BUSINESS, MODELS & STRATEGIES - The new life of Manufacture Royale

November 2015

Founded by Voltaire in the 18th century and brought back to life by the owner of TEC Ebauches, the brand has been in the hands of the G(o)uten family for the last two years. The three cousins Alexis, David and Marc tell us about their plans.

"In 2013 we bought a brand that was losing money. One year later, it was profitable.” Backed up by his cousins David and Marc, Alexis Gouten is making a bold gamble. His wager is that they will succeed in turning around Manufacture Royale, the storied Vallorbe-based watchmaking company founded by Voltaire. It was revived in 2010 by Arnaud Faivre, director of the component supplier TEC Ebauches, before being taken over by the GTN holding company belonging to the Gouten family, who have considerable commercial experience in the watchmaking industry, and were able to bring their significant abilities and contacts to the project.

"In 2013 we bought a brand that was losing money. One year later, it was profitable.”

Around 150 watches left the Manufacture Royale workshops last year. “We work in a particular way. As we have always been supported by TEC Ebauches, we have great flexibility and reaction time,” notes David Gouten. “If we need movements to work on in two weeks, their machines can do it. We operate like a temporary manufacture!”

The three cousins hope eventually to achieve an annual production of 400 to 500 watches. How do they intend to accomplish this? “First, we have to build the brand. It needs a pyramid of products, and above all it needs an identity, marketing and communication,” explains Marc Guten. “A lot of work needs to be put in upstream, work that you don’t see; it takes time to build a solid brand. We’re in it for the long term.” The main challenge is to establish efficient distribution partnerships in Switzerland and internationally. “Today it is difficult to find really competent people,” notes Alexis Gouten. “Many of them stick to selling well-known brands. They wouldn’t really be capable of explaining a brand like ours, nor would they be interested.”

His cousin David continues: “Nevertheless, there is a new generation of clients from the emerging countries who are looking for brands like ours. Twenty years ago, it was all about bling-bling. A few diamonds and a well-known brand were all you needed to make a sale. Today, the children of these old clients are between 25 and 40 years old; they prefer to wear clothes by an unknown fashion designer; they want to be different. They don’t want to wear the same watch as their father. This is the opportunity we have today, us and other brands that share our vision, such as Romain Jerome, Urwerk and Hautlence.”

Reference: Anthracite dial, 1770VT45.01.A. Calibre: MR05. Type: In-house Mechanical, self-winding. Dimensions: Diameter 36 mm / Height: 9.45 mm. Power reserve: 40 hours. Frequency: 3 Hz, 21,600 vph. Balance spring: Flat Balance. Case Material: Stainless steel. Case dimensions: Diameter: 45 mm .


But Manufacture Royale, whose primary markets are in Asia and the Middle East, is not without some advantages that give it an edge in the image battle: its Androgyne, for example, a tourbillon at CHF 43,000 francs, with a 108-hour power reserve, offers surprising value for money. “This model is our best-seller. It is, however, rather unconventional and somewhat polarising, so we also created the 1770 collection with a more traditional display, which has greatly reassured our retailers.” At this year’s Baselworld the brand also launched a double flying tourbillon, the 1770 MicroMegas, with a starting price of CHF 125,000. “That’s half what the competition charges... They sometimes ask us how we manage it, but I should be asking them why they are twice as expensive as us!”

The latest model is the Voltige, also in the 1770 series, whose distinguishing feature is the location of the escapement which, as its name suggests, hovers above the dial. This completes the more accessible end of the range, with a price point of CHF 27,000 and an automatic movement.

Source: Europa Star November 2015 Magazine Issue