ounded by Georges Ducommun in 1889 and in the hands of the Jenny family since 1997, Doxa has seen a spectacular rise in its value on the watch markets over the past three years. This is largely due to a new brand strategy, supported by the Jenny family and implemented by Jan Edöcs, the new man at its head. In three years and in the midst of a pandemic, the desirability of the diving specialist’s models has increased tenfold, thanks to a selective and well-thought-out strategy.
With the benefit of considerable experience in watchmaking (Omega, Swatch, Versace and Milus) and an intimate knowledge of the two most dynamic markets for the industry – China and the United States – Jan Edöcs is proving that a rapid turnaround is entirely capable of attracting the interest of new “local” generations, who are increasingly knowledgeable in all things watches. And this is true at all price levels: while Doxa is active in a market ranging from CHF 1,000 to 5,000, other brands from Swatch to Zenith and Parmigiani Fleurier are also in the process of proving this.
The brand is proving that a rapid turnaround is entirely capable of attracting the interest of new local generations, increasingly knowledgeable in all things watches.
Discreet but warm, authentic but focused on innovation: Doxa is one of those Swiss brands with a venerable heritage that they are now transforming for the better. Today, the brand rubs shoulders with the biggest names in the most sought-after retailers, while still generating the majority of its turnover directly and online, as a pioneer of e-commerce – with a very favourable impact not only on margins but also on the knowledge of its end customers.
- Jan Edöcs has been CEO of Doxa since 2019. “Our ambition is to be warm, authentic, simple, accessible, functional, playful – and above all not arrogant,” he says.
Its absolute “icon” is the SUB, which dominates its offer and is available in multiple series that are easily identifiable by their water-resistance on the one hand, and their often bright dial colours on the other. Unveiled at the Basel Fair in 1967, and adopted the following year by celebrity seafarer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the SUB 300 and SUB 300T were the first professional diving watches made affordable to a wider public, with their orange colour and a patented rotating bezel. Fifty years later, Doxa still sticks to this line and this philosophy, by cultivating a “democratic” approach reflected in its price range. We caught up with Jan Edöcs to talk about the transformation of the brand since his arrival in 2019.
Europa Star: What was your background before joining Doxa?
Jan Edöcs: I am originally from Biel, so it was quite natural that I started at the Swatch Group, first in the heritage department at Omega. The then curator Marco Richon started by having me clean all the pieces in the museum, though I was dreaming of travelling to the other side of the world! I then moved to the Swatch brand, first in the duty free department, then the Swiss market. After these two experiences, I joined an independent brand for the first time, Milus, which in the 1990s still belonged to the founding Junod family. A few years after that, I also discovered the world of fashion watches at Versace, travelling between Ticino and Milan, before returning to Milus, as CEO this time.
Under what conditions did you return?
In 2001, the brand was bought by the Hong Kong-based Peace Mark Group, one of the largest watch distributors in China. Milus was their flagship: with it, they wanted to demonstrate that a Swiss brand could quickly establish itself on the Chinese market, which was still in its infancy at the time, and thus gain the trust of new clients for their distribution in China. I divided my time between managing Milus and talking to other Swiss brands. The group was very strong in China, with a large number of sales outlets, and they also owned the Sincere retailer in Singapore. However, this adventure ended in bankruptcy and then in a giant liquidation of the group, which was absorbed by Chow Tai Fook in 2008. I kept Milus going for two years, in the best interests of the staff, and paid all the suppliers, until 2010. Then the right moment came to leave when a Hong Kong financier took over the brand.
What did you do then?
I crossed the Atlantic to settle in New York, a long-time dream. I set up a consulting office in the heart of Manhattan where only Swiss German was spoken! Our goal was to facilitate the establishment of Swiss companies in the United States. I also carried out assignments for the Gaydoul Group, which back then also owned the German watch brand Hanhart and wanted to review its investment portfolio. But after a few years in New York I wanted to come back to Switzerland. Now I truly appreciate the “sound of silence” much more!
