Swiss watchmaking may reign supreme in the world of watches but a number of German brands are reaping success in the UK marketplace. Kathryn Bishop reports.
While WatchPro and the UK watch industry have been rightfully distracted by the burgeoning number of British brands coming to market, edging their way into our consciousness, armed with a fistful of masterfully manufactured watches, are the Germans.
With rising demand for niche independent brands in the UK it seems that the time is finally right – and the market wholly ready – to accept this new and unusual wave of watch brands. And boy, are they good.
The brands themselves are not strictly new to the scene, more that there has been a renewed interest in their offer. Names like A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original have been around for more than 100 years, while others such as NOMOS Glashütte are only a few decades old but boast a wide and varied customer base that is growing on a global level.
Now, as the UK market evolves to meet customer spend, it appears that more retailers are picking up on the good and great from Germany, while the brands themselves are recognising the potential of the UK market.
For Matthew Warren, director of e-commerce at CW Sellors – Jura, it is the quality of German-made watches that makes them appealing to British consumers and retailers alike. “[The quality] is very important and though some of the brand names might not yet be well known, discerning customers who want a well made product will find it in a German watch,” he explains. “Brands like Sinn, for example, have watches in similar price brackets to TAG Heuer and they are just as good a quality as a TAG.”
At CW Sellors – Jura the retailer’s relationship with German watch brands began about five years ago, with Warren revealing that he discovered its first German watch brand – Archimede – through online watch forums. “I read about a lot guys who had bought watches directly from Archimede and were praising their quality; they had ETA movements, great design and were only about £300,” Warren explains. “I saw that there was potential to bring them to the UK and so I approached the brand.”
Archimede was followed by Sinn at CW Sellors – Jura, a brand that Warren describes as a commercial success for them, and has since paved the way for a repertoire of brands that includes MeisterSinger, NOMOS Glashütte and the retailer’s newest acquisition, Mühle Glashütte.
The small town of Glashütte, not far from Dresden, has become synonymous with German watchmaking and its name is a regular feature in the marketing collateral of brands as a sign of distinction and quality.
Nomos Glashütte is a fast growing German watch brand and, while it is yet to even celebrate its silver anniversary, it has already become a success story for retailers in the UK.
“Nomos is particularly interesting among the German brands,” Warren says. “I like the style of the watches, they look nice with suits and I love that Nomos make the watches themselves.” He adds that the quality is extremely high and that, like Sinn, the brand has been very popular and is one of CW Sellors – Jura’s top five watch brands.
Leicester’s independent watch retailer Stewart’s Watches has also enjoyed the Nomos effect. While the store is still relatively new – it opened in March 2011 – its owner Robert Stewart says the brand was always in mind to stock in-store, after he discovered it while working for pre-owned watch specialist Austin Kaye in London.
“A lot of watches came through [Austin Kaye] but one day someone came in with a Nomos Club watch and my first thought was that it was totally my sort of watch,” Stewart explains. “It was not quite classic and I loved the design.”
When opening his store Stewart also took on single-hand watch pioneers MeisterSinger. “I found that once I had the two German watch brands it made me dig that little bit deeper for more,” he explains. Today Stewart’s Watches sells German watches by Nomos, MeisterSinger, Junghans, Max Bill, Mühle Glashütte and Tutima.
Stewart chose to stock German watches in an effort to offer something different to the watches typical of high street jewellers and the multiples. He explains that many high street watch retailers have likely been feeling the pressure of selling well-known branded watches and the constraints that can come with them such as specified window space, shop-in-shops and PoS. “We don’t have anything too mainstream, which was a deliberate choice,” Stewart explains.
For those distributing German watch brands in the UK, the new mood for the watches comes as some of the brands have shaken up their offer or are moving in new directions.
Richard Saffer of DJJ Distribution has been working with Chronoswiss, a German brand despite its name, for three years through a natural progression working at family-run jewellers Harpers in Yorkshire. The store was the second to take on Chronoswiss in England and today Saffer also distributes the German brands Benzinger and Tutima.
“Tutima and Chronoswiss have developed their models since I started working with them,” Saffer explains. “Tutima hadn’t changed for 10 years until recently, just pushing the same two lines, its NATO watch and its FX collection, but in recent years it has brought out its Grand Classic lines with bigger case sizes that make it a little more modern.”
Saffer notes that the price points are what make Tutima and Chronoswiss stand-out watch brands, with a fully titanium Tutima divers’ watch retailing at about £1,000, something he says is amazing value considering it is mechanical and meticulously German made.
“Germans make watches like they make cars – they’re solid,” Saffer states.
Paul Kustow, UK distributor of Nomos Glashütte and MeisterSinger, has been busy building the two brands’ presence in retailers and in the space of two years is already on an upwards trajectory. “We are heading for between 15 and 20 retail doors for each brand and by the end of 2013 and I anticipate this will extend to between 25 and 30 plus,” he reveals.
