(A continuation of the article “Surrounding the SIHH...”) For Georges-Henri Meylan, former CEO of Audemars Piguet, the bells of retirement have not yet rung. Quite the contrary. After having brilliantly managed the manufacture in Le Brassus for many years, this man, who “did not see himself spending his retirement years in front of a television,” recently launched an initiative that is among the most interesting in the domain of independent brands. He founded MELB Holding, a family holding company, whose vocation is to assemble a small group of independent watch brands that have found themselves in difficulty.
The first opportunity was Hautlence, whose original shareholders had “abandoned ship before bankruptcy was filed”. Supported by Bill Muirhead, ex-financial director of Breguet, accompanied by his two sons, one of whom is responsible for the very high-end watch telephone brand, Celsius, and the other a distributor based in Hong Kong, MELB purchased all the shares of Hautlence, “including the debts” adds Georges-Henri Meylan.
Following this, MELB acquired another pearl: H. Moser & Cie. In financial trouble, this interesting company was the property of the industrialist Thomas Straumann, whose fortune was made in dental implants (incidentally, his grandfather was the inventor of the Nivarox alloy that forms the basis of watch balance springs). Called in to evaluate the situation and do an audit, Georges-Henri Meylan ended up buying the company.
In both cases, the principal managers were kept on. Co-creator of Hautlence and the only original shareholder not to have abandoned ship, Guillaume Tetu, whom we met at GTE, seemed radiant. Not only had his brand been saved, but he was already feeling the positive effects of the arrival of MELB Holding. The reputation of Georges-Henri Meylan and his well-filled address book had already allowed the brand to open many new doors. At the same time, its offer was revisited and a new more affordable collection, Avant-Garde, was launched. Prices fell from around CHF 60,000 to CHF 30,000, while strictly respecting the very particular DNA of this architectural brand.
At Moser & Cie, whose very classically pure and minimally designed watches are the exact opposite of the Hautlence timepieces, the impact of MELB Holding’s involvement is yet to be determined, since the transaction is barely three months old. For Daniel Zimmermann, however, continuing as head of sales and marketing, the arrival of MELB has already had a positive effect. “They are people coming directly from the watch industry who will allow us to remain independent,” he explains. “Having said that, there is much to do: decrease the production costs of our own movements, which are very nice, but too expensive; improve the perception of the brand with the final consumer; differentiate ourselves from our competitors, who are Vacheron Constantin, Lange & Söhne and Patek Philippe,” he says, adding quickly that MELB “has also brought a certain freshness” to this splendid but somewhat rigorous brand.
Strategically, the 100-per cent acquisition of H. Moser & Cie is also very interesting for MELB because it also acquired Precision Engineering in the deal, which makes springs, assortments and balances—items that have become highly strategic commodities. For Georges-Henri Meylan, who envisions expanding MELB even more “if ever the right opportunities present themselves,” the synergies gradually being put into place seem promising, especially in the realm of marketing, exchanges of calibres, sharing of the back office and distribution. As an example, a new showroom is being established in Hong Kong where the two brands will be available as well as De Bethune, whose local distributor is the son of Georges-Henri Meylan. Europa Star will continue to closely follow this affair.
Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue