Arnold & Son, a brand established in Switzerland in 1995, gets its name and reputation from John Arnold – an Englishman who created the first-ever chronometer, 240 years ago. Launched in India only a few months ago, the handcrafted timepieces have been selling well in India. The brand’s vice president, Anthony Von Moos, tells Shweta Mehta Sen about striking a balance between heritage and modernity, and his plans to enter new markets.
What makes this a good time for Arnold & Son to come to India? Tell us a bit about the background of the brand.
I know the market because of my past experience, working with Ulysse Nardin. I think we have a beautiful product that appeals a lot to the Indian customer. We’re a small brand dating back to 1764. The founder, John Arnold, was one of the most famous watchmakers in the world, and he is credited as the first person to make a chronometer. This was around the same era as Breguet in Paris. John Arnold’s main focus was really to measure movement. Currently, each model we make has its own movement. We make watches in limited quantities, ranging from a lower end of 10,000 Swiss Francs to certain pieces that sell for over 100,000 Swiss Francs. USA, the Middle East and Far East are our biggest markets, but we see great potential in India too. After being here for only a short time, and with minimal advertising, we can already see that clicks on our website from India have increased manifold, and people have shown interest in purchasing our watches.
What are the timepieces that have worked best from your 2018 collection?
From Baselworld, we had three important launches. One was the Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 tribute, in both steel and gold. It is a tribute to the anniversary of the original Chronometer No. 36 by John Arnold and has been a big success. Then the Globetrotter has been a phenomenal success – we’ve sold every piece that we brought to India. The feedback from Baselworld was that it was remarkable innovation at a phenomenal price. The third was the Time Pyramid Black Edition, which has done particularly well, even in the steel and gold versions. There is unanimous feedback about the Globetrotter delivering far more than its price would indicate. How do you manage to price it competitively? Pricing is always difficult. You have to look at the input that goes in in terms of materials as well as the input of research and development taken up to that time. Then you have to consider margins. There’s a formula to do it, I don’t know exactly how it’s done, but we’re still at that level of entry into 10,000 Swiss Francs. We know that we have to be very careful because there are other brands that are becoming aggressive at the entry level, coming in at 8,000 Swiss Francs or so. The idea is to try and get the costing down.
John Arnold was the most inventive watchmaker of his time. Centuries later, how do you think the brand embodies his philosophy and techniques? Is it also challenging to market Arnold & Son as a Swiss watch, when the founder was British?
To answer the second part of that question first, we like to say that we have English heritage, but we’re 100 per cent Swiss, so our Manufacture is in La Chaux-de-Fonds, above Neuchâtel. We use the heritage in the form of brand imagery and more. We use all the complications invented by Arnold. But at the same time, to be competitive, you always have to innovate and do new things. So a combination of the old and new is ideal, the perfect example of which is the Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 tribute. We have the old heritage, it’s still handmade, but it uses new technology.
Now that Arnold & Son is part of the FHH (Fondation Haute Horlogerie), are we likely to see it at SIHH?
For the moment there are lots of things going on with respect to fairs. We’ve decided that SIHH will be a nice venue for us, and we hope to be there in 2020. As far as Baselworld is concerned, we plan to be there in 2019. I personally feel that Baselworld is still a relevant place for Arnold & Son, unlike other brands that are leaving. For the next period of time, our focus has to be on looking at our distribution, how we are sold in retail and making new contacts with retailers, so it’s an important place for us.
How important are watch fairs for a luxury brand like yours?
At Baselworld, we don’t meet the general public. And if I don’t meet some retailers there, I can go to their respective countries, or they can come and spend a day with us at our Manufacture. Baselworld can be a very high pressure environment where you have one hour for a customer. At the factory, we can go through everything without time pressure. For the moment, though, trade fairs are still important. I think that for certain brands, maybe you’ve passed that stage.
As Arnold & Son enters new markets and strengthens its presence in existing ones, will production be scaled up to meet higher demand?
We have plenty of capacity at the Manufacture, so higher volumes are not a problem. Where it counts is the balance between exclusivity of the brand and the demand. We don’t necessarily want to be all over the world at every single retail point. We’d like to maintain our exclusivity. Our production is aligned in a manner that retail is never overstocked, and we want to grow it very steadily.