n the 2000s, Alain Marhic, current CEO and co-founder of March LA.B, worked in the Watch division of Quicksilver. It was here that he caught the watchmaking bug, cutting his teeth on digital watches, then progressing to sports models. He was required to travel to Basel, Switzerland, to meet with suppliers and track the trends.
“I was fascinated by the high-end market”, he confesses. “I thought it was fantastic, but terribly expensive. The sports offering was adequate, but I felt that more sophisticated products were needed to create a more interesting segment.” This period of reflection lasted three years and the spark was kindled by a meeting with his friends, Jérome Mage (currently head of design) and Joseph Chatel. They decided to join forces in order to corner their envisaged segment. In 2009, Alain Marhic quit Quicksilver. Two years later, the first March LA.B saw the light of day.
Saved in the nick of time
The goal of the three partners was simple: to make elegant, affordable French watches. They scoured the Franche-Comté region, the historic cradle of the French watchmaking industry, in search of their future partners and suppliers. But no-one seemed interested: “Too many risks, an unknown brand, no contacts in distribution” were among the most commonly raised objections.
- Alain Marhic, CEO and co-founder of March LA.B
Convinced they had a valid concept, they turned to Switzerland and thus branched out into Swiss made products with quartz and automatic movements (ETA 2892). They therefore managed to sell their quartz watches for 700-800€ and mechanical models for 1,600-1,700€ a piece. But the early days were tough. Competition was rife with better known brands such as Bell & Ross selling at around 2,000€. Distribution also proved complicated. Doors did not open easily.
The business partners pushed ahead enthusiastically with their dream for two years. Unfortunately, they suffered a severe blow when they posted nearly 80% after-sales returns. Thoroughly dejected, they considered filing for bankruptcy and ceasing their business activities for a few months. However, demand suddenly increased enormously when they dropped their prices in order to clear their stocks. They realized that their design, and therefore their concept, was a big success after all.
- March LA.B Mansart, a flagship model
The Made in France dream
They decided to make a fresh start. “We lowered our prices, assembled in France and used Japanese movements (Miyota), selling quartz for around 500€ and automatic models for 1,000-1,200€. Our design aesthetic found its audience and the retail outlets followed”, Alain Marhic confesses. They opened their first store in Paris in late 2013, then a second in 2015 and a third in 2020. March LA.B finally took off!
The aim is now to move upmarket and try and make as many components as possible in France. To achieve this, they are currently working with Humbert-Droz in Besançon. They still incorporate movements supplied by a Swiss partner (La Joux-Perret), but assembly and casing is performed entirely in France.
- La Joux-Perret automatic calibre
It’s a success. Production now exceeds 6,000 watches a year and March LA.B has over 100 retail outlets around the world (including 70 in France). Prices range from 700 to 2,000€ and it now lives up to the founders’ original vision. “The brand is much better known today”, Alain Marhic explains. “We’ve established our distribution channels and we offer fair prices… especially since the general market has gone up enormously. This overall trend has enabled us to reach the positioning we were initially targeting.”
Change in status
Although the brand is still young, it’s now determined to “produce even more in France”. “This year,” the brand’s CEO confirms, “we’ll be assembling a La Joux-Perret chronograph in France!” And that’s only the start of it for March LA.B. “We’re also considering the possibility of collaborating with 100% Made in France movements, such as Pequignet. For the moment, they’re still a bit expensive for our positioning, but we’ll see.” The brand proves how the French watchmaking industry is shaping up. It’s a creative, forward-looking, dynamic sector that provides a genuine alternative to the Swiss made offering.
- The March LA.B store in Paris
March LA.B shows above all that resilience is vital for success. “We had every confidence in our initial idea”, the CEO emphasises. “We believed in it even when the going got tough. And then the market developed in a way that made our vision more relevant.” He gives a telling example: “Ten years ago, customers in their 40s/50s came into the store wearing a Rolex and said: “I love what you make, I want to buy a nice gift for my son.” Today, the same customers come back to buy a March LA.B for themselves.”
In a watchmaking world dominated by major players and historic (Swiss) manufactures, March LA.B is the living proof that a different design with a splash of 1970s “cool”, elegance, the French Touch and a thoroughly French approach to watchmaking, can find its target audience and offer a refreshing alternative for enthusiasts of “no-frills” fine watchmaking.