t’s more than a boutique, it’s a joint venture first and foremost,” says Maximilien Roussel-Galle as he welcomes us to Watchmakers United, a space which has just opened its doors in Geneva’s city centre. This native of Franche-Comté, who travelled the world while serving in the navy, has returned to the region of his birth and his terroir: watchmaking.
Having founded the online platform Luxogood, already devoted to independent watchmakers, here he is, inaugurating a physical home base at the heart of the watchmaking ecosystem. Assisting him is Vincent Vuillaume, a specialist in watch distribution networks who spent lengthy stints with Cartier and Hublot, appointed for his retail expertise.
The difficulty of gaining traction
“Independent watchmakers have been in strong demand in recent years, but often they do everything themselves: the designing, making, selling, distribution, the lot. And having reached out to an initial core of fans, they find it difficult to gain traction – to reach out to customers they don’t know personally – because those customers want to be able to view and try on the watches any time they like,” says Maximilien Roussel-Galle.
- Maximilien Roussel-Galle
Backed up by the digital platform, the bricks-and-mortar boutique is there to help them break through the “glass ceiling” which; after an initial success, often forces independent watchmakers to stagnate. Their low productivity restricts their chances of a presence in the traditional retail network which, in any case, is not necessarily right for their unique profile.
And therein lies the key problem – access to their products, as well as lead times: “We’re very much aware of the challenge,” explains Vincent Vuillaume. “That’s why we’ve targeted a pool of partners (ed. note: some 15 to date, see below), large enough to always have something to show visitors.” The boutique aims to be a springboard for independent watchmakers who are not yet firmly established, whether in terms of brand awareness or production, sales or international presence.
Going beyond the circle of the initiated calls for a huge amount of education and awareness-raising: “We view this space as a bijou test area for brands. The common thread between them is the authenticity and transparency of the artisans. This space belongs to them! We’re going to make it a lively place with meetings, theme evenings, exhibitions during trade fairs,” Maximilien Roussel-Galle explains, emphasising that the project has met with “a lot of goodwill” behind the scenes of the watch industry.
As “everyone has to move forward together”, the notion of partnership is strong between Watchmakers United and the watchmakers who form part of the venture. “The rationale is not just about selling, then full stop,” he goes on. “There’s a dynamic of continuity between artisans and entrepreneurs. Everybody’s pulling in the same direction to make this venture a success. United we stand, as our name shows!”
From burin to screen…
Giving artisans the chance to focus on their work rather than wearing themselves out spending hours every day on Instagram to sell online is, ultimately, what Watchmakers United proposes. Because ironically, time is what watchmakers lack most, just like anyone else!
Beyond that, the intention is also to create a watchmakers’ collective – many of them know one another already, but informally – to foster cross-selling and reach beyond their original cluster of clients: “Rather than trying to grab market share from one another in a circle of customers which is, in any case, limited, it’s better to structure the offering and expand the market as a whole,” underscores Vincent Vuillaume. “We’re also in the process of financing developments that will benefit everyone, such as technology-sharing, or the possibility of buying in bitcoins.”
This also explains the broad offering, with prices ranging from several thousand to several hundred thousand francs. “Before, designers of models worth 500,000 francs didn’t want to occupy the same space as designers positioned at 4,000 francs. But things have changed a lot. If the watchmaker’s approach is sincere and transparent, that attracts a broader public, especially young people,” he goes on.
Of course, there will be special editions for the boutique, and “ideas will certainly emerge as we go along,” such as collaborations between the watchmakers. With a view to the long term, the pre-owned market will also be addressed to offer boutique customers the possibility of buyback for their timepieces. The boutique also plans to welcome designers from outside Europe.
“Watchmaking is one of the rare milieux where you still find genuine artisans. And in the way they work, they are the last representatives of authentic ‘storytelling’ in watchmaking, regardless of how much the brands make use of it in their communications,” Maximilien Roussel-Galle concludes. “And so we’re at the heart of this legacy.”
THE PARTNER WATCHMAKERS
- Olivier Mory, Skill
- Xavier Rousset, XRby
- Marie-Aude Acker et Guillaume Sireyx, Keris
- Bastien Vuilliomenet, Lundis Bleus
- Shona Taine, Khemea
- John-Mikaël Flaux
- Vincent Plomb, Vicenterra
- Armand Billard, Sartory Billard
- Cédric Johner
- Philippe Narbel
- Samuel Gillioz, Kauri
- Colin de Tonnac, Semper & Adhuc