ThePuristS Interview

Mr. Eric Loth
CEO of The British Masters


by Jaw
© October 2002

Having studied engineering and gained a postgraduate degree in physical metallurgy as well as in management, Mr. Eric Loth started his career with the Swatch Group as a Product Development Manager. In 1987, he launched the Centre for Product Development. After having managed several watch case companies on behalf of the Swatch Group like Georges Ruedin SA and Lascos Spa and having created a technological start-up specialised in "metal injection molding" in 1992 he took over as head of Gianni Bulgari Watches.

In 1994, he set up Les Monts SA and P2M Consulting. This involved putting his skills at the service of brands and groups such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Bulgari Time, Samsung, Daniel Roth, Gerald Genta, Jaquet-Droz and Reuge Music.

Today, Graham, Arnold & Son and Tompion are three of the British Masters' brands which have found a very strong niche in the Mid to high-end watch market, specializing in interesting innovative watches which are generally considered to give good value for money.


(Graham Foudroyante, Lightning 1/8th Second)

1.      Since I am sincerely impressed with the depth and breadth of your knowledge; obviously not limited to the watch industry. I will start with a really tough question to floor youJ. The British Masters has been accused by some as a non-British company pretending to be one. What is your view on this?

EL: As a matter of fact, our watches Graham and Arnold & Son are manufactured in
Switzerland as mentioned on the dial. But your statement remains inappropriate for the following reasons. The origin of our brands, including their story and impressive contribution to the development of mechanical watches is definitely British. This is where all our inspiration and strategies are coming from. Second, our closed club of shareholders comprises British member, whose name and reputation as the oldest London retailer’s family is well established. Mr. William Asprey is also acting as a member of our board of directors and participates actively in our development

So, as most of the complicated parts like escapements, springs and rubies for the movement, cases, dials and hands of sophisticated mechanical watches are still and exclusively manufactured in Switzerland, it remains impossible, at this date, to manufacture a fine watch entirely out of Switzerland. In other words, The British Masters are developing and manufacturing their products in the most advanced region of the world, which is the region of Swiss Jura.

2.      How was the idea of The British Masters conceived? And who were the original players and shareholders? Any changes since then?

EL: The story simply started with the meeting of three passionate people who wanted to create a new business in mechanical and innovative watches. Our quest for uniqueness and our passion for technical history naturally drove our search to the great British Masters. It became clear to us that we had to adhere to the past British way to meet our actual wishes for mechanical innovation. So, we took the control of six of the most famous historical names including our main brands Arnold & Son and Graham and built our company in 1995.
 

The original players were Mr. Thomke, Mr. Finazzi and I, acting as CEO. We lost Mr. Finazzi in 2001, but gained two other decisive partners in the meantime, they are Mr. Jaquet and Mr. Asprey.

 
(Graham Foudroyante, Case-back)

  3.      Can you elaborate a little on your role and that of fellow shareholders in The British Masters?

EL: It is always difficult to state on someone’s own role in the development of a new company. However, I can say that my past experience as product development manager, as well as my education as mechanical engineer and materials physicist contributed to bring a technical substance to our products. My further experience in crisis management and business turnaround, first at The Swatch Group and then as management consultant under my own company, also contributed to include a rational control during the romantic period of start-up. Maybe I  could consider myself as the natural father of The British Masters, but I would emphasize on the decisive contribution of my other partners that became all of them, adoptive fathers of The British Masters. 

4.      We heard you have worked for several companies; amongst them are Daniel Roth and Samsung etc. Is it true? If so, can you elaborate? And how have those experiences shape you as a person?

EL: Because all our financial means were dedicated to the development of our brands and products, there was no available money for our salaries. For this reason, we started a consulting business in parallel, under the company name P2M Consulting (P2M for Product and Process Management), and worked on specific project with Samsung Aerospace, Rollei Cameras, and also watch companies such as Audemars Piguet, Roth and Genta, Jaquet-Droz and last but not least Rolex Industries.  As these consulting mandates were concerning sensitive questions, you will understand that I am not in a position to elaborate on them. However, I shall agree that these experiences brought me a lot of complementary knowledge regarding the watch industry. As already stated, this experience was added to my former life within the industry; 13 years as product development and production manager for the Swatch group, and 3 years as managing director of Gianni Bulgari’s projects. In total I am adding not less than 22 years of business practice.


