Favre-Leuba, the Swiss watch much loved by an earlier generation of Indians before disappearing from the country in the 1980s, is all set to make a comeback, having been bought over by the Tatas. Company CEO Thomas Morf spoke to MW about his plans.
Favre-Leuba was one of the favourite watches amongst the Indian middle class in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Is that the reason why the Tatas bought the brand and decided to revive it?
Favre-Leuba was the first Swiss watch brand to come to India, so it has a long relationship with India. The brand’s history and heritage as the second oldest Swiss watch brand piques the interest of ardent horologists as well as watch hobbyists. Keeping a pulse on its customers, Titan recognised their interest in the brand’s rich legacy and its solid foundation and hence the Tata group decided to partake in the purchase.
After studying the many designs and the brand philosophy from its early years into its heydays, the team re-presented this philosophy in a modern and contemporary manner by contextualising the brand’s DNA to the present and supporting it with a brand claim which has been proved time and again — Conquering Frontiers.
Tell us more about the brand.
Favre-Leuba garners almost 280 years of legacy in innovative watch-making and engineering. Ingenuity, authenticity, defiance and pioneering spirit are some of the attributes associated with the brand since its inception in 1737. Favre-Leuba was responsible for shaping the Swiss watch industry into what it is today. It engineered many firsts with its watches and movements, such as the Bivouac, the first mechanical altimeter on the wrist, Bathy, the first mechanical dive watch with depth gauge, FL251 movement, the slimmest movement and so on, as well as its pioneering in distribution across the globe, from Germany to Russia, Cuba to New York as well Brazil to Chile to India, in the 1820s.
The story is that at one point in the 1980s, before it was shut down, it was said that the Favre-Leuba factory in Switzerland was kept going only because of the Indian market. Is this true?
No, this is not exactly true, but India has always played a significant role in the history and commercial success of Favre-Leuba. After World War II, it was due to the brand’s own offices in the country that Favre-Leuba enjoyed a stability in the subcontinent, which allowed it to win back its position in many other markets.
You have held distinguished positions with very well established brands. What made you join Favre-Leuba, since the brand name has been dormant for nearly three decades?
Favre-Leuba is a brand I knew since my childhood and I have admired it since the very beginning. It was a household name for fine timepieces. I remember a story from 1972, when I was standing in front of a retailer’s window admiring Favre-Leuba and other famous Swiss watch brands before going to swim classes. I always wanted a cool looking watch with a rotating bezel, and Favre-Leuba offered products with that feature. Having the privilege to get your hands on such an iconic watch brand and to represent it on a global stage is a huge responsibility. You have to be very careful in what you do with the brand. It is an honour to get this opportunity.
How will the new Favre-Leuba be different from the old one? Will the entire watch be made in-house, including the movement?
The watch will be designed and engineered in-house. Favre-Leuba has always had its own unique brand identity, be it from an aesthetic, technical or commercial angle, making it unique compared to any other brand. If you look at the current design of our products, you will notice that they have a unique language — details such as the rotating bezel from the Bivouac, the bridge design and step layering from the Bathy, the tetradecagon from the Deep Blue, the lugs and indices from the Sea Chief, were studied and integrated to the design of the new line. What we therefore see today is a collection that is distinct and contemporary, which bridges the gap between the past and the future, and most importantly, one which will tomorrow be easily identifiable as Favre-Leuba. The one differentiation from the past, would be that the watches are larger and sportier in design, thereby imbibing a more contemporary look.
How do you plan to recreate the brand magic among a new generation of middle class in India?
The brand will be represented in the global market and all countries will be important. Having said that, Favre-Leuba certainly has a connect with Indian consumers, and this surely plays an important role in the brand’s relationship with the country. Furthermore, being the first Swiss brand that entered India and having such high awareness and recall amongst the older generation, it helps in telling the story of our brand claim, “Conquering Frontiers”, as the brand has showcased this ideology to the people from this land. However, we also acknowledge that the brand is not well known amongst the younger generation and therefore we will need to build awareness and desirability with them.
With their global mindset, we believe the audience is ready to accept a brand that challenges the status quo and is no longer only looking for the cheapest deals. If we go with a strong proposition and can prove the value the brand delivers, we will surely be able to gain the confidence of the market through our price points.