I think it was just after the 2008 crash that the calls started coming in.
Complete strangers were calling our offices and inquiring about watches as potential instruments for investment. From their perspective it seemed to make sense. Fine timepieces have perpetual and intrinsic value, are liquid and easy to convert to cash and small enough to secret away in a bank deposit box or home safe. Some will even appreciate over time.
To these speculators and investors, the watch was simply a widget and could be anything (think NFTs), a device in which to insert capital and to be added to the other elements of a portfolio.
This cold, calculating valuation of wristwatches has gained momentum over the last decade-plus and is fueling rampant and runaway pricing on several preferred models. Some of which have seen values soar to ten, fifteen or even twenty times the original retail price.
This explosive surge has been brought on by a kind of perfect storm. First-off it could not happen without the internet. In the pre-internet era values would still climb on preferred pieces, but the forces pushing the growth were operating at a statelier pace. Watches would see price growth at auction, or via secondary sales at retail shops. The growth was not as immediately visible and volatile as the current state of viral information pathways.
Another factor is the fear of missing out. Buyers (note I did not say collectors) want to hop on board before the train leaves the station and are fueling the fires of desire and driving costs through the roof.
Forgive me if I feel that buying a watch purely as an investment is a sterile event without any real enthusiasm for the product, or any chance that the “investment” watches will ever see the light of day. Chances are the commoditized timepieces will sit in the dark until the next transaction, never to be enjoyed, shared, or shown-off except to confirm authenticity.
I’m a watch guy and have been for a long time. I appreciate the look, feel, sounds, and even smells (that vanilla scent on a nice rubber strap) that evoke pride of ownership and real enjoyment. Whether an affordable field watch with great lume, or a repeater softly chiming the time, watches are meant to be worn just like cars are meant to be driven.
I have a friend that has had amazing financial success in life. He recently invited me to his home and knowing I’m a car enthusiast was happy to show me some of the exceptional cars he had acquired over the years. One of which was the famous 1955 Jaguar D-Type. Designed for racing at LeMans and other venues, the D Type also happens to be street legal.
So as my friend sees me gaping at his exquisite machine, he tells me to look under the wheel well. I bend over, careful not to touch the coachworks, and look underneath. What I see is a spattering of mud on the wheel well liner. Not only does he drive this seven-million-dollar car, he drives it around town and even drives it to the track on vintage race days!
iW recently interviewed Delma Managing Director Andreas Leibundgut about the independent Swiss watchmaking company he oversees. With fairly new distribution in the United States, Delma has heightened its profile among enthusiasts and has introduced an impressive collection of new dive watches, notably the Blue Shark III.
In our wide-ranging interview, Leibundgut reviews Delma’s history as a Swiss watchmaker and describes the brand’s current collections and marketing philosophy.
iW: Can you give us a quick overview of Delma’s history through to today?
Andreas Leibundgut: Delma was founded in 1924 in Lengnau, Switzerland, by the Gilomen brothers as A & A Gilomen SA with the four brands: Delma, Gil, Midland, and Thuya. In 1966 the Gilomen’s were seeking a successor as there was none within the family. They found Ulrich Wüthrich, my grandfather, who acquired the company with a partner.
Following the takeover, they renamed the company after the Delma brand and started building on its sports collection. In 1969 Delma’s first divers’ watch, the Periscope, was launched and with it started our commitment to creating great performance watches that stand the test of time.
In 1996 Fred Leibundgut, my father, joined the company and started shifting the focus of Delma back to its core, the sports timepieces, that Delma had deviated from in the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, we have successfully rebuilt our Diver and Racing collections with some outstanding performance timepieces. Delma has weathered the stormy past two years quite well and today we are looking forward to celebrating our upcoming centennial anniversary in 2024 in a way that’s worthy of that milestone.
What are some of the unique selling points that make Delma stand out?
As one of the few independent and family-owned Swiss watch manufacturers, established nearly a century ago, we offer exceptional products at very competitive prices for modern day adventurers.
In a competitive market, how do you position Delma with regard to other existing watch brands?
Delma develops timepieces for aspirational ladies and gentlemen with a connection to the water, whether that’s below the surface with our Diver collection, above the surface with our Racing collection or on the coast with our Dress and Elegance collections.
What price range does Delma cultivate and do you see this evolving in either direction in the future?
Delma’s core segment is between $1,000 and $4,000 with our most popular divers’ watches starting at around $1,100 – $1,200. Over the past few years, we have seen a strong increase in demand for our mechanical models and as such we will continue to focus on mechanical performance timepieces that push boundaries of strength and functionality.
What is the demographic/psychographic profile of a “Delma” customer?
We target modern day adventurers with a connection to the water who seek a timepiece that reflects their spirit and/or lifestyle and can be relied upon when it’s time to perform. Our commitment to craftsmanship and functional design attracts a more mature consumer profile, primarily people between 35 and 65 who value quality and have the willingness and means to spend on a Swiss Made timepiece.
What strategies will you employ to enhance Delma’s visibility in the North American market?
We plan to continue to engage in partnerships with digital and traditional media outlets with a focus on specialist outreach. In areas where we have a partner, we will also run co-op advertising and create out of home campaigns. Increasing our retail presence and awareness in North America is a key part of our 2022 strategy.
What are the biggest challenges for a brand like Delma to capture market share and expand?
