Swiss watch brand Revue Thommen relaunches in Hong Kong under ex-Chopard exec
Roland Buser hopes brand can play its part in reviving Swiss watchmaking, but admits it isn't the best time to be resurrecting a marque that's long suffered from chaotic management and lack of focus
Watch presentations are usually conservative affairs, reflecting not only the rather staid conventional thinking of those running Swiss brands, but also the canonical belief in the industry of adhering as closely as possible to a history and image of Switzerland that only really exists in marketing campaigns.
So it was rather unorthodox when Swiss brand Revue Thommen invited a beatboxer to entertain guests gathered for its launch in Hong Kong last month.
The unconventional entertainment mirrors neatly the unconventional recent history of Revue Thommen, a brand established in 1853 in the Swiss town of Waldenburg and famed more perhaps for the aviation instruments made by the parent company than the watch side of the business.
For years, Revue Thommen's watches suffered from a lack of investment and chaotic management that saw the brand sub-licensed to several companies in various markets around the world.
Now, led by former Chopard executive Roland Buser, a brighter future seemingly beckons for Revue Thommen. Buser garnered a reputation as something of a start-up specialist at Chopard as he was "there when we started the Hong Kong and Beijing offices from scratch", he says, so starting again from square one is not an unfamiliar position for the Swiss. Mainly though, Buser was looking for a project that had passion at its heart.
"I spent many years at big companies, and I've seen the good and the bad sides. But the reality is there are no watchmakers at the top level so there's a lack of real passion. The passion in the industry is really with the production side, those people in Switzerland." The challenge at Revue Thommen, however, is not only fraught with the risks of entering a crowded market, but Buser's personal and emotional investment in the brand. "I am from the same valley that Revue Thommen is originally from," he says.
One of the principal shareholders in the brand, Buser admits there is a sense of pride and duty to restore Revue Thommen to where he believes it should be, but it goes deeper.
Although his birthplace has fallen on hard times with "unemployment high, buildings standing empty, and companies pulling out", he says "there is a very special expertise in these valleys that has been handed down generation to generation".
"I want to maintain that, especially as I'm a third-generation watchmaker and from that valley. These are people we know, family friends, cousins. If we can help everyone in the valley that would be a dream."
Relaunching the brand hasn't been easy, Buser says, with lots of legacy issues.
"When we took over we had more than 400 references. That sounds impressive, but the depressing thing was that none of the watches fitted into collections, it didn't make any sense," he says.
Slimming down the range to 74 pieces has made things easier to manage and communicate. But there are more immediate challenges ahead as the watch market in China has slowed markedly primarily due to the Chinese government's crackdown on luxury gift giving.
"This isn't the best time to launch a brand, but then there never is," is Buser's take on the prevailing economic environment.
But he believes that Revue Thommen's rich history and the direction he has set for the company will pay dividends both for him and those back in Waldenburg.