Composed of three characters “飞,” “亚,” and “达,” FIYTA is pronounced “fi-ya-ta”. Based in Shenzhen, on the 20th floor of the FIYTA Hi-Tech Building, the brand has been around since 1987. “Its origin, however, goes back some forty years, because its founder, Men Tengshan, was himself a watch expert and aficionado,” explains Bruce Du, CEO of this well endowed watch brand—it belongs to the Chinese military aviation giant, CATIC (China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation). In spite of this, however, the watch subsidiary is managed as a private independent enterprise, and has been listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange since 1993.
Its management anticipated the massive arrival of foreign watch brands and thus created one of the most extensive sales networks in the nation, comprising 200 Harmony World Watch Center stores that represent 70 Swiss brands. “It has also been a good opportunity for us to represent Swiss watches, since it has let us develop our own style,” says Du. As for CATIC, it has certainly helped FIYTA to reach the stars because, in 2003, the brand became the official timekeeper for the Chinese space programme. Since 1990, it has also been announcing the “official time” on the state television channel CCTV.
FIYTA also stands out from its Chinese competition by the originality of its designs. Some of its watches have been created by young designers who have won the “FIYTA Cup Watch Design Competition”, while others are by confirmed stylists. “We even have a tourbillon signed Luigi Colani, the Da Vinci of the 21st century,” adds an enthusiastic Bruce Du. In 2010, FIYTA acquired a majority stake in Montres Chouriet SA, a Geneva manufacturer that is primarily focused on the Asian market with its Emile Chouriet brand. Its more recent success was becoming the first Chinese watch brand to exhibit in the prestigious Hall 1 at BaselWorld.
Europa Star: Exhibiting in Hall 1 at BaselWorld was a sign of recognition—for the brand or rather for the country?
Bruce Du: Exhibiting in the “Hall of Dreams” is, above all, proof of recognition for FIYTA. We have worked very hard over the last few years and have become the most representative in the high-growth Chinese watch market. I might add that many professionals and consumers have noticed our progress, mainly because of our space watches. On one hand, we are concentrating on high technologies such as our unique alloy of titanium-chromium-carbon and on the other hand, we are investing in traditional savoir-faire, as shown by the new collection of enamelled watches. But our access to Hall 1 is also a strong symbol that has reverberated throughout the entire Chinese watch industry.
ES: Long established in China and Southeast Asia, is FIYTA now targeting the global market, using BaselWorld’s Hall 1 as a launching pad?
BD: Yes, we want to become an international brand, and yes, we are already targeting the large markets such as North America. But our expansion plan is prudent and we will move ahead one step at a time.
ES: Prudent—what does that mean in terms of years?
BD: Ten years. We will also adjust our plan as a function of the process…
ES: Isn’t that a bit risky? Your colleagues at Ebohr and Sea-Gull still dream about this…
BD: The core market will continue to be China where we are enjoying remarkable growth. For outside of China, we will select only the best distributors.
ES: The Chinese space programme, enamelled watches with Chinese motifs, a Chinese name and the “China Made” label sometimes marked on the dial… In your opinion, is the image of China really exportable?
BD: Overseas, we must persevere, but we are not going to create another brand nor are we going to modify the name. We are very much aware of the difficulty of equating “Made in China” with “Quality Made”, but the watches we hope to sell overseas are built upon our own concept and present a specific design. As proof, our collection of space watches was successful not only with Chinese customers, but also with foreigners who bought them in China to take back home.
ES: The conquest of space by China certainly evokes a positive image, but the power of China is also somewhat frightening… what about the spectre of the famous “Yellow Peril?”
BD: We understand these fears, which is why our plan of expansion is spread out over the long term. We do not have a short-term vision in order to make a quick profit.
ES: If the brand becomes global, would that be perceived by your Chinese customers as having added value?
BD: I do not think so. In any case, we are not looking in this direction because FIYTA is already confronted with global brands in our domestic market. The good development of a brand is what is key to its success, here as elsewhere.
ES: You mentioned making your “own movements”, yet don’t these calibres come from other suppliers, such as Sea-Gull for the tourbillons?
BD: Some come from the Shanghai Watch Factory. But most of the time the movements are designed at FIYTA and we use only these manufacturers to produce them.
ES: They come from Japan as well! Is Chinese production not reliable enough yet?
BD: We are used to using Japanese movements and two models are equipped with Swiss movements. But all of these calibres are carefully checked by us. I think that the quality, the production, and the research and development of Chinese movements have progressed a lot recently. Compared to Japanese and Swiss companies, however, we have much less experience. Sea-Gull has already seriously improved its technology. Whatever the case, we are still very careful in choosing movements, all of which must meet our criteria of stability and quality. In the future, though, we will increase our purchases of Chinese movements.
ES: Because of the difficulty in procuring movements after the tragic events in Japan?
BD: This is not the main reason, because we work with several suppliers, which guarantees our supply. If we are now buying more Chinese movements, it is because their quality meets our demands. If not, we would not purchase them, even if Japanese companies reduced their production.
ES: So then, more movements are coming from Sea-Gull?
BD: We select the best of their production.
ES: According to what kind of standards?
BD: I am not in charge of the technical part of the business, but our own watchmakers conduct a whole series of tests, and I can assure you that our standards are clearly more demanding than those of other Chinese brands.
ES: FIYTA has acquired Montres Chouriet, a small Geneva manufacturer. What is the status of your cooperation with them?
BD: We are simply shareholders. The Emile Chouriet watches are produced in a totally independent manner, and developed in Switzerland by Swiss personnel. We don’t have any type of cooperation with them.
ES: Yet, you are the main shareholder… Wouldn’t this be a wonderful opportunity?
BD: They are also independent in terms of the distribution and promotion of their brand. But if some day, we sell in Europe or if they come and set up shop in China, then we would happily cooperate with them.
ES: Sea-Gull is planning to have a watch designed by a designer at Tissot, sold under the label of “Swiss Design”. Couldn’t you do the same thing with a designer at Chouriet?
BD: This is pure marketing. I think that Chinese consumers are becoming more and more mature and can tell the difference between “Swiss Design” and “Swiss Made.” This is not enough. Customers want, above all, watches that are special, attractive, and that appeal to them. It is vital to respond honestly to their demands.
ES: It has been said that the Chinese prefer watches with classic styling. Is this still true?
BD: Our market is very large and thus very complicated. To simplify things, let’s just say that we offer the boldest models in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, the four most fashion-forward cities. For the second or third tier cities, we offer more classic collections.
ES: In 2011, how did FIYTA perform?
BD: Very well. We generated turnover of 2.56 billion yuan [369 million Swiss francs], which gave a net profit of 156 million yuan [22 million Swiss francs], and we employ 4400 people.
Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue