I’ll never forget a conversation I had a couple of years ago with one of Baume & Mercier’s marketing bods. I was asking him why a brand that was trying to reestablish itself as a bona fide Swiss watchmaker would run a campaign based around a stock-photo family posing for the camera in the Hamptons, some 6,000 kilometres away from watchmaking central. His response was, frankly, odd – ‘The Hamptons are our philosophy; Switzerland is our focus.’
He managed to say this without so much as a blink, and I managed, just, to hear it without slapping myself in the face – I’ve rarely been fed such meaningless tosh. Because let’s be honest, here. The only fathomable connection between Baume & Mercier’s ‘Life is about moments’ ads and Swissness is cheese, albeit of two very different kinds.
I remember thinking at the time that while his statement was absurd, it was also enormously depressing, because it masked the excellence of the Capeland, which, like the new campaign, had just been launched. The Capeland was and remains a good-looking mechanical watch with a modest price tag that’s continued to pull in strong reviews for its subsequent incarnations, which include the swish world timer announced this summer.
Unfortunately, the Emmental family with North American sand between their toes remain too, still overshadowing moments that would otherwise cast Baume et Mercier in a glowing light. This year’s Clifton is the latest example. Launched on the quiet in China last September and with more fanfare at SIHH in January, it’s proved to be one of 2013’s best watches.
Not that it needed it, but at SIHH it got a leg-up because it was the only all-new collection launched – by any brand. This made it interesting, not just because it gave us something to talk about, but because it was also indicative of an industry ploughing more money into securing a self-reliant future than into bringing new lines to market. Better now to invest in movement manufacture than marketing new products, goes the theory, but that’s a story for another day.
Going back to my point, the Clifton makes a handy case study. Most have agreed it’s a great watch, and I’d concur, but it’s held back by the branding around it.
As a design, it’s beautifully conceived, and perfectly pitched for the classic tastes of today’s watch buyer (and reviewer, I can attest). The new models range in size from 39-43mm, and all of them are unfussy and nicely balanced. Even the complete calendar model treads the line with poise – powered by Dubois-Dépraz’s 9000 calibre, it incorporates day, date, month and moon-phase displays without butchering the elegant simplicity of the watch’s design.
The picks of the collection are easily the flagship hand-would rose gold model (10060) and the entry-level automatic, which, from personal experience, works best in stainless steel with blued hands (10052).
The former, incidentally, has an 18-carat gold 42mm case and a double-barrelled, 90-hour power reserve movement made by La Joux-Perret (and not in Baume & Mercier’s manufacture, as listed rather irritatingly on the brand’s website) that gleams theatrically through a sapphire crystal case back. It’s a proper Swiss watch and an object to desire.
All the more wonderful is that none of these new Clifton pieces carries a daft price tag. As the little brother in the Richemont family, Baume et Mercier’s pricing structure is at the ‘accessible’ end of the luxury spectrum. The automatic kicks in at £1,990/€2,470 and the hand-wound tops the collection out at £9,600/€11,900. The complete calendar in steel is £3,350/€4,200.
So, here we have a brand trying to find its feet as a proper Swiss watch company once again (it was founded in 1830 and once made tourbillons and minute repeaters), producing watches in Switzerland that carry Swiss Made on the dial. In the case of the Clifton and the Capeland (forgetting the Hampton and Linea collections, which are as mawkish as the ads), they look great, the price points are very reasonable and on the wrist they work.
But why then are they marketed as the accessory of an Aviator-wearing North American dad, whose wife buys all his Christmas gifts in Restoration Hardware? It’s too literal an exercise in adhering to the results of market research.
At the moment, Baume & Mercier’s approach is like ordering chateaubriand and then washing it down with Coke. The combination of Swissness and the Hamptons doesn’t make sense, and, worse, it’s a waste.
The trouble here is that people buy brands before they buy products. And in Baume & Mercier’s price bracket, there are plenty of better brands. Not necessarily better products, you understand – quite the opposite, in fact. The Clifton is a snorter, but the brand just ain’t there to back it up.
Some free advice, therefore, for Baume & Mercier. Ditch the picket fences and the nicelookingpeople.com branding, go big on Capeland, Clifton and make them feel Swiss if you can, and then run with it. If not, life will become about moments to forget, rather than moments we’ll be talking about for generations to come (yep, that’s the kind of cheese I’m talking about…).