While Kustow says the brands’ small marketing budgets have perhaps hindered its ability to raise wider consumer awareness, watch blogs and forums have been instrumental in building the Nomos and MeisterSinger names, and London watch show Salon QP has also been an opportunity for enthusiasts to see the watches up close – with MeisterSinger set to show at the Saatchi Gallery event for the first time next month.
Looking ahead Kustow says that retailer exclusivity will be instrumental in his brands’ success. “We want to maximise [retailers’] investment in our brands,” he explains. “With careful and considered product development continuing from each company the market will grow substantially through each retailer selling NOMOS and MeisterSinger.”
A stone’s throw from the Nomos headquarters in Glashütte is the home of Mühle Glashütte. Its chief executive Thilo Mühle says that the UK was a logical new market for the brand after the increase in requests from the UK via its website. It is now working with The Blue Company to build brand awareness. “Considering that we only started [working together] four months ago, we are already very successful,” Mühle explains. “You can find our watches in retailers such as Watches of Switzerland, CW Sellors – Jura and Watchshop.”
Mühle adds that he wants his retail partnerships to create an atmosphere that makes it fun to sell the brand’s watches. “For us, partnership does not mean the application of permanent pressure,” he says. Looking ahead the brand is set to develop its women’s collections further which, at present, account for about 20% of its offer.
Also in Glashütte is the grand home of A. Lange & Söhne, a brand that was founded in 1845 by Ferdinand A. Lange, who established the first production facility for pocket watches in Glashütte, training 15 young people. Today its manufactory is set to expand further to enable the brand to continue its expansion after five years of constant growth.
A. Lange & Söhne’s Clemens Von Walzel described the brand’s development in the UK as following a selective distribution strategy that ensures that the brand is being represented “prominently at the best retailers”. At present A. Lange & Söhne is located in five UK boutiques including Pragnells in Stratford-upon-Avon and Wempe on Bond Street. It also opened in Harrods’ watch room in November last year.
A. Lange & Söhne has been in the UK market for 15 years and has welcomed a recent flush of interest. “Our timepieces have enjoyed increasing demand in the UK over the last few years,” explains Von Walzel.
Tom McCulloch works with German brand Junghans and its Max Bill offshoot in the UK, and regards A. Lange & Söhne as a source of inspiration that has helped to develop a shining reputation for German watches in the UK market.
The Junghans brand started afresh in the UK in recent years owing to a change of distributor. It cut back from 65 stockists to 15 and has since carefully rebuilt its retail network to almost 40 retailers, placing the brand in stores that it feels better aligned with, such as Watches of Switzerland and online clothing site Mr. Porter, the male equivalent of global online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.
“We see ourselves as a viable alternative for retailers who are seeking a quality watch brand to develop a significant relationship with,” McCulloch explains. “We have deliberately set low entry stocking levels to allow independents to take the brand on and provide all of the PoS and customer-facing literature for free.”
McCulloch says Junghans plans to become “a major player” in the UK watch market – as shown by its recent appearance at the IJL jewellery and watch trade show in London – with watches priced upwards of £500.
“Harrods has been a target from day one and we have had two very productive meetings so far,” he reveals. “In the near future we would aim to have a position in the watch room.”
Feedback from retailers outlines that German brands are able to fill a gap in the market where Swiss brands, with their constant price hikes, have priced themselves out of the reach of many consumers.
“Most shoppers coming in just want a watch that tells the time and they find that German watches fit the bill,” explains Stewart. “Most of them are in their 40s and 50s and are ready to spend upwards of £1,200, but we’re also getting customers in their 20s who like the preppy look of watches by Nomos and Max Bill [Junghans], which are really popular right now.”
Warren concedes that German watches could comfortably fill the £800 to £1,500 price gap left by some Swiss brands, while Saffer says the UK is steadily picking up for Chronoswiss and Tutima and reiterates the growing responsiveness to German brands. “There is a big awareness of German watch brands now and the momentum is going to keep going as they allow consumers to step into the mechanical watch arena without having to spend £4,000,” he explains.
Terry Cordy of distributor Classic Time, which works with German brands Zeppelin, Elysee and Junkers, says the increase in awareness has been due to the desire for a particular style of timepiece. “There is a trend for nostalgia and anything retro inspired seems to work,” he explains. “The market is now opening up to watch enthusiasts with a smaller budget who want reliable timepieces without having to spend thousands of pounds.”
Perhaps then, while many of the German brands remain niche, both through choice and limited marketing spend, there is potential for British retailers to tap into this exciting and growing part of the market and to pioneer what are becoming favoured brands among discerning watch collectors and savvy shoppers.
This article was taken from the October 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine, out now. To view a digital version of the magazine click here.