numerous market models; we can take on the project management and can collaborate with the model manufacturers. Annual production is currently 25,000 pieces; in the long term we envisage this figure will be 35,000.”
The collaboration of expertise to help smaller brands is being welcomed within the UK watch industry. “We’re delighted to see any initiative in the industry that might provide additional support and resources to drive the independent watchmakers sector,” says Chris Ward, co-founder of British brand Christopher Ward. “In an industry dominated by a small number of major operators it’s vital that the energy, originality and choice injected by the independents is developed as strongly as possible – it makes for a far healthier industry for everyone and more choice for the consumer.”
Ward adds that the lack of access to high-end watchmaking expertise can be a hindrance for some small brands. “Across the watchmaking industry there are clearly a number of small watch brands and individuals with aspirations to compete in the high-end market,” he explains. “However, they almost invariably face severe limitations on the level of internal expertise available to them and may also have very limited access to high quality watchmaking expertise. As such, the VMF Private Label programme by the Sandoz Foundation could give these smaller companies a boost through the chance of tapping into a ready-made infrastructure. This will, of course, come at a price and it will also be vitally important that participants retain the responsiveness and individuality of their brands, which may potentially be compromised if they end up relying too heavily on third party input.”
Christiopher Ward is a British retailer that sells Swiss-made products and has found that a robust infrastructure is essential for development. “At Christopher Ward we are of course very aware of the challenges faced by an independent operator in such a concentrated industry,” says Ward. “In fact, it was those same challenges and pressures that convinced us to develop our business through our own highly developed infrastructure, including master watchmakers and direct access to all components and high-grade manufacturing. While the Private Label programme has no direct relevance to Christopher Ward we do hope that any independent watchmakers who participate find that they develop their capabilities and so ensure that independent watchmaking continues to provide the vital differentiation and creative energy that the industry needs.”
The combining of expertise and support from more established companies to newer brands is likely to benefit the watch industry as a whole. “People banding together, working collectively and playing off each others strengths is always positive in any industry,” says Anneke Short, co-founder and creative director of AMS Design Studio, a design and development studio that specialises in watches. “The tech industry is very good at this kind of thing, if you take Google for example, they are constantly funding young start-ups, looking for the next big thing. Why not do the same in the watch industry? Being competitive and creating a good quality product in a worldwide market is all about pulling in the same direction, these kind of associations are a good way to be more efficient and attractive to new clients.”
For brands and watchmakers in the UK this opening of production capacity and supply could offer some real opportunities for product development. Where restrictions on movements, components and watchmaking expertise threaten to stunt the growth of dynamic watchmakers and brands, the launch of the VMF Private label could herald the opening of doors and be the start of a wave of collaboration working in favour of the good of the industry.
Brands and watchmakers that are interested in finding out more about working with VMF Private Label are asked to contact the Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier head of business development department, Florin Niculescu.
Phone: +41 79 668 58 33
This article first appeared in the September issue of WatchPro.
To access this and more articles, you can read the digital version of the September issue here.