Merkava is New York-based, Israeli military-inspired, and it has global ambitions. The new brand produces Swiss made watches that are full of testosterone; after all Merkava also happens to be the main battle tank of the Israeli army. But drawing inspiration from strategic military vehicles in the history of Israel has not been without its controversy. Europa Star CEO Serge Maillard exclusively talked with Merkava founder Joseph Djemal, who is up for the battle:
- Merkava founder Joseph Djemal
What motivated you to launch a watch brand, back in 2013?
Merkava is a realization of a childhood dream to create my own watch, but on a grander scale. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided that I wanted to travel to Switzerland to explore the watch mecca of the world. It was on this excursion where I truly fell in love with the process of making a watch. And on my return home, I began to develop the brand.
- Merkava Flight Automatic Chronograph
How do you link your watches with the Israeli tank of the same name?
Our collections pay tribute to some of the most remarkable strategic Israeli military vehicles. Utilizing military-inspired details, our industrially-designed stainless steel cases and dial detailing are pulled directly from the instruments found in the tank’s cockpit. However, our connection with the tank runs far deeper then just the design. We think of our watches a lot like the making of a Merkava tank. Imagine, if you would, that our watch is a tank; the outer shell is made of the highest grade, most durable material, precisely made to be able to withstand the toughest conditions for the purpose of protecting the most valuable asset it carries. We regard the movement inside the watch as the crew of the tank, and as such, our cases are made to withstand the harsh environment while protecting the precision and performance of the inner workings.
- Merkava Flight caseback
You are aware that associating your image with an Israeli tank might as well be viewed as provocative.
We chose to use the Israeli Merkava as our symbol because of its undeniable strength and resilience, something we strive to bring to every one of our timepieces. I agree that associating our image with the Israeli Merkava tank is provocative but I don’t believe that being provocative is necessarily negative. We are a brand for the global masses and we believe that as our reputation precedes us, more doors will open. People want a tough watch they can count on and they know with the name Merkava, that is what they are getting.
- Merkava M1 Recon Chronograph Field Watch
It seems tough to break through today, as an independent and new brand in a troubled watch industry. What are your main challenges and on what assets can you count to win this battle?
Being an independent brand in a tough industry is never easy, especially when facing off against brands with several decades of history under their belts. But we are prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We also find vast benefits in being a new and independent brand, in that we are flexible to a changing market, able to listen to our clients’ wants and needs. And we aim to deliver on those wants and needs. Merkava, as a brand, is built on innovation, and as a new company we can adapt to and grow with the ever changing landscape of the industry.
What is your price range?
Our price points vary extensively and this was thoughtfully done; as a new brand, we wanted to appeal to a broader audience. Our newest addition to the collection, the Merkava M1 Recon Chronograph Field Watch, is priced at $399.99 and is the opening price point to the Merkava collection. For the avid watch collector, our top of the line Merkava Flight Automatic Chronograph features the famous Valjoux 7750 movement, and is priced at $2,945.95.
Which models are your bestsellers?
One of our bestsellers has been the Merkava Legacy Chronograph, which at 48mm is big and bold and boasts various premium features. Another favourite is the Merkava Vector Chronograph, classic yet completely current with its black face and leather band. However, with the release of our latest watch, The M1 Recon Chronograph, and the overwhelming response we have received, it has quickly become the rising star of our collection, and we believe it will continue to be our best seller throughout 2015.
- Merkava Velocity
How do you distribute your watches?
Distribution is a two front approach for us as we build our network of retailers. For the countries where we do not have representation, we offer our consumers a direct online boutique, while Merkava’s supply chain network produces and distributes quality timepieces through strategic locations across the globe. Our products are distributed mainly via a global distribution network that has been carefully selected by Merkava Industries subsidiaries, or by agents who have been authorized either by a Merkava Industries subsidiary or directly by the Merkava’s head office.
Where do your customers mainly come from?
We have had sales in a variety of countries across the globe, but have seen the largest volumes in the U.S., Canada, Israel, Brazil, UK and the Netherlands.
- Merkava Legacy
How many watches have you sold so far?
We do not communicate on production or sales numbers, rather keeping these figures internally. What I will tell you though, is that since the first quarter of 2015, our sales have grown 150% and we are continuously in production to maintain stock on hand to fill the demand of our clients. As such, you will see by the end of 2015 and into 2016, some of our Limited First Edition pieces will begin to be retired as their production limits are reached.
How was business last year and what do you expect moving forward?
The launch of our First Edition Collection in 2014 was received extremely well by our consumers, but that is not to say that we haven’t faced some growing pains. As a new company, establishing brand presence is our goal and we continue to leave our mark on the industry by offering our customers the best support paired with an extraordinary product. For 2015, you can expect to see a few new releases, such as the M1 Recon Chronograph Field Watch, which was released in July. The new additions to our collections will fill a gap in the line and make owning a Swiss Made Merkava watch more accessible globally.