t all started as a kind of Google of watchmaking, long before the internet. In the 1920s, Hugo Buchser was a young Swiss entrepreneur who had set up his own watch brand called Transmarine. He traded timepieces while travelling around the world. In the course of his business travels, he realised that an essential link was missing from the watchmaking landscape: a directory of all the addresses of the players in the field, from component manufacturers to specialist stores.
He therefore decided to set up this “search engine” for the watch industry, starting with Swiss producers, before extending it to other nations. He established his own publishing house in 1927 in Geneva and began producing reference guides, compiling what we would call Big Data today – addresses, categories, specialist manufacturers – interspersed with advertisements for the main watch manufacturers. Alongside these annual directories, newsletters provided market news and put international buyers, sellers and suppliers in touch with each other.
It all started as a kind of Google for watches, long before the internet.
- 1951: the 25th anniversary of the Oyster case and the 20th anniversary of the Rolex Perpetual self-winding movement in an edition of Europa Star.
- ©Europa Star
Connection and globalisation
By facilitating connections between actors on the watchmaking scene, the founder of what would become Europa Star helped to solidify the bonds of a burgeoning global community. At the time, the Swiss horological business network was much denser than it is today, with thousands of workshops scattered throughout the country. But the Swiss market was not enough for them. Watchmaking is a truly global trade, and from the very origins of the sector, the national market just wasn’t enough for this small landlocked country.
Even then, exports were already the basis on which the Swiss watch industry was built. By far the largest watch market in the world was the United States (which seems to be on the way to regaining this status today). In addition to connecting the players involved in manufacturing, Hugo Buchser stepped up his game: he set about establishing an international network of publications, with the aim of solidifying the links between watchmakers and their business representatives around the world.
- The Sixties: new codes of luxury and elegance reflecting an era of intense social transformation.
- ©Europa Star
LinkedIn before its time
The periodic supplements that originally accompanied the guides began to be replaced by fully-fledged magazines as early as the 1930s. By recruiting local journalists, the publisher was able to launch an international network of magazines in Latin America, the Far East, Africa, the Middle East and North America. These periodicals were published in several languages. For example, the magazine The Eastern Jeweller and Watchmaker, published out of Bombay, contained pages in English, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Urdu and Hindi.
The globalisation of watchmaking needed its own media to facilitate dialogue between all its stakeholders.
- Excerpts from classified ads published in Europa Star. The “horological Tinder” of the time! They reveal an era of globalisation in watchmaking, with a new trade hub in Hong Kong.
- ©Europa Star
The globalisation of watchmaking is not a recent phenomenon. But it needed its own media to facilitate dialogue between all of its stakeholders. Proof of this can be seen in the numerous classified ads that appear in all the magazines, like a sort of LinkedIn before its time, where Swiss brands were looking for retailers, and international retailers were looking for manufacturers to represent. It was a world of great courtesy, respect and passion, as reading these rather touching classified ads shows.
- The Seventies marked the beginning of the transition of Swiss watchmaking towards a consolidation of the players in place under the effect of foreign competition. This Europa Star cover shows a creation by Audemars Piguet, just a few years before the appearance of the Royal Oak, the striking symbol of the Seventies.
- ©Europa Star
Through the chaos
Having already survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, the publishing house traversed the Second World War guided by the same principle: resilience in the midst of chaos. Although Hugo Buchser found himself trapped in Spain when war broke out, he managed to return to Switzerland. His family took in refugee children during the conflict.
In the post-war period, the focus was on reconstruction and unification, in order to avoid new conflicts. The United Nations was born, as was the European Community project from which Europa Star takes its name – both harbingers of hope for a more peaceful world. Initially published as a European watch periodical in the 1950s, following the ratification of the Treaty of Rome (alongside Eurotec, a magazine dedicated to microtechnology), Europa Star gradually gave its name to all the watch magazines published by the company. Yes, branding was important, even back then!
Symbolising the hope for a more peaceful world, the United Nations was born, as well as the European Community project, from which Europa Star takes its name.
- The Eighties: a few manufacturers barely managed to escape extinction. But many valuable documents were lost. At Zenith, the archives of the El Primero were saved by a daring employee, Charles Vermot.
- ©Europa Star
Building bridges, not walls
The Cold War did not prevent the publishing house from trying to build a bridge between East and West. As early as the 1960s, technical magazines dedicated to what was then the Eastern bloc were published and distributed beyond the Iron Curtain. Contrary to what one might think today, economic exchanges (albeit very discreet ones) continued on both sides of the Wall during the Cold War, especially as far as machine tools were concerned. History is always more nuanced than it seems.