(Graham Silverstone, Fly-back, GMT & Big Date, all adjustments can be made from the same crown)

 

5.      In my personal opinion, the Graham Foudroyante is truly a revolutionary watch. When and why did Jaquet decided to develop this watch? And what are the respective roles of Jaquet and Girard-Perregaux on this piece?

EL: Mr. Jaquet is not only a partner to The British Masters, but he also is our most strategic supplier of our special movements. We contacted Mr. Jaquet first in 1995, at the early days of our project life. We wanted to create a unique and clearly different chronograph as the first tribute to George Graham. After a fantastic and deeply technical brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that it would be possible to create a Foudroyante chronograph. We first planned to make a 1/10th  second Foudroyante, but the technical side shown limits that created great danger for the continuation of the development. We finally decided to realise an 1/8th a second for three following reasons:
 

    1. The Foudroyante mechanism could then be directly connected to the escapement that is a 4 Hertz frequency, without intermediary gear system that would have made the system heavier and more delicate.
    2. The average human time reaction from an event to a muscular reaction is 1/4th a second, so we applied a double precision to this parameter.
    3. British never used metric system and they like to divide distance, weight and money in half, 4th and 8th, why not doing same for timing?

Mr. Jaquet was so motivated that he proposed to include another function he was already using in his wonderful Venus Chronograph (an old Venus chrono with outstanding performance that he redeveloped entirely with his own improvements). This function is a coaxial spilt second, meaning that the split command is done through a pusher included in the crown. The movement was finally developed after two years of efforts and a lot of trial and error prototypes. We realised a dream watch for our re-birthing brand Graham 1695, a unique automatic movement with Foudroyante second, coaxial spilt second and bicompax counters (two counters at 3H and 6H). So, we delivered the first Foudroyante watches Graham in gold with twin barrel springs and twin column wheels in autumn 1997. Girard-Perregaux delivered theirs more than two years after, since it was not possible for us and Jaquet to keep such an expensive development for ourselves indefinitely. We have  to agree that GP also contribute in the movement improvement by giving further advices to Jaquet to disconnect the two barrel springs in case of extended use.

  1. I feel that Jaquet factory is one of the most complete watch production lines without an in-house movement. Do you agree? Can you elaborate a little for the benefit of our readers?

    EL: Your statement is extremely pertinent. Jaquet remains in my knowledge, the last and unique independent movement maker whose operations are managed by the family. This company is able to realise modifications and customisations of existing movements, but also to develop entirely new movements or improved reproductions of older movements. A visit of the company may give you more information, as this company is manufacturing all parts (screws, pins, gears, platin, bridges etc…) but the escapement. Jaquet is also delivering movements or parts to some of the most prestigious brands in
    Switzerland. We are proud to have Mr. Jaquet as partner and his company as supplier.

 
(Graham Silverstone, Case-back)

 

  1. Jaquet seems to like Valjoux ebauches a lot. Any particular reason?

    EL: Mr. Jaquet does like ebauches from Valjoux because he and his engineers know this movement from several years as the most reliable and service friendly mechanical chrono still available. By knowing the base motor, he can customise and create impressive movements that remain qualitative despite their higher innovative degree. Until la
    st year, it was a movement that was easily available from Swatch Group for every Swiss established company. Now the future seems to become more difficult since the Swatch Group wants to progressively reduce its deliveries of ébauches to non-group companies. However, we keep confidence in Mr. Jaquet sense of entrepreneurship and good vision for the future. He will find his way.

  1. Graham Foudroyante, Chrono-Fighter, Silverstone and the wonderful Collectors etc. In fact all your watches have that specific design allure that is very “Graham” to me. Finazzi has always been perceived as THE designer of all British Masters’ watches, with his absence; do you expect a big change in “style”? Or worse, a drop in your design quality?

    EL: It is true that we always presented Mr. Finazzi as the designer of our products. His competence in drawing nice watches is not contested, but he was not trained as a technician or an engineer, and our products are highly technical in content. This to explain that we see no troubles in future as we are continuing with two designer teams, one for Graham and another for Arnold & Son. They are not technicians either like we are, and they have their own track that will contribute to translate our future inventions according to our visions.

