Located in Crans-près-Céligny just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, BNB was formed in 2004 by three friends with deep roots in the watchmaking industry. All had come from bigger groups and brands and all were itching to do things differently, their own way, and to make a difference – and this is exactly what they are doing. If watchmaking is like a car moving down the motorway, the traditional high-end Swiss watchmakers tend to spend a great deal of time looking in the rear-view mirror, concentrating on their history and their brand DNA. BNB, on the other hand, is looking through the windshield at where they are going, pedal to the metal, intent on pushing the limits of watchmaking and doing things in a decidedly non-traditional way.
Mathias Buttet, Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini
BNB Concept is a one-stop shop for high-end movements. "Our slogan is 'From the sketch to the realization of the finished product,'" says Mathias Buttet, one of the founders and the General Director. "We want to do the entire movement, A-Z. If a client comes to us and wants us to only do a small part, we are not interested. We like to solve problems and find new ways to do things. If you only do a little bit and there is a problem, it's easy to point fingers."
The three founders wanted to set up a new company, one with a different environment and a different way of operating, but they wanted to stay in the arena of complicated movements. "We specialize in high-end movements, with a difference," explains Michel Navas, another of the founders of BNB Concept. "All three founders - two watchmakers, one engineer - of the company are from big watch groups. For these companies, it has always been about very traditional watchmaking. We were all doing beautiful things, but we were frustrated that we couldn't do more innovative work. So, we took off to do our own thing. We wanted to change from the old style of watchmaking and work with innovative companies like HD3, with different ideas, different looks. We start to think of the movement like a sculpture in 3D."
BNB is named after the three founders, using the first initial of their three last names: Buttet, Navas and Barbasini. The three don't really have titles - they just run the place.
The facility of BNB Concept started in a small apartment with four people - the founders and Buttet's mother-in-law. Now, the company has grown to 51 people. The company has expanded to other apartments in the same complex but the time has come to build its own facility, something BNB is doing right now. The building will be ready in 2007.
The atmosphere of the company is relaxed, fun and casual - employees wear what they want to wear - but the focus is still on the work. The watchmakers appear to appreciate the chance to do cutting edge work and they respond by working hard. There are no set hours at BNB - the people come and go as they please, as long as they put in the time expected of them and produce. The windsurfers on the staff keep their gear in the garage in case the wind comes up on the lake. That's the kind of atmosphere BNB fosters, where people can be themselves. Events for the staff are organized constantly at BNB, picnics, outings, etc., and they are always well attended.
"I had a very sure idea of how things were going to go," explains Buttet. "We started BNB in 2004 and at the end of 2006, I wanted to have 50 people working and we now have 51 people. I am the optimist of the team. I am the one that is excited, wanting to go fast, and the other two are wise men who want to hold me back. They are like two big brothers telling me to go slowly. It's a balanced team and it works well. If I was by myself, I would surely have fallen flat on my face. If the other two were by themselves, they would have gone so slowly nothing would get done. We never fight; we all have our place and responsibility on the team. We have so much work, we don't have time to get mad at each other."
Since the company opened its doors, projects have been coming in at a fast rate. They currently have 15 projects in various stages of development. For each of its projects, BNB does everything except the hairspring, screws and the jewels. Equipped with state of the art machines capable of making just about anything the designers and constructors come up with, BNB doesn't depend on the vagaries of suppliers.
"We are developing a lot of things internally, like gold colouring technology and the development of new alloys to benefit watchmaking, because we don't want to depend on a company outside that belongs to a big group and which could put pressure on us," Buttet explains. "We need the freedom to be able to create. Right now, every franc of profit is being invested back in the company. We are spending on new technologies, new people, setting up new departments like the gemmology department. At the end of 2007, we predict that we will be 80 people. We are building a new facility not far from here, so we can continue to grow."
BNB specializes in different ways of displaying time and unique ways of configuring movements. Some of the movements they have done are brilliant, while other things are really innovative, configuring movements and combining complications in ways that have never been done before.
BNB works with the big names in the business, but they also work with upstarts, which leaves them open to some criticism. Buttet smiles when asked why they work with some of these fringe companies. "I showed my drawings of a revolutionary watch to many Swiss brands and they thought I was crazy," he remembers. "I was about to give up, then I thought that one particular client might be interested, I showed it to them and four seconds later the President of the company said yes, took the drawing next door and showed it to some clients and he came back and said he had already sold two and then asked me when could we start. It's time that Swiss companies woke up and recognized the opportunity to do something unique, exciting and innovative."
BNB Concept has worked with some of the best names in the watch business, but these are all names that they are not at liberty to cite or discuss. As you can imagine, this makes it a little difficult to talk about what you have done in the industry.
In most cases, the companies that BNB works for claim the movements as their own. Jorg Hysek's HD3 is one exception. "BNB Concept developed the movement for the Idalgo and they are doing the movement for the Vulcania," Hysek says. "I love to work with people who are creative and innovative. These guys like to work on new ideas and new concepts. They have very different ideas, but the movements are very re-liable. The bottom line is that the movements have to work and they do.
"BNB is one of the most reactive companies in the watch industry," Hysek continues. "When we started the project, it was done within one year. Most companies, it would have taken two years at least."
BNB doesn't mind that other companies claim that the movements are theirs. "We are the watchmakers in the shadows," Buttet says, smiling. "Each client that comes to us is able to make production pieces, but they don't have the capabilities to manufacture the most complicated pieces, the stars of their collections. They don't have the structure or the people competent to do it. When the brands communicate what they are doing, they give the credit to their own watchmakers. The thing is that everyone in the industry knows that we did the movement. "It's a little like being a surrogate mother," he continues. "We nurture the baby here in our workshop, check the baby is healthy and then give it to the adoptive family and to not be sad, we quickly make another."
BNB is working on their own signature piece, something they can show to prospective clients that showcases their unique talents and abilities.
BNB is hot as a pistol right now, growing quickly and attracting new clients and working with returning customers all the time. The three founders are happy about where things are going and what they are doing, and they are careful that they don't become too dependent on any one customer.
"There is not one client that goes beyond 10% of our projects," Buttet details. "We don't want anyone to monopolize our time. We might have an idea for something that has never been done and we will offer it to one client or another, but we have to be careful not to treat one client better than another. We owe our survival to being independent.
"When you are working in a brand, you will have certain limits that you can't go past, but here at BNB there is no limit to our creativity," Buttet concludes. "We have the freedom of creation. We do things that the Grandfathers of the watch industry don't dare to do. We like working with companies willing to take chances, willing to do things differently. That's what we like to do, watches that aren't like the other watches on the market."
Source: Europa Star August-September 2006 Magazine Issue