The biggest challenge is gaining access to high quality point of sale locations. We see an ongoing trend of consolidation with larger players acquiring great independents to expand their network. These players tend to focus on brands from larger houses and have less interest in smaller independent brands like us. In turn the number of quality independent jewelers and watch retailers which we feel are the best physical platform for our products have been significantly reduced.
What is your plan to balance the direct-to-consumer sales with the traditional brick and mortar sales channels?
For Delma, direct-to-consumer and brick and mortar channels are complementary. Both are needed and both channels rely upon each other to do well. We have a well running DTC sales channel and continue to expand our presence in targeted brick and mortar locations in Europe, North America and beyond.
What is the Delma Design process? Would you consider your designs to be proactive or reactive with regard to current trends?
The development of a new model starts with an idea or a new concept, which is then sketched out before we move on to technical drawings, 3D modeling and prototyping. While we have a clear strategy and direction for the brand and the products we are developing, we do consider consumer demands and trends in the design process, particularly with finishes and color choices. Most important however is that we remain true to our identity, more so now than ever before.
I personally recall Delma’s attempt to enter the American market in the early 1990s and even have one of your two-tone quartz watches (my very first Swiss watch) still in my collection. How has Delma changed as a company since then with regard to style, ethos and leadership?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Delma deviated a bit from its core and produced a number of dress watches in gold, platinum, and other elaborate finishes. While they were well received at the time, we have regained focus on our foundation with invigorated commitment to sports and divers’ watches reflected in our new releases and promotional materials.
It’s hard for me to accurately judge the leadership and ethos of the early 1990s given my age, but I would argue that today, given the available tools at hand, we are much more directly involved in each market, and we are more brand focused.
In the past, distributors were met potentially twice a year, once in Basel and once during a personal visit. Now, there is a constant exchange between the people in the market and our team in Switzerland. This allows us to be much closer to all extensions of the brand including retail partners, media outlets and clients.
Will Delma embrace the growing move towards environmental stewardship, conservation, or any other philanthropic causes?
With a strong focus on divers and sports watches, we have sincere interest in preserving the oceans and the wildlife that depends on them. Hence, Delma supports a variety of organizations and programs centered around ocean conservation. Most recently, Delma, together with ocean conservationist and Delma ambassador Magnus Lundborg supported the Megalodon Project. A research endeavor to understand and protect Blue Sharks among other endangered animals that live in the waters surrounding the Azores archipelago.
In 2020, we also released a limited-edition timepiece in celebration of the 200 years since the discovery of Antarctica, which supported the Antarctic and Southern Ocean coalition in its mission to protect this great wilderness and the fascinating wildlife that relies on it. We intend to continue our philanthropic efforts and serve as stewards of global preservation.
Currently Delma has no fewer than fifteen different lines in the collection. That’s a lot for any brand and I wonder if there are any thoughts to consolidate and distill the collections to develop a tighter image of what a “Delma” watch represents?
Several years ago, the company took the decision to focus more strongly on its core, the diver, and sports watches. This has proven to be a successful path, but we are not yet where we want to be. As such you can expect that there will be new products coming in that segment with a certain clean up in other areas.
Are all collections available in North America?
Yes! We provide all our new retail partners with a recommendation for their collection selected from our complete collection based on bespoke factors and will do the same in North America as we continue to grow there.
We understand the retailer knows his clients best and are proud to be able to offer this flexibility and customizability to suit their unique demands, something that sets us as an independent, family-owned company apart from other brands and companies.
Vostok-Europe launches into orbit with its new Space Race edition. Celebrating the years 1957 through 1975 (as etched on the case back), the watch touches both sides of the Cold War-era of the last century.
The critical dates and the events in the challenge to get to the moon occurred in this eighteen-year window. From Sputnik to Gagarin to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, all these events and related personalities made their marks within those fateful dates. This is all honored in the new Space Race watch.
Vostok-Europe is a boutique watch brand based in Vilnius, Lithuania, with seventeen years on the market. They build mostly sport and recreational watches, particularly dive watches.
The Space Race won’t be the only watch in their collection with ties to space travel. The Lunokhod II is inspired by a series of lunar rovers the Russians put on the moon. The N1 Rocket and the Energia both celebrate two of the most complex and largest rocket systems ever built.
The Space Race series features two models. One is driven by a YN55 automatic movement and the other is powered by a Miyota quartz chronograph movement. The case size is 47mm by 17mm, so these are not small watches. A K1 glass system protects the watch. With a 200-meter water resistant design, this is nearly a professional grade diver, save for the required rotating bezel.
The Space Race comes in eight different color dial options. The strap is an extra thick leather and there are also mesh and rubber bracelet options.
While the somewhat proforma iterations in standard charcoal and ash grey will appeal to the more conservative crown-twisting crowd, watch fans looking to add a bit of bold to their own dreams of field watches will love these striking new colors from Formex.
Housed in a 41mm hardened titanium case, Formex’s new Field Automatic takes on a funkified retro look with a modern appeal by incorporating Petrol Blue, Mahogany Red, Sage Green, and Ultra Violet dial options to create a tension between homage and “oh my”.
Rated to 150 meters of water resistance and featuring a screw-down crown and an anti-reflective sapphire on top, the hardened housing hosts a Swiss Sellita SW 200-1 automatic winding movement ticking away at 28,800 vph with a power reserve of 41 hours when fully wound.
Both NATO and leather strap options are available – as is the Formex patented micro-adjust carbon composite clasp.
Prices range from $795 on the NATO strap and to $945 on a fine leather strap. Learn more at the Formex website.