Ten years ago, a holding group owned by the Meylan family bought the then founder H. Moser & Cie., An independent Swiss watch brand with roots from 1828. The then 35-year-old Edouard Meylan was put at the helm to revitalize the brand and become one of The youngest top executives ever to run a watch company. By changing its course, Mr. Meylan has created an almost cult-like following.
His groundbreaking product design, provocative communication and trendy collaborations resonate with today’s younger collectors. Sir. Meylan recently discussed his latest street-culture collaboration with the American streetwear fashion brand Undefeated, his brands’ avant-garde attitude and its aversion to ever becoming “classic”. His comments in a video interview from H. Moser’s headquarters in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, have been edited and condensed.
When you first took over H. Moser, did you know which direction to go?
To be honest, we thought the brand was too big for us as a family as an investment, but everything went so fast that we were not aware as much as we should have about the brand’s financial situation. Therefore, we were probably the only ones who would invest; they were days away from bankruptcy. So when we acquired Moser, we just jumped at it.
I knew we could not do what all other brands did. But we had some good watches to work with, like the eternity calendar. So in 2013 and 2014, we tried to play with colors and materials. And so, boom: In 2015, the Funky Blue eternity calendar was a hit. Then, boom, the concept comes, and we saw the market say, “Oh, that’s cool.” Bogs were never cool before. I started thinking that maybe we’re in on something. We began to find younger languages and expressions. We started using provocation, humor and activism and it started putting Moser on the map.
How does it help to be an independent brand versus a group brand?
We can do things that larger group-owned brands cannot with their marketing and message. Our latest watch released this year is the Streamliner Chronograph Blacker Than Black, with a watch case plated in Vantablack material [a process said to absorb most visible light]. The message was about showing a glimpse of the future of our industry. When you go to an exhibition, you will of course want to see the new pieces from the brands, but you will also want to see something different, to discover the concept of watches. Or, as in car shows, you want to discover the Ferrari of the future, or the BMW concept car with all the gadgets you would never see in a production car. This attracts people and then we can engage them in what else we have to offer.
Who is your target market?
Our prices start at around $ 13,000 so a younger collector looking to buy an indie brand can do so. The age of our average customer today versus 10 years ago has dropped by 20 to 30 years, even though we have watches selling for as much as $ 90,000. It sounds a bit extreme, but we see our brand talking to Millennial and Gen X and Gen Y customers.
We produce just about 2,000 watches a year, so we often have waiting lists. What makes them so in demand has a lot to do with our minimalist aesthetic design and our bold fumé gradient discs in multiple tones like Funky Blue and Matrix Green. At $ 40,000 for average sales, consumers should like what we do.
H. Moser has published a wealth of collaborations. How did they work for the brand?
The one with MB&F, an independent Swiss manufacturer, both brands helped a lot in May 2020, when everyone was battling the Covid-19 pandemic. We thought it would be the worst time to launch, but in fact it was the best time because no one launched anything and we had this amazing alliance. We also made a collaboration with the menswear brand The armor and with some artists. What I like about collaborations is the process of reviewing the discussions and trying to have as few boundaries as possible.
On June 15, we announce a partnership with the Los Angeles-based urban streetwear and sneaker brand Undefeated. The relationship was initiated by Eric Peng Cheng, co-owner of Undefeated. He came to us because he is a fan of watches and of Moser. I got this email from him and thought, ‘Oh, that must be spam.’ I asked if it really was him. He said yes, and that he had bought two Moser Streamliner watches, and that one day he would make an H. Moser collaboration. I said yes right away, even though it took a couple of years to get here.
I have always wanted to go outside the primeval world, and Undefeated has this huge community of people who just love aesthetics and who have street culture and attitude. People who are willing to spend $ 1,000 on a pair of sneakers can buy our watches. And for the first time, we are doing something about our Streamliner collection, adding patterns and new design codes that our current Moser collectors have not seen before. So the all-black DLC, or diamond-like coating, in stainless steel H. Moser Streamliner Chronograph X Undefeated is a chronograph in limited edition with both logos and a very moody camo pattern on the dial.
I love the way Undefeated makes their product drops and the way they communicate. I knew we could learn so much from each other while expanding our audience.
H. Moser is known for streaks of political activism in certain watches.
For us, it’s about doing things differently. Certain watches we published were about the message. The Swiss Alpine Clock [in the shape of an Apple Watch] was a message about how smart watches will not replace mechanical. Swiss Mad watch made of real cheese [inside a resin case] offered our vision of what Swiss-made should be. It was satire and demonstrated how the marketing of an indie brand can be daring and different. That Nature [with a stone dial, a grass strap and a case nestled in live plants] was created to express our views on corporate responsibility and sustainability.
Is there a risk with such releases?
If we became a classic, it would be hard to stand out. We would be up against the big name brands that are classics. So these statements are not risky at all. Moser fills a void in the market between traditional and modern watchmaking: We retain the essence of traditional watchmaking with details like finishes, gold screws and more, but our watches are cool, sexy and offer a different vibe. The worst thing we could do would be to make a completely classic watch.