Ten years ago, a holding group owned by the Meylan family acquired the then-foundering H. Moser & Cie., an independent Swiss watch brand with roots dating to 1828. The then-35-year-old Edouard Meylan was put at the helm to revitalize the brand, becoming one of the youngest chief executives ever to steer a watch company. By altering its course, Mr. Meylan has generated an almost cultlike following.
His cutting-edge product design, provocative communications and trendy collaborations resonate with today’s younger collectors. Mr. Meylan recently discussed his newest street-culture collab with the American streetwear fashion label Undefeated, his brand’s avant-garde attitude and its reluctance to ever become “classic.” His comments in a video interview from H. Moser’s headquarters in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, have been edited and condensed.
When you first took over H. Moser, did you know which direction to go?
To be honest, we thought the brand was too big for us as a family as an investment, but everything went so fast that we didn’t realize as much as we should have about the brand’s financial situation. That’s why we were probably the only ones to want to invest; they were days away from bankruptcy. So when we acquired Moser, we jumped right in.
I knew we couldn’t do what every other brand was doing. But we had some good watches to work with, like the perpetual calendar. So, in 2013 and 2014 we tried playing with colors and with materials. And then, boom: In 2015, the Funky Blue perpetual calendar was a hit. Then, boom, comes the concept watch and we saw the market say, “Oh, this is cool.” Moser was never cool before. I started thinking maybe we are onto something. We started finding younger language and expressions. We started using provocation, humor and activism and that started putting Moser on the map.
How does being an independent brand versus a group brand help?
We can do things that bigger group-owned brands can’t with their marketing and message. Our latest watch released this year is the Streamliner Chronograph Blacker Than Black, with a case coated in Vantablack material [a process said to absorb most visible light]. The message was about showing a glimpse of the future of our industry. When you go to an exhibition, sure, you want to see the new pieces from the brands, but you also want to see something different, to discover the concept watches. Or, as in car shows, you want to discover the Ferrari of the future, or the BMW concept car with all the gadgets you would never see in a production car. This attracts the people and then we can engage them in what else we have to offer.
Who is your target market?
Our prices start at around $13,000 so a younger collector who wants to buy an indie brand can do it. The age of our average customer today versus 10 years ago has dropped by 20 to 30 years, even though we have watches retailing for as much as $90,000. It sounds a bit extreme, but we see our brand talking to the Millennial and Gen X and Gen Y customers.
We produce just about 2,000 watches a year, so we often have waiting lists. What makes them so in demand has a lot to do with our minimalistic design aesthetic, and our bold fumé gradient dials in multiple tones like Funky Blue and Matrix Green. At $40,000 for the average sale, consumers must like what we are doing.
H. Moser has released a host of collaborations. How did those work for the brand?
The one with MB&F, an independent Swiss maker, helped both brands a lot in May 2020 when everyone was struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic. We thought it would be the worst time to launch, but actually it was the best time because nobody was launching anything, and we had this great alliance. We also did a collaboration with the men’s wear brand The Armoury and with some artists. What I like about collaborations is the process of going through the discussions and trying to have as few boundaries as possible.
On June 15, we are announcing a collaboration with the Los Angeles-based urban streetwear and sneaker brand Undefeated. The relationship was initiated by Eric Peng Cheng, co-owner of Undefeated. He came to us, because he is a fan of watches and of Moser. I got this email from him and thought, ‘Oh, it must be spam.’ I asked if it was really him. He said yes and that he had bought two Moser Streamliner watches and that one day he wanted to do an H. Moser collaboration. I said yes right away, though it took a couple of years to get here.
I always wanted to go outside of the watch world, and Undefeated has this huge community of people who just love aesthetics and who have street culture and attitude. People willing to spend $1,000 on a pair of sneakers can buy our watches. And for the first time, we are doing something around our Streamliner collection and adding patterns and new design codes that our current Moser collectors haven’t seen before. So the all-black DLC, or diamond-like coating, stainless steel H. Moser Streamliner Chronograph X Undefeated is a limited-edition chronograph with both logos and a very moody camo pattern on the dial.
I love the way Undefeated does their product drops and the way they communicate. I knew we could learn so much from each other while also broadening our audiences.
H. Moser is known for streaks of political activism in certain watches.
For us, it is about doing things differently. Certain watches we released were about the message. The Swiss Alp watch [in the shape of an Apple Watch] was a message about how smart watches won’t replace mechanical ones. The Swiss Mad watch made of real cheese [inside a resin case] offered our vision of what Swiss-made should be. It was satire and demonstrated how the marketing of an indie brand can be daring and different. The Nature watch [with a stone dial, a grass strap and a case nestled in live plants] was created to express our views on corporate responsibility and sustainability.
Is there a risk in these sorts of releases?
If we became a classic, it would be difficult to stand out. We would be up against the big name brands that are classics. So these statements are not risky at all. Moser fills a void in the market between traditional and modern watchmaking: We keep the essence of traditional watchmaking with details like finishes, gold screws and more, but our watches are cool, sexy and offer a different vibe. The worst thing we could do would be to make a totally classic watch.