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In Conversation: Bertrand Meylan talks to us about Moser, and the secrets of the brand

by Peter Chong on August 3, 2018

We caught up with Bertrand Meylan, CEO of MELB Asia. The Meylan family controls, MELB who is the owner of the H. Moser & Cie, Hautlence and Precision Engineering.

Bertrand Meylan

Bertrand Meylan, born in 1981 is a board member of MELB Holding, an independent family based group. The patriach is none other than Georges-Henri Meylan, Bertrand’s father, who helmed Audemars Piguet during the growth spurt.  Bertrand’s brother Edouard is CEO of H. Moser, the flagship brand in the group. The group also holds shares in Hautlence and Precision Engineering.

Bertrand began his career in Hermes and Audemars Piguet. In 2010, he was responsible for managing Hautlence in Asia Pacific. MELB acquired Hautlence in 2012. He now is the CEO of MELB Asia and has responsibility for H. Moser and Hautlence in Asia, and De Bethune in China.

 

Bertrand Meylan. Photographed July 2018, Singapore.

 

We met up with Bertrand when he was in town to host the Deployant x Moser private dinner at Gattopadro. Before the guests arrived, we chatted about his business. Here is a sneak listen into our discussion.

 

H. Moser: Markets

We started with the standard, “How’s the business?” question. A question almost invariably answered by CEOs that business is going exceptionally well. But with Bertrand, we got a glimpse at the truth. So how was business?

Well, good. 2017 was the best year ever for H. Moser. The brand produced 1,500 watches. The Pioneer collection was introduced as the entry level last year. And led the collection as the fastest growing. Business has grown some 300% over the last 5 to 6 years.

 

 

Key markets remain Switzerland, Hong Kong, Dubai and South East Asia. Interestingly for many Swiss brands, Switzerland is a very strong key market. The Endeavour and Venturer collection are the ones which are selling well there, with Bucherer as the largest retailer for Moser in the world.

The Dubai market is also been growing fast. In 2014, Moser sold 3 watches. In 2017, they sold 100. For the Hong Kong and Singapore markets are more mature, and the product mix is nearly equally across the collections.

France and the UK are also strong markets. Not forgetting the USA and Japan. Moser returned to their traditional market of Russia in 2017, after a long absence due to brand name issues. And the market has seen strong growth. The only market in which Moser is not present is South America, a situation not unfamiliar to other independents.

China is a developing market, and a new project for 2018/19. A new boutique will be opened in Beijing by 4th quarter 2018, and another in Shanghai by 2nd quarter 2019. These brick and mortar boutiques will be opened by partnership with a local retailer. And will compliment the e-Boutique. Due to the immense physical size of the country, e-Boutiques become an important component in the overall marketing structure.

 

 

Australia, a new darling for the high end horology market. And no different for Moser. Though a new market and still at its infancy, it has seen good interest among collectors. The new entry level Pioneer collection is particularly popular there.

 

Moser product design

Bertrand talked about how the watches are designed. They first tried to imagine products which will be commercially successful, and according to him, “we always fail”. What then is successful? They eventually discovered that if they make products that they would like to wear, it becomes a success.

As a case in point, the entry level Pioneer series.

 

 

 

When we speak about the “we”, Bertrand emphasizes, it is basically him and his brother Edouard. Of course in consultation with their father and key managers, but basically a very small team.

We next asked about the dial, and Bertrand tells us that only 10% of the watches they sell are equipped with a classical dial. Most of the watches are sold with their signature fumé dial, and other special executions.

Interestingly, though almost the entire movement, including the escapement system are manufactured in-house in their facility in Schaffhausen, the dial, signature as it may be, is sourced from a partner. Though, Bertrand winks and say that there are definitely plans to bring that in-house.

 

One of our favourite perpetual calendars in the market, the H. Moser Perpetual. Clean dial layout with superb legibility. The fume blue dial is amazingly beautiful.

 

Moser still use partners for some of their movements, especially very complicated ones, like the Moser Minute Repeater Tourbillon, most of the movements in Moser watches are made in-house.

 

The custom machine which manufactures the balance spring from a bar of metal. Photographed at Precision Engineering in Schaffhausen, March 2018.

 

The sister company Precision Engineering, housed in the same premises as the H. Moser manufacture is only one of three manufacturers of escapement systems in the Swiss industry who offer hairpsrings and balances to the industry. The other two being Nivarox (the largest!) and Atokalpa (a Parmigiani company). Other hairspring manufacturers make only for their own consumption. Examples in this camp are Rolex and A. Lange & Söhne, who manufacture their own hairsprings and escapement systems, but only for their own consumption.

 

Concluding thoughts

Our guests for the dinner was already arriving, and we quickly moved to close the discussion, and focused on the Pioneer Chronicles. A micro-site that Moser has put up, to be a marketing tool, but also a statement of where their values and the environment for the brand.

The tongue in cheek attitude becomes obvious when you click on the Pioneer Chronicles link.  You are confronted with a warning, and disclaimer:

 

 

The stories are intended to be provocative. And sometimes, they do cross the line. An example is the Swiss Icons Watch, which they put up earlier this year. The industry struck back, and they had to clamp down on the project almost at the get to. However, even though it may not have materialised as a product, we saw it as a marketing success. A viral one! Every one was talking about the Swiss Icons Watch in SIHH this year. And the media went wild.

And others, like the Swiss Cheese Mad watch, was more successful than they ever imagined it would have been when they were hatching the idea.

 

 

We encourage you to get that sense of numour, and go read the site. It is seriously entertaining, but not without a strong message. The message is brilliantly communicated in sarcasm, and the values of the H. Moser company certainly comes across very well.

With that, we started with the aperitifs and began mingling with the incoming crowd. Many thanks to Bertrand for the candid discussion.

 

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