Fifty years later, Doxa sticks to its absolute icon, the SUB, and its philosophy, by cultivating a “democratic” approach reflected in its price range.
- For the first time, Doxa is reissuing the Army model produced for the Swiss Army’s elite diving unit, one of its most sought-after vintage pieces, in a limited edition of 100, in collaboration with Watches of Switzerland, its exclusive US retailer.
How did you meet the Jenny family, the long-time owners of Doxa?
As we are both from the same Biel region, Romeo F. Jenny and I knew each other since our very first steps in the watch industry. We had even taken an introductory watchmaking course together, while I was at Omega and he had just joined the family business. Back in Switzerland, I continued to work as a consultant. We met again at Baselworld in 2018 and I started by giving them some friendly private advice. Gradually, this led to a broader collaboration. A year later, I got introduced as the new CEO of Doxa and Romeo F. Jenny took over as the group’s chairman of the board.
Were you already familiar with the brand? And what did you tell them at the beginning of your collaboration?
I knew their history and for me Doxa was truly an amazing brand besides the existing online business, there was huge potential in the offline market too. I informed them that Doxa ran an even greater risk if they couldn’t rejuvenate their fan base, which was getting older – that they could become a “museum brand”, highly valued but not much bought. We then made the decision together to rethink everything in order to wake up the markets and attract new communities of fans. And it started with a bang, at Baselworld 2019: 13 gold pieces weighing 330 grams. We needed a strong statement to get people talking about Doxa at the fair. Everyone came to our stand to see these extraordinary pieces and we took this opportunity to also introduce visitors to our SUB 200 collection, at 950 francs...
“We made the decision together to rethink everything in order to wake up the markets and attract new communities of fans. And it started with a bang, at Baselworld 2019: 13 gold pieces weighing 330 grams.”
- After the successful launch of the SUB 200 Whitepearl last year, Doxa is introducing this colour to all the SUB families, starting with the famous SUB 300 Carbon, which combines the elegance of a technical material, forged carbon, for its case, with a bright, distinctive dial, coated with white Super-LumiNova® luminescent material over its entire surface. This ensures excellent legibility by day and night.
Today we know you above all for the SUB, which has enjoyed a rebirth and multiple variations.
It is, par excellence, what I call the “desk diver”. That is to say, watches that most users do not necessarily take underwater, but that they appreciate on a daily basis. These models appeal to a much wider community than before. From 2019, I also started putting my network to good use with distributors and retailers, especially in the US and Germany. But our strategy was not to go everywhere at once...
2019 was only yesterday and you seem to have grown very rapidly over this short period of time. Which markets did you start with?
The English-speaking markets, which were already the most important for the brand: the US, UK and Australia. For the first 12 months we grew exclusively in these markets, and exclusively online. Doxa was a pioneer in e-commerce, the brand had been active in online sales since 2001, and digital is very important to us: even today, we generate more than half our turnover through our own e-commerce platform. We do not sell to any third-party platforms. Our credos are control and exclusivity, so that no Doxa watch is available at a discount. These principles also apply to our physical network: we don’t want to create competition between retailers, which could fuel the grey market and discounts. In the United States, we have given exclusive distribution rights to Watches of Switzerland, with whom we have just released a limited edition model.
“Digital is very important to us: even today, we generate more than half our turnover through our own e-commerce platform.”
What is the profile of your retailers?
To date, we have opened about 60 points of sale, the majority of which are in Europe, and more than 80% of them also represent the top end of the spectrum of fine watchmaking. Our price range goes from 1,000 to 5,000 CHF: today, when a customer enters a prestige boutique, he will not necessarily leave with the watch he went in for, especially given the current market conditions... That is where we come in. And we will never go beyond this range: where others start, we stop.
