Anyone who has visited the watchmaking museum at the Château des Monts in Le Locle, Switzerland, will undoubtedly have been impressed as much by the premises and its landscaped gardens as they were by the collections it houses. The Château des Monts is a Louis XVI-style building that dates back to the late 1700s but owes its current configuration to Georges Ducommun, who purchased the property in 1912, demolished the farm and its annexes and landscaped the gardens in the English style. After Ducommun’s death in 1936, the château passed to his daughter Hélène, who sold it to the local authority of Le Locle in 1954, which set up the watchmaking museum five years later, in 1959.
Georges Ducommun established the Doxa brand in 1889 and his company was very quickly successful, growing to employ a staff of several hundred at the workshops, which were located at number 28 Rue des Billodes in Le Locle. At around the same time that Mr Ducommun acquired and transformed the Château des Monts, his company was picking up medals for its pocket watches at the universal exhibitions in Liège (1905) and Milan (1906). Since the concept of a brand as we understand it today had not yet developed at the time, such accolades acted as an important point of reference for the customer and were widely used as a promotional tool.
The recipe for success
From the outset, Doxa concentrated on offering quality timepieces but at an affordable price. Using the principles of mass production that had been developed in the USA, the company adopted a semi-industrial production to produce simple and identical movements in large series. But whereas Henry Ford, one of the pioneers of mass production in the United States, famously offered his Model T car in “any colour you like, as long as it’s black”, Doxa allowed customers to personalise their timepieces using a wide range of decorations on the case, from hunting and safari scenes to horses, cars and hot air balloons and much more besides. This system also allowed the company to react swiftly to changing trends. It is this flexibility and ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions that remains one of Doxa’s strengths today as an independent watch company without any group pressure, according to CEO Romeo Jenny.
The inter-war years were Doxa’s golden age, when the company was known worldwide but particularly popular in Eastern Europe, Romania and the Soviet Union—markets where the brand is still very popular today. It was the diversity of the product range that was the key to the brand’s success, a diversity that covered everything from pocket watches, wristwatches and jewellery watches to alarm clocks and dashboard clocks for cars. Doxa’s eight-day calibre, for instance, was fitted to vehicles produced by Bugatti, Mercedes and Peugeot and was later also used in clocks fitted in ships and aeroplanes.
In 1957, the Doxa Grafic line was born, following the Bauhaus principles of design, with a square case and a very simple dial. A series of rays dissecting the dial became one of the piece’s signature elements, as did the unusual placing of the logo at the bottom right of the dial. Over half a century later, the Grafic line is still the company’s bestseller.
The Jenny family, who had been running the independent private-label manufacturer Walca in Bienne since 1976, purchased the Doxa brand in 1997 and moved its headquarters to Bienne. Since then, the company has been managed by Romeo Jenny, who has established a solid reputation for Doxa watches in Hong Kong and China, as well as the historically strong markets of Eastern Europe, the Balkan states and Russia.
Doxa is currently sold in 800 points of sale worldwide, with its price point varying according to location. “Our average price is between CHF 400 and 500 in Eastern Europe,” says Mr Jenny, “but it is between CHF 800 and 1000 in Asia. The diver’s watches are in a class of their own and are in a higher segment, however.”
The Sub collection (see below), which is part of the brand’s nautically-inspired “Aqua” line, is indeed a class apart and is sold in the United States exclusively via Internet on a separate, dedicated website. As Mr Jenny explains, “We were one of the first brands to sell exclusively via Internet and this has been working very well in the USA.”
Besides the popular Grafic and Aqua collections, Doxa also offers “Sports” and “Classic” lines, as well as a “Top Collection”, which comprises high-end models and re-editions of historical Doxa models. “At the moment, we do have a predominantly male collection,” admits Mr Jenny, “and the ladies’ collection is very small. But we are changing this slightly. In the past Doxa had a lot of ladies’ watches and jewellery pieces but now this is slightly different.”
Looking to the future
Doxa is also fortunate to be free of any worries about movement supply. “Due to the monopolistic stance by ETA, we switched to Ronda quartz movements a long time ago and have been very happy with them,” Mr Jenny told Europa Star. “As we were treated rather badly and even arrogantly by ETA regarding mechanical movements as well, we switched to Selitta movements, also with great success.” After 15 years in the job, Mr Jenny attributes Doxa’s continued success to relying on the brand’s strengths and history, as well as “developing products that the market wants and focusing on the purchasing power in our different markets.” He also stresses that Doxa aims to maintain its strong position in the markets in which it is established, rather than trying to expand at all costs. Nevertheless, he admits that there is room for expansion and aims to re-enter the Arabian markets in particular.
So what of the future? Mr Jenny is not too worried by a possible economic downturn. “We can see that there are some minor corrections but I think that the corrections in the luxury segment are bigger,” he says. His main concern is, like that of any other exporter in Switzerland, the current high value of the Swiss franc. But this does not seem to be putting a brake on new product developments. In response to the obligatory question on what we can expect from Doxa at BaselWorld 2013 (where the brand has a guaranteed spot, although where exactly is still unclear), Mr Jenny tells us, “We are working on various projects, some of which are closer to realisation than others. But one thing I can say is that we will present a new ladies’ collection in Basel next year.”
The Doxa Sub, launched in 1968, represented the brand’s first foray into the world of diver’s watches. But the brand prepared thoroughly for this new challenge and at its launch the Sub stood out for two reasons. The first was its bright orange dial, which had been designed to ensure optimum legibility under water but which also gave a bold signal when worn on the wrist. The second was the uni-directional rotating bezel. Such bezels have always been a crucial feature on a diver’s watch and have since been included in the ISO 6425 standard that defines a diver’s watch. But Doxa went further by engraving the US Navy’s dive table for no-decompression dives around the bezel. Rather than just timing their dives, divers could therefore see at a glance the maximum recommended dive time for a particular depth. All they had to do was turn the bezel so that the descent markers (two dots in orange on the outer depth scale and SuperLuminova on the inner time scale) were aligned with the minute marker when they started their dive. When the minute hand reached the figure corresponding to the maximum depth of their dive, it was time to resurface.
One of the latest incarnations in this collection is the Doxa Sub 4000T. It commemorates the re-edition of the Doxa Sub 300T in 2001 and was released as a limited edition of 500. It retains the unmistakable orange dial and uni-directional rotating bezel and also features a “safe dive” indicator that shows the power reserve, as well as an automatic helium escape valve for professional divers. As the name suggests, it is water resistant to a depth of 4,000 feet (1,220 metres).
Source: Europa Star October - November 2012 Magazine Issue