Fascinating story here out of Le Locle, Switzerland. Philippe DuBois & Fils SA, which lays claim to being the “oldest watch factory in Switzerland”, is relaunching its brand in 2013 — via an ongoing “crowdfunding” effort which has currently raised over 160,000 Swiss francs.
Thomas Steinemann, who took over as owner and CEO of the Swiss watch factory in 2010, plans to focus on a ‘small, unique watch collection’ production in maximum quantities of 99 pieces per model. The brand will present itself under the “DuBois et Fils” brand and will seek to leverage its historical roots as a Swiss watch producer while presenting classically styled and understated mechanical timepieces in the price range of 6,000CHF – 15,000 CHF. Most unique, however, is the distribution and funding mechanism! I’ll break it down — including a look a the “oldest watch factory in Switzerland” claim, below.
At present, the website www.duboisfils.ch shows 84 investors for total crowd-funded capital of 162,000 CHF. This amount seems small to me, but I saw on DuBois et fils’ Facebook page that 150,000 CHF is just 10% of the target — i.e. they plan to raise 1.5 million CHF. Following from this “crowdfunding” effort, a new watch collection will be available on the market next year. Each mechanical Swiss-made watch will be strictly limited to 99 pieces. The first close-up pictures of the prototypes show classic lines with an individual style, elegance and the values known by Swiss watches. Initial “teaser video” — seen here — shows promise that these will be good looking watches:
Company representatives tell me that most investors are from Switzerland and Germany, though the application process appears to be open to the world (except the USA, thanks to our regulations) — any interested parties can buy shares between 500 to 10,000 Swiss francs — just go through the application process and you will be provided with wire transfer instructions to complete your funding.
I found the company’s marketing strategy to also be interesting — “less is more”:
Within the marketing the company will be breaking new ground as well – and that means being reserved. No athlete or celebrity will be presenting the watches – each shareholder will act as a brand ambassador: “Every investor has confidence in the company – and confidence is what a brand needs. This is how we spread our name in the world. Every person that wears our watches, each shareholder is a brand ambassador,” says Thomas Steinemann. Dealers are welcome to the group of shareholders as well – because only few sellers are supposed to represent the brand worldwide.
Less is more, according to the 54-year-old Steinemann who fulfilled a lifetime dream with “his” factory: “I’ve been waiting a long time for an opportunity like this to come. With DuBois et fils I’ve fulfilled a dream that I want to share with other watch lovers.”
Yes, we have seen various watches “crowdfunded” via sites like Kickstarter, but they tend to be new upstarts, “technology” focused (i.e. an iPod Nano for your wrist) and really nothing like DuBois et Fils with its traditional, mechanical Swiss watches and longstanding history of Swiss watchmaking. And in fact DuBois is selling shares — actual ownership — in the company. Not just funding a product launch as one would do on Kickstarter.
I, for one, am quite intrigued and interested in seeing how this evolves. Thomas is in a certain sense charting new territory here for the watch industry. I have corresponded with him and I think his approach is well thought out. Note: If you are considering becoming an investor, I strongly recommend contacting the company first and doing further due diligence. I am not endorsing in any manner the company or the investment opportunity presented by DuBois et fils.
This things said, with a fantastic heritage and a modern business model, it will be interesting to see where DuBois et Fils can go. Check it all out at http://duboisfils.ch
Oldest Swiss Watchmaker?
As an interesting aside, some of you may be wondering about the “oldest watch factory in Switzerland” tagline — after all, isn’t it the mighty Vacheron Constantin which claims the mantle of” the world’s oldest watch manufacturer” (1755)? Or (thanks to reader tip) Blancpain the “oldest watchmaking brand” (1735)? On ponderin this more, I became quite curious, and thus I decided to ask Thomas Steinemann of DuBois for his take on the matter.
He tells me that that there are documents which confirm that DuBois started watch production in 1751 — 4 years before Vacheron’s founding in 1755. And further, that Vacheron and DuBois had a legal tussle about 30 years ago over this same topic — and that Vacheron was forced to accept that DuBois can claim the title of “oldest Swiss watch factory”.
This perhaps explains the “qualifer” that I have seen Vacheron use — describing itself as “the world’s oldest continuous watchamaker” (my emphasis added). Clearly a cleverly worded phrase that would not be used without reason.
Though if DuBois is correct that it was producing in 1751, then why does it use 1785 in its marketing materials?? This matter seems to be not exactly “black and white.” And especially now that DuBois is reviving itself, including the bold claim of “oldest watch factory in Switzerland”, my guess is that we have not seen the end of this interesting story of watch history!
UPDATE: As I mentioned above, I corresponded on a few topics including the “oldest Swiss watch factory” claim. He notes a few additional items to consider. There are three subtle, but different claims at hand here:
- Oldest Swiss watchmaking brand — Blancpain, 1735
- Oldest Swiss watch manufacture — Vacheron Constantin, 1755
- Oldest Swiss watch factory — Philippe DuBois et fils, 1785
Again it will be interesting to see how the “big boys” react if DuBois starts to gain a larger presence in the market. Seems, though, that they may have to accept a third “Oldest” claim with regards to Swiss watchmakers.
Also, I asked Thomas why he used the “1785” date instead of “1751”. Thomas tells me that “Moise DuBois, the father of Philippe, started in 1743 with the watch business. In the beginning he was only a dealer. In 1751 he started his watch production in the building in Grande-Rue 22 in Le Locle. This is confirmed from different people and as well from the watch museum in Le Locle. 1760 his son Philippe took over the company and in 1875 when his 3 sons joined the company he renamed it to Philippe DuBois & fils SA. That’s why we keep the founder date with 1785.”
OK! Interesting horological history!