When Olivier Bernheim, son-in-law of the brand's founder Raymond Weil, took over the reins of the family enterprise, the dominant 'culture', which had ensured the remarkable success of the company, was essentially based on distribution. Thanks to his exceptional charisma, Raymond Weil had developed his company's surprising and spiralling growth by creating an international and extensive network of high-powered distributors. This network was fed by a very large offer of products, all with an unbeatable price/quality ratio. The brand's multitude of models allowed it to cover the 'needs' of the marketplace by following the biggest fashion trends while reassuring its clientele with a 'classic' approach.
Becoming a brand
With the rise in power of the fashion brands belonging to the large international groups (for which watchmaking represents only one activity among many others), the formerly successful Raymond Weil strategy was now at risk. The company's response was to first change its initial image of a watch 'supplier' to that of a fully-fledged 'brand'.
This phase in itself was not an easy task. It was gradually carried out on many fronts: communication (with a re-working of the brand's visual identity, advertising program, sponsoring activities, etc., all aimed at crea-ting a particular 'universe'); marketing (with a progressive unification of the strategies used around the world); and, of course, the product itself along with the organization of the offer.
The number of models was drastically reduced and the offer was restructured into clearly identifiable collections, built around flagship models whose successes were proven. A special accent was placed on continued improvement in the quality of the products, both from a manufacturing point of view as well as design. From a 'follower' Raymond Weil would become a 'leader'. It thus became a 'brand' in every sense of the word. It enjoyed visibility and identity, with a compelling and autonomous universe of strong personalized collections. It was now capable of competing on the same terrain with many other large and well-established Swiss brands.
A second phase was already in the works. In general, Swiss watchmaking was passing through a phase of profound restructuring. The force of attraction of the large groups resulted in a reorganization of the brand hierarchy around several central poles. Mergers and acquisitions multiplied and modified the watch landscape forever.
These changes were not without their collateral effects. Paradoxically, this concentration created new niches rapidly filled by ancient brands as well as newcomers. The result was an inexorable rise upmarket. The overall Swiss watch industry aspired after the summit of the pyramid, with all the risks of overcrowding and saturation of the market that this entailed. Another major effect of the concentration of the brands was the corresponding restructuring in distribution in favour of the large luxury groups whose global networks were already firmly in place.
So, where would Raymond Weil find a place for itself in the new scheme of things? Raymond Weil has historically been a brand operating in the mid-range. Although its prices moved continually higher, they were in keeping with the product offers. So, given this, the enterprise declares that it has no intention of finding 'refuge' in a niche market, even the 'luxury' niche sector.
Becoming a full watch 'house'
The brand's strategy would be two-fold. Supported by its very powerful world distribution channels (made up of hardened distributors with long ties to the brand who are present in all sectors of distribution and who make up a large network of independent jewellers), Raymond Weil chose instead to affirm loudly and clearly its status and posit-ion, not only as a 'brand' but as a veritable watchmaking 'house'. Again, the company's strategy was elaborated around the product.
Rather than give in to the dangerous sirens of blind 'luxury' and the brutal rise upmarket, Raymond Weil decided to reaffirm its original offer by increasing its efforts in the mastery of design and production quality, while continuing to promote its own heritage. It saw it as a way to 'maximalize' its 'DNA' in such a way as to use it fully.
So, today, it is not a 'new' Raymond Weil that we are seeing, but a fully matured Raymond Weil, having naturally reached, with no ruptures along the way, its current flourishing state that allows it to compete effectively with the new and aggressive global players. In passing, it should also be mentioned that the company has resisted all buy-out attempts by the large groups, and the advantage of maintaining its family-run business position is a decisive one in today's marketplace.
As we know, in watchmaking perhaps more than other domains, 'the devil is in the details'. To concretely illustrate Raymond Weil's efforts at qualitative mastery, we have chosen one example, among many, that could be used for a detailed analysis but that we will look at somewhat more briefly in this article. Let's take a look at the manner in which Raymond Weil creates its watch models.
An example of integration
When entering Raymond Weil's Department of Research and Development, one enters wearing white gloves. It is in this 'hallowed' hall, that can be found one of the most innovative processes in Swiss watchmaking. Designers and engineers work hand in hand so that all the steps in creating a watch are totally verticalized. From the first drawing to the technical plans that will ultimately direct the machining procedures, including the prototypes, the overall operations are under the direct control of this small but highly experienced group.
Work is carried out on two fronts: the re-styling of the brand's flagship models and the creation of new models. These activities follow a precise 'routing sheet' which encompasses a gradual and evolutionary move upmarket, while maintaining the spirit of total quality and homogeneity of the products.
Harmony and constancy
“Today, people don't just buy a watch,” explains one of the young designers in the R & D Department at Raymond Weil. “They buy a piece of real watchmaking. This means that it has to represent total quality, at all levels, all forms, functions, and sensuality. With this in mind, we have a double task. First is to re-work our successful collections and improve their constancy while making sure that they don't intrude on the terrain of other models but yet distinguish themselves harmoniously. Second, we propose new creative paths to follow.”
“This work requires, above all, great attention to detail. Everything depends on that,” he adds. “Earlier, for some component parts, such as the hands for example, we bought them in the open marketplace. Today, everything, absolutely everything, is designed and ordered to our own unique specifications. In this way, we can accomplish much more subtle work, which will make the real difference. The work on the details, on the harmonization of forms, their sensuality and the comfort that they must offer to the wearer, the research into new or re-adapted materials all represent, for model after model, a real change in the perception of the brand itself. It is constant improvement, piece by piece, that can be seen as a continual evolution, free of breaks or ruptures.”
From design to technique
To take one's time, think, and research are the key works in a department that enjoys a great degree of autonomy. “We can go anywhere in the enterprise. We have the liberty to create prototypes and concept-watches without having to ask anyone.” But, this creative liberty would be nothing without the organic link that connects it to the office of engineering. “We try to avoid having to adapt a proposed design to reality, but rather seek to adapt reality to a proposed design,” explains one of the young engineers. “We have to abide by the given design while respecting the technical and qualitative criteria for which we define and impose certain standards.”
Each engineer follows all the models of a collection in order to strictly maintain the pre-determined orientation. The overall ensemble of the watch's component parts, visible or not, are drawn, and the extent and type of finishing are defined. Everything is modelled from A to Z.
Working with ultra-powerful 3D software, the R & D engineers create a virtual image from nothing. Starting with basic geometric shapes, they modify them until they get a three-dimensional model, with the computer making the necessary calculations in real time. Whether they work from these models or, more intuitively, modify the form using their mouse, the overall operations are carried out automatically.
The same software allows them to change the material and to study it thanks to a very realistic rendering. Here too, the computer calculates the outcome of these choices in terms of appearance, weight, etc., as a function of the many physical properties of the material under consideration.
At each step, one can automatically download all the necessary technical plans as well as the files that will pilot the machine tooling processes. These same files can instantaneously create wax models in order to let the engineer evaluate the validity of the virtual design. They can also proceed to the virtual assembly of various elements such as the case, bracelet, glass and crown of the watch.
This complete design integration, allowing direct passage from pencil sketch to technical dossier, from the intuitive to the engineering, from the creative to the practical, is an example of the determination of Raymond Weil. The brand can thus concretely affirm its status and pre-eminence by establishing its models and collections, by the high level of quality in design and fabrication, and by its identifiable, significant and strong universe that makes up Raymond Weil.