- Each Doxa Army Watches of Switzerland model comes in packaging designed specifically for this edition and sporting the original camouflage pattern used by the Swiss Army at the time the watch was first issued. The box also includes two straps: one made from black FKM rubber and one NATO strap with a camouflage pattern.
What is your annual production?
Last year we produced 10,000 pieces. We don’t know yet where we will stop, but we’ll know when we want to slow down. We won’t go too far in terms of volume. But at the moment there is still plenty of room to grow – provided we enter new markets in the right conditions and in accordance with our principle of controlled growth. At the end of May, we announced the arrival of Doxa in the Middle East, simultaneously with exclusive local retailers in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They had been asking to represent us for a long time. But we always told them: please wait another year, 2022 will be when we opent in the Middle East, so that all the local markets open at the same time.
This has an amplifying effect. But some were rather surprised that we were making them wait! You know, there is value in saying no, especially when it comes to not growing too fast. When Asian retailers that were very interested in representing Doxa came to see us this spring in Geneva, we also asked them to wait until next year. We want to be ready to honour every market, not just deliver goods. This is what creates the conditions of desirability, exclusivity and quality in which watchmaking flourishes today. And we are lucky enough, thanks to the size of our e-commerce platform, to know a majority of our customers directly...
“Our credos are control and exclusivity, so that no Doxa watch is available at a discount. In the United States, we have given exclusive distribution rights to Watches of Switzerland, with whom we have just released a limited edition model.”
Creating desirability is all very well, but what if one day you can’t deliver?
We haven’t reached that point, and the goal is to be able to deliver to everyone. Limited series have to be justified, as is the case with our Army Watches of Switzerland model. Our brand is simple to understand: we have seven collections, with seven colours now that the Whitepearl has been rolled out to all SUB lines. And we are working on differentiation, it’s not just about making replicas of the past. Hence the use of carbon, for example. Our creative framework is clear: we will remain “underwater”, in our segment, and you are not going to see us start making pilot’s watches... You can’t try to please everyone. We have been playing with colours, like our iconic orange, since the 1960s. Our ambition is to be warm, authentic, simple, accessible, functional, playful – and above all not arrogant.
- The Doxa Army was one of the very first watches to use a coating process for cases that was relatively new to the watchmaking industry: the stainless-steel case was blackened by oxidation, giving it a matt black finish that prevented any glare, a key criterion for military equipment. This visual effect, quite original at the time, is maintained in today’s reissue through the choice of matt black ceramic for the case.
Can you tell us more about the recently launched Army Watches of Switzerland limited edition?
In 1968, the Swiss Army decided to train a squad of elite divers. Some 900 candidates applied and 16 were selected, including Major Robert Hilty, now 72 years old, who joined us for the launch of the model this year in New York! At the time, Doxa was the official watch of this elite unit and all divers received a 300T Orange model. It is only since last year that we have had the right to talk about this very secret unit, which existed from 1968 to 1975, in the middle of the Cold War. Only 146 pieces were delivered over the years and we now know where 121 of them are. Major Robert Hilty was only involved in one field operation in the unit’s history, when the Baader-Meinhof Group hid weapons in Switzerland. The new limited edition follows the “target in a target” design: it was only available at Watches of Switzerland in the USA and on our website. Within hours, it was sold out.
“There is value in saying no, especially when it comes to not growing too fast. This is what creates the conditions of desirability, exclusivity and quality in which watchmaking flourishes today. But some retailers were rather surprised that we were making them wait!”
A theme that is becoming increasingly important in brand communications is that of environmental protection, particularly for diving watches. You remain relatively discreet on this point.
Beware of publicity! Our steel is recycled, we only produce mechanical watches and our values are sustainable par excellence, as a family business. But we do not proclaim this from the rooftops. We are in it for the long haul, not for the hype. It is better to be cautious than to give in to all the temptations of the moment, because some customers will eventually understand that environmental issues are sometimes used to make them buy products that make no sense... at a premium.