Roamer reconnects with the best of its competence

January 2004

Roamer has embarked upon an important turning point in its long history (as a reminder, the Soleure-based company was established in 1888). Managed currently by three directors who oversee the domains of distribution, marketing and sales (Ralph Furter), supply chain (Mario Mülchi), and finance (Mischa Wermelinger), Roamer has decided to transform its image. To accomplish this, the company has delved into its past, a prestigious past of mechanical watchmaking that only needed to be awakened. The brand's new collection is a witness to this past, with its 'Competence' line, the first step in a gradual move upmarket that Roamer is carrying out with prudence and lucidity.

Since its relaunch in 1996, Roamer has done well in establishing itself at the centre of the global watch scene. With a production of 150,000 pieces per year, the company is succeeding in the very difficult segment of the mid-range.
Now, the triumvirate at the head of the company is planning a new strategy that should permit Roamer to gradually move up in terms of image and offer. This strategy is based essentially on the new offer of mechanical timepieces in the 'Competence' line.
The term 'Competence' was chosen because it perfectly illustrates the legitimacy of this move. During its long history, Roamer was one of the original Swiss brands specializing in mechanical watches. It even created its own calibres and movements. The brand, however, fell on hard times during the quartz revolution, but it is now rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

Surprising models

As it rises, the phoenix is bringing up some surprising models, such as the 'Original Typ 1', the Grande and the Skeleton. As its name indicates, the Original is the most 'original' of the group. Inspired by a Roamer watch of the 1940s that was found in the archives, the Original is a unique model. The circumference of the dial is grooved and the numbers and indices support the central case, equipped with original movements: the calibre AS 1726 of 8 3/4''' for the 'Typ 1' and the calibre FHF 138.011 also of 8 3/4''' for the Unlimited. Both are manual-winding movements. Perfectly finished and decorated with the Côtes de Genève pattern, these mechanisms can also be admired from the reverse side.
The 'Competence' line is not limited to this retro classic model, however. With its 'Grande' line, Roamer is proposing a very attractive large watch (44mm), equipped with an ETA 6497.1 calibre, normally reserved for pocket watches. Particularly remarkable are the degree and originality of the finishing. The very pure dial is subtly polished and reminiscent of the grooves in a long-playing record, giving it a very modernistic touch. The movement is carefully decorated with the Côtes de Genève pattern and is visible through the caseback where attention has been paid to the slightest detail. The result is a handsome watch with a perfectly classical appearance.
Both of these models, as well as the Skeleton Competence, which is equipped with an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, are being offered at surprising prices, with a price/quality ratio rarely achieved in Swiss timekeeping. As an example, the Original retails in Switzerland for between CHF 700 and 800, while the Grande sells for about CHF 790 and the Skeleton for CHF 1200.

Improving the distribution network

“We quickly observed that this collection allows us to not only upgrade our image, but it also opens new doors in distribution,” explains Ralph Furter. “These pieces have rapidly changed the perception of our brand. This has had positive fallout on our other collections and confirms that we made the right choices. The improvement in quality is at the heart of our present and future actions, but we also remain very attentive to our place in the marketplace as well as to our positioning that is centred on an excellent price/quality ratio. We are moving in a gradual and measured way.”
The strategic gradual move upmarket, offering quality products at very highly calibrated prices, comes at a “good time” as we are told. Everything leads one to believe that the realities of the current market favour brands that have not given in to the insistent sirens of 'everything luxury' but that have continued to work in the quality mid-range that Swiss watchmakers have largely abandoned.
“We are going to follow and intensify this strategy that offers us new perspectives,” adds Ralph Furter. “Our view is clear and solid. After having insisted upon the Swiss Made origin and the integral nature of our production, after having completed our production infrastructure so that our watches are entirely assembled in our own workshops, and also after having transformed our communication and product environment (campaigns, packaging, brochures, etc.), we will continue to improve in terms of quality. This is being done notably by looking towards our past and our heritage.”

Attracting the feminine market

While this visit to the past is also evident in other collections, such as the Golden Days line (equipped with quartz movements but whose detailed design evokes watches of the 1950s and 1960s), Roamer is still concentrating on modernity, as seen in the new ladies' model made of ceramic. This new model is made of ceramic chips forming a movable bracelet around the watch. According to Roamer, it is the prelude to a new approach to women's watches.
“We feel that this line has a lot of potential,” explains Ralph Furter. “The feminine and classic design remains a delicate terrain and I admit that we are still looking for a piece that would be emblematic of our approach. We are counting a lot, along with our long-time designer Rodolphe, on the variations that we are going to propose for the feminine version of the Competence. The style of the indices offers infinite possibilities for stone-setting and decoration.”
Conquering a significant share of the ladies' watch market is a major goal of Roamer. The advance in its qualitative positioning has, as we already mentioned, given Roamer new opportunities in the area of distribution. The brand hopes to take advantage of these opportunities, by enlarging its feminine offer that today represents 30% of its sales.
Strongly established in Germany, where the brand has its own distribution teams, and active in the Scandinavian markets and Holland, Roamer still has much room for advancement in Europe. The new mechanical lines are also a preface to gradually opening up markets in the Latin countries.
Asia, Hong Kong and now China are good markets for the brand, which has strong distribution networks in addition to the considerable weight of its principal shareholder (the Chung Nam group controls Roamer but does not exercise any operational authority over the brand). Entry into the United States market, whose potential is huge for a firm offering traditional Swiss watches at an incontestable price/quality ratio, is being planned for later.
“How would you define the brand, exactly?” is another question we ask of Furter and his colleagues. “Roamer is not a broad-based brand,” they answer. "Even if the pyramid of our offer includes traditional watches, sports models, and ladies' lines, Roamer is a specific universe unto itself, with its own history, its characteristic concerns of elegance and quality. These are and will continue to be our main criteria as we move forward.