The come back
— After a two-year hiatus following bankruptcy, Ventura now re-enters the watch world.
4th October 2009
Toward the end of November, a new Ventura shop will go online. This may come as a great surprise to the avid followers of Ventura's postmodern style of watchmaking, since the investors founder Pierre Nobs had acquired to continue the weakened venture pulled the plug and declared bankruptcy in September of 2007.
“I think that the main problem was the total lack of chemistry between me — never ceasing to build up a brand and an image — and the private equity investors, who were looking for a quick return. Frankly, I don't care to look back [at this period in time],” Nobs explained this morning during an exclusive interview.
First sketch on a napkin
Nobs, a mechanical engineer by profession, designed his first watch on a cocktail napkin in a bar in Tokyo 35 years ago as a solution to a problem for another company. Over the course of two decades during the mechanical renaissance, he made a name for his own brand founded in 1989, with ultra-modern design and standard ETA movements. The designs often came from fruitful collaboration with industry designers such as Flemming Bo Hansen, Paolo Fancelli, Adrian Frutiger, and Hannes Wettstein.
“[We wanted to] specialize in developing timepieces with distinct contemporary design and started with a digital project: ‘watch' by Danish designer Flemming Bo Hansen. What devils rode me to invest all of my own and some other's money into the development of this project — and at a time when digital watches were used as giveaways — I don't know. As it turned out, ‘watch' became one of Ventura's most successful products; it was selected in 1990 to become part of the permanent design collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.”
It was probably, however, Hansen's no-frills design combined with Nobs's Ventura Caliber 99 (a type of autoquartz) in a model called SPARC that earned the Swiss brand its reputation among aficionados.
Ventura design fits new realities
Ventura's demise came at an extremely fat time in the watch industry, with ever more complicated complications and larger, unusual cases. It was perhaps the unpretentious and unadorned style of the Ventura watches that caused prospective customers to look the other way during this period. “I am extremely glad that the years of the ‘bling-bling' vanished during [our] absence; I think that the sober, clean, and serious Ventura design fits the new realities just perfectly.”
Swiss government officials appointed by bankruptcy court attempted to arrange a sale of Ventura during these hiatus years, and indeed it did almost pass into the hands of an American wholesaler, as Nobs relates, “Some people attempted to cash in on the good name of Ventura by trying to purchase the brand on the cheap. I guess that they eventually realized that filling the shoe size would have been way over their heads.”
Nobs also explains that he continually received e-mails from around the world urging him to go back into business. “Frankly, I had started to take a liking to golf, working on my handicap,” he quips. “Eventually, however, it was Richard Tibber of Zeon Ltd. in London, an old friend, who was ready to bankroll the project and who made everything possible.”
Wettstein's v-matic series, a Bauhaus-style chronograph powered by a Valjoux 7750, was a popular mechanical Ventura family. Before going bankrupt, however, Nobs and his investors decided it was time to once and for set themselves apart from the competition, concentrating solely on what came to be known as the manufacture electronique and the concept of autoquartz, which he called MGS (Micro Generation System).
Always a tick in advance
Nobs explains what he sees as the near future for him, “Our models were always a tick too much in advance. Many consumers realized the strength of the Ventura concepts when it was too late; we will therefore be very busy catching up in delivering back orders and so many will be very happy that they are now finally able to get an original Ventura watch. Of course we do have plans for a new generation of products, but I am in no hurry. As in the past: good things need time.”
Hannes Wettstein, Nobs's “partner in time,” unfortunately passed away in mid-2008. Wettstein can certainly be termed instrumental in determining the look and feel of Ventura before its demise. Will there be a memorial timepiece? “Absolutely not,” Nobs emphatically answers. “Hannes was a friend and a unique designer; any attempt to cash in on his name and reputation would be cheap and unworthy. I am sure that he would have wanted me to continue the Ventura road and his legacy with young and talented new designers.”
As times have changed, so must Ventura — a fact Nobs understands without missing a beat. Therefore, his distribution policies will be somewhat modified. “It is unbelievable how many dealers want to have the brand back in their shop, and we intend to deal with them directly and without middlemen,” he explains. “At the same time, our website will feature an online shop, as it is impossible to reach out to all interested consumers all over the world otherwise. We have an obligation to take care of our customers.”