 

  1. What do you feel about watch designers? Do you believe they should be allowed to fully express their creative freedom or should their designs conform to company philosophy?

    EL: Luxury in watch business depend more on products than on advertising and pure advertising. Highest end consumers are passionate of excellence and want to be caught or surprised by outstanding products under a remarkable label or brand name. The designer is one of the components for a good product development, but will never be able to realise an outstanding high end mechanical watch alone. According to my own expertise in product development, I can confirm that the most important parameter remains to elaborate a good concept or a product vision usually coming from company CEO, giving clear room for engineers and designers (the briefing), obliging them to collaborate by giving them time pressure and at the end, testing the product with limited but highly competent partners from the market.

 
(Graham Collectors 132, Single Button Chronograph, White Gold case
with 24% Palladium Content, limited to 32 pieces in White Gold case)

  1. All your brands are very specific in product range, e.g. Graham watches are limited to only “Chronographs”, and does that constrain your business strategy severely? Or do you think it is a good strategy?

    EL: George Graham did several historical inventions, but among all, he realised the very first wall chronograph. This is the reason why we decided to concentrate our developments on chronographs. This could appear as a limitation of creative space, but in contrary our focused strategy for Graham watches allows us to expand the existing bounds of chronograph making. With more than a dozen of new product in R&D process considering the fact that we limit our products launching to 1 per year, we still have some future prospects for growth.

 

  1. I can’t tell you how much I love your Graham Collectors Single Button Chronograph! It has a beautiful movement and is the best looking Chronograph I have ever seen. And then the “Arnold & Son” Triple Time Zone Tourbillon is just stunning! Are you going higher and higher-ends? Or am I reading too much into these 2 models?

    EL: Following our success with the limited edition of 25 red gold Arnold & Son Tourbillon triple time zone, we have decided to introduce a special product for each brands Graham and Arnold & Son on a regular rhythm. Our next Graham limited edition is named Graham King George and will be a multi-complication including a world première feature. This series will be limited to 5 pieces platinum and 5 pieces in red gold and will be delivered from 2003. Another project Arnold & Son was recently patented and is on the way for 2004, while the promised last series of 25 white gold Tourbillon triple time zone will be delivered in 2003 to our markets.

 
(Arnold Timekeeper III, 7-days Power Reserve, Front & Back View)

 

  1. Jaquet has some very creative ideas and often brilliant implementations. But there is a feeling that some Jaquet movements are “everywhere” and seen in too many different watches. Will that pose a problem for The British Masters public image?

    EL: Jaquet is making his own standard and exclusive movements that he now delivers to limited high end brands. Thanks to a larger distribution of his specialties, he can amortise his development and tooling costs faster and start then new projects regularly. Jaquet is also realising reserved movements or customisations for The British Masters or other limited production companies from top luxury.

 

  1. The Jaquet movement used in Panerai Independent Seconds for example, is simply unbelievable! Why not let The British Masters uses it first?

    EL: It was not a chronograph, means not intended for Graham; and it was not an accurate movement due to its old blue steel hair spring, and means not intended for Arnold & Son Timekeepers.

 
(Graham Chrono-Fighter, note the big Release-levers used by British RAF Pilots during WW-II)

 

  1. With the industry seemingly dominated by the 3 big conglomerates, The Swatch Group, Richemont and LVMH, do you see a future for small independent companies like yourself of are the days of independent watch companies numbered?

    EL: As long as there will be independent retailers and distributors, there will be independent watch brands that will always find young entrepreneurs that will become their suppliers. This is part of the Swiss mentality that someone creates his/her own business, a kind of production federalism which is typical to the Swiss watch industry.

 

  1. I noted your watches are still pretty “good-value-for-money”, but so many brands are raising their retail prices significantly, and in some cases, violently! Do you think modern collectors have thrown “value” out of the window? Or is there a valid reason?

    EL: If you do look backwards, The British Masters have shown that they are not following the marketing inflation of prices. Due to our fast grow, we are in a position to defend our price positioning on a long range of years. So, our products Graham and
    Arnold & Son will increasingly become value for money to passionate and connoisseurs.

