The indispensable ‘mid-range’

March 2005

Between the luxurious technical extravagances of haute horlogerie and the frenzied trends of the fashion watch, there is a vast terrain, one that is less trodden and less noisy, one that is a little calmer and definitely more moderate. It is the domain of the so-called ‘mid-range’ watch.


Koto Bolofo for Hermès 2002

The spotlight shines less frequently on this space, an area with highly variable boundaries since what is ‘mid-range’ for one may be ‘luxury’ to another. Yet, this sector is nonetheless a fundamental part of the watch industry whether in Switzerland, Europe, Japan or elsewhere on the planet.
While it is difficult to quantify exactly the value of the ‘mid-range’ in terms of the global watch industry, there is not a doubt as to its strategic function. In this sector, the Japanese watchmakers – above all, the ‘broad-based’ Seiko and Citizen – have conquered a large market share because of their well-targeted offer, their technically important dynamism (one only has to think of Japanese advances in ‘hybrid’ movements), and their excellent image/quality/price/service ratio.
At a time when, after having so lastingly and profoundly marked its epoch, the Swatch is running out of steam, the Swiss are realizing, since rediscovering mechanical watchmaking, that they have somewhat neglected a large segment of watchmaking: the mid-range, or in other words ‘the everyday watch’.
The history of horology teaches us that nations such as France and England, which have in their turn dominated the watch scene, began their decline when they let ‘mid-range’ and inexpensive production shift to other countries. In this case, it was to Switzerland, where, it must be said, the Swiss ‘counterfeiters’ had no hesitations at all about writing ‘London’ or ‘Paris’ on the dials.
The long-term dominance of Swiss watchmaking signifies a strong presence in all sectors, from the haut de gamme to the most inexpensive timekeeper. In the middle and low-end market, this predominance is due obligatorily to powerful industrialization. On the pages that follow, François Thiébaud, the head of Tissot (part of the Swatch Group) explains this phenomenon quite clearly. Today, Tissot makes two million watches a year, including the innovative T-Touch. But it is only a large industrial group that is capable of having this kind of production. Because of this volume, the Swatch Group can afford to devote resources into developing such advanced technologies as the tactile glass. “We could sell the T-Touch much more expensively,” says Thiébaud. In the short term, the sales would probably be wonderful and the shareholders happy, but to maintain technological advances over the long term is quite another thing. It requires volume with a moderate price tag.
The current debate about moving production to China is, in part, a false one, or in other words, a fight of the rear guard. To conserve jobs in Switzerland and in Europe is above all, to conserve a technological advance. To do this, it is quite secondary that Chinese component parts enter into the recipe. We are very well placed to understand that the art of watchmaking, which is what the haut de gamme is all about, is a wonderment of the senses and of intelligence. But, it is not enough.
With the danger of being ‘condemned’ to a niche market – a luxury niche but a niche just the same – with the danger of seeing market share eaten away, Switzerland and Europe must imperatively promote and strengthen the industrial aspect of their production.
The examples on the following pages do not cover the entire ‘mid-range’ sector, but they do describe the steps that dynamic brands in this sector are taking in this combat – and it is a combat, there can be no doubt about it. They also show that the formidable rise in quality initiated by the haut de gamme is benefiting the middle segment of the market, whose quality specifications are constantly increasing! It is an additional demonstration of the interdependence between all the sectors. If the mid-range needs the luxury sector to help it improve, then let’s admit that the luxury sector also needs the mid-range in order to prosper. Watchmaking is a whole, an equilibrium, whose individual weaknesses can cause the fall of the entire industry.