Through its watches, indie watchmaker H Moser & Cie has given luxury watch consumers much to think about. Still, its CEO Edouard Meylan wants more to be done.
Being small doesn’t mean that you can’t have a voice. In the luxury watchmaking industry, one brand is making waves, raising questions and straight-up going to town on the areas where others fear to tread. H Moser & Cie is an independent, Swiss, family-run business that has a thing for challenging the norm, even if that means ruffling a few feathers along the way.
Leading the charge is its CEO Edouard Meylan, who is an archetypal Swiss gentleman from Le Brassus. In the six years that Meylan has helmed the company, he has tripled its revenue, increased overall production efficiency and evolved its image from one of a traditional and unassuming manufacture to a dynamic and creative brand backed by immense manufacturing depth.
Naturally outspoken and very eloquently so, Meylan, 42, is a native of Vallée de Joux. That’s probably why he’s so fiercely protective of the traditions and values that define the Swiss watchmaking. His overhaul of H Moser & Cie in 2013 started at a time when the industry was still reeling from its greatest trial since the 1970s quartz crisis.
Going against the grain
“As an independent brand, you need to be different, you need to be singular in a way. Moser has an amazing tradition, with beautiful manufacturing and great products. My role was to take these and make it different from the others. We brought a fresh dynamic touch that’s rare in traditional watchmaking. We still have the same history, we still manufacture everything in-house, but we’ve brought a little sexiness to the brand,” says Meylan.
Meylan acquired H Moser & Cie and its sister company Precision Engineering together with his father and brother. His father is Georges-Henri Meylan, who was CEO of Audemars Piguet from 1968 to 2008. Through Melb Holding, of which the senior Meylan is president, the family also owns another independent Swiss watchmaking brand, Hautlence.
At the beginning, there were over 75 employees at H Moser, but that number came down to 40. Says Meylan: “We saw quite quickly who agreed with our vision and who didn’t. We also saw our team getting younger. The ones who left did so because they couldn’t adapt to the new management. We speak differently, we address one another by first name, there’s a more informal way, a more start-up culture, and that was difficult for some people.”
Meylan also made changes to the internal production processes to increase efficiency and enhance flexibility. This would allow H Moser to make limited editions, unique pieces, new dials and so on in a shorter amount of time. This proved difficult for the older generation to accept, and being unable to adapt, they chose to leave. But as time progressed, the company grew again, this time in a more streamlined manner. According to Meylan, staff strength by 2017 had increased to 60 and more crucially, revenue tripled, which clearly proves that the strategy implemented by the new management is working.
With the company back on its feet, Meylan devoted himself to redefining H Moser & Cie for the modern consumer and a digital audience. The collections were primarily the same but there’s a heightened focus on quality watchmaking. Special designs like the smoked fume dials in an array of different colours became one of the most definitive features of H Moser & Cie timepieces, so much so that the company could make and sell watches without a logo but collectors instantly recognised them as a product of the Schaffhausen manufacture.
Making debranded watches
In 2015, H Moser & Cie started making watches with all those hallmarks but no logo. The Concept Series, which included models like the Venturer Small Seconds Purity, embodies a ‘less is more’ philosophy and was a subtle dig at brands built on nothing but marketing and hype.
It probably wasn’t planned as such but the Concept Series ultimately became the first of a succession of horological concepts that confronted issues that everybody was in the industry thinking but nobody was saying.
“If you look at the Swiss Alp Watch, it’s really about asking people what their take is on the connected watch. Is it a threat to the watch industry? There are so many brands taking mechanical watches and making them connected. People have asked me if I’ll make a connected watch. I said no. We wanted to express in a provocative way what Moser stands for. Moser is about tradition yet open to the rest. We want to combine a very modern design inspired by connected watches but make it mechanical because that’s what we believe in. Our vision of the future of watchmaking is about staying true to traditional watchmaking even if there are other things coming,” says Meylan.
He elaborates: “If the mechanical watch had to die, then quartz would have killed it. Or the mobile phones. So why would smartwatches kill the mechanical watch? No. We need to live together and find a way to collaborate and that was the best example we could find. Even if it was provocative, it communicated the right message about what we stand for.”
Next came a watch made of cheese
With the Swiss Alp Watch in 2016, H Moser & Cie spoke up about connected watches. With the Swiss Mad Watch in 2017, it confronted a different and more serious issue: is Swiss-made really Swiss?
“At that time people were super excited about the new Swiss-made regulations, thinking that we were improving the Swiss-made label, and that it’s going to be stronger. I spoke to collectors and they all thought that Swiss-made means 100 per cent made in Switzerland,” says Meylan.
In 2017, Swiss authorities announced a change to the Swiss Made label. From that point onwards, for a watch to qualify as Swiss-made, at least 60 percent of the entire production cost must be incurred in Switzerland, as opposed to 50 percent. In other words, the Swiss government has made the criteria 10 percent more stringent than before. Yet 60 percent is still not 100 percent.
Says Meylan: “I wanted to address that, but if I write it down in a letter who’s going to read it? Then we realised that sometimes pictures or products or symbols say more than words. This is the reason we created the Swiss Mad Watch and it worked extremely well.”
He began by thinking about different ideas of making a watch that was literally 100 percent Swiss-made, so Meylan needed to come up with Swiss materials for the movement, strap and case. The idea for the strap came while driving back home from his office one day.
“I saw this kid on my way home from work carrying a backpack that all Swiss kids carried. It was made of cowskin. For me it’s typical Swiss. So I said we needed to make the strap in cowskin. But for the case, it’s more challenging. We don’t have gold. We also talked about chocolate but the cacao we use is imported. Then there’s mineral quartz and salt… and then we thought of cheese. That’s it,” he recalls.
Naturally the idea was a little hard to swallow at first but Meylan convinced his team, who assured him that a cheese watch was impossible to make. Yet because Meylan had had the chance to work with Richard Mille and picked up on the technology used to make the special NTPT cases, he was adamant it could work.
“We tried for six months and at the beginning it was really crap. Some stunk like a disaster, until we finally found the right way to produce one piece,” he reveals.
Launched in January 2017, this high-calcium timepiece was all the watch industry could talk about. A cheese watch made in Switzerland—that sounds so wrong yet so right. But love it or hate it, at least the message was clear and H Moser & Cie succeeded in highlighting the inadequacies of the Swiss-made label.
A tribute to the icons gone awry
Next, H Moser & Cie set out to tackle the issue of over-marketing. In what must have been the most controversial product created in the history of watchmaking, Meylan wanted to underscore the fact there are two kinds of brands: those built on substance and those built on hype.
“The goal was to create something very positive. I wanted to make something that people can stand for, be a proud part of the Swiss industry. That’s why we made a watch that’s iconic of all that what makes Swiss watchmaking successful,” he relates.
His good intentions to pay tribute to the greatest icons of the industry, unfortunately, got mistaken as a cruel lampooning of eight major luxury watch brands. The Swiss Icons Watch had a Rolex GMT-Master-inspired 24-hour bezel insert in blue and red; a Panerai-inspired crown guard and hour markers; an IWC-inspired logo design; Breguet hands; tourbillon with Girard-Perregaux-inspired arrow head gold bridge; blue Patek Philippe Nautilus-inspired dial; Hublot-inspired H-shaped screws; Cartier-inspired fluted crown with cabochon sapphire; and an Audemars Piguet Royak Oak-inspired octagonal bezel. It was a terrible-looking watch, but in Meylan’s defence, that was not the point.
Meylan explains: “It was an interesting exercise because we found some big brands that didn’t have anything to be inspired by. Unfortunately, we didn’t implement our campaign properly and the message got misunderstood by people. It didn’t work the way we intended. This watch was supposed to be a tribute to the icons.”
He continues: “We were trying to criticise certain aspects of communication from certain brands who don’t produce anything, are not true manufactures, and just rely on influencers and bullshit marketing. So we’re trying to say these are the good guys and some others are the bad guys. But it got misinterpreted.”
Will H Moser & Cie continue to create products that spotlight key developments in the watch industry? Meylan makes no promises but as an independent brand, the company definitely has the freedom to get its opinions out. He asserts that people need to understand there are different types of brands. “There are real, true, non-opportunistic brands based on tradition and are producing innovative products and not just marketing. People must look beyond the artificial image that anyone with enough money can create.
“I think the watch industry has become so driven by numbers that eventually brands start flooding the market [with watches]. Huge numbers flow over to the grey market because people were not monitoring sell-out but sell-in. And there’s a sudden backlash because demand reduced, everything was discounted, destroying beautiful brands. Overproduction is probably the biggest issue… a lot of short cuts and compromises on the product. For a time, people thought they could sell anything to anyone,” says Meylan.
Driven by his passion for watches and love for the Swiss watchmaking industry, Meylan’s ambition is for the industry to be completely transparent, with fairer practices in place, so that consumers know exactly what they’re getting into. Even if it involves slaying a few sacred cows, he’ll find a way to deliver the bitter pill that the industry so desperately needs sometimes.