Switzerland dominated the world watchmaking scene at the time, but it was not the only watchmaking nation. When Europa Star agreed to accept ads from French watchmakers, industry lobbyists were quick to protest. However, the publisher refused to give in to their demands, as it considered that the watch industry would be stronger if it were truly global. Moreover, watchmaking genius is not limited to just one side of the Jura...
After the colourful Eighties, Europa Star, now printed on glossy paper, took a more glamorous turn, along with the entire watch industry.
Helping to reinvent an industry
The risk of believing oneself to be the best is that one stops innovating. The 1970s brought an existential crisis for the Swiss watch industry, which was overtaken by Japanese mass production. Europa Star, whose publications had been distributed in Japan for decades, and which was therefore well aware of the nation’s industrial might, analysed all the twists and turns of a transformation that would force the Swiss watchmaking industry to demonstrate the strongest spirit of resilience in its history.
With the orientation towards mechanical luxury on the one hand, and cool ready-to-wear on the other, the Swiss industry reinvented itself and incorporated new and powerful marketing tools. This era also marked the beginning of a golden age for watchmaking magazines, when they were promoted as a vehicle for transmitting watchmaking prestige around the world. After the colourful Eighties, Europa Star, now on glossy paper, took a more glamorous turn, along with the entire watch industry.
- The Nineties laid the foundations for the success of the revival of traditional watchmaking through luxury. Chopard, a proudly independent house, launched its Happy Sport model.
- ©Europa Star
The two foundations of today’s industry
The Nineties marked a technological breakthrough: the emergence of the internet. As early as 1996, Europa Star launched a network of horological websites. It would still be many years before the watchmaking industry would adopt this tool, which is now the main vector of daily communication, further strengthened today by the unprecedented effects of a global pandemic.
The other major upheaval with its roots in the Nineties was the resurgence of a powerful nation eager for symbols of luxury: China. When the Europa Star team went to Shanghai in 1994 to distribute issues of its new Chinese-language magazine at a trade fair, they sparked a riot: hundreds of people jostled to get their copy from the Europa Star stand. It was a very concrete reflection of China’s appetite for watchmaking! The police had to intervene to restore order and prevent an accident.
- Excerpt from Le Nouveau Quotidien on the launch of a new Chinese version of Europa Star in 1994.
When the Europa Star team went to Shanghai in 1994 to distribute issues of its new Chinese-language magazine at a trade fair, it sparked a riot, as people jostled to get their copy. It was a very concrete reflection of the business potential of this country.
- The Millenium opens with the best years of growth in luxury watchmaking. It lasts until 2015. Between the pandemic crisis and the threat of recession, the watch industry must now demonstrate a resilience equal to that which it has shown in previous major crises.
- ©Europa Star
Reconciling different universes
Thanks to China, the Swiss watch industry doubled its turnover between 2005 and 2015. The luxury segment of watchmaking became increasingly important, with massive investments being made by global luxury groups to acquire Swiss companies. At the same time, a highly creative new scene opened up new horizons and led the industry into an explosion of extravagant colours, materials and designs.
In the years 2000 and 2010, Europa Star innovated and adapted, adopting a new layout with added-value content, a new set of websites, reinforced global distribution, and the opening of its watch archives. The tools change, but the spirit remains faithful to the mission the publishing house has held dear for almost a century: to contribute to the creation of a global watchmaking community through connection, reflection and debate. Always with a concern for impartiality and critical distance, especially in an age of undifferentiated digital communication and fake news, and without yielding, either, to the temptation to become a sales platform, but with the firm ambition to remain an independent media.
The concern for impartiality and critical distance is more important than ever in the age of undifferentiated digital communication and fake news.
- One theme dominates today: resilience. This is the subject of the latest special issue of Europa Star.
- ©Europa Star
What developments can we expect to see over the coming decade? The internet has become an everyday communication tool, but it is a difficult channel to master: new products quickly appear and are as quickly forgotten, it has become a playground for the parallel market, the prestige of brands is taking a hit on social networks, and the distinction between information and communication is increasingly blurred.
The next revolution will be to reconcile watchmaking and digital technology. Europa Star will certainly be able to play a role in this respect. Major new developments are coming, although a little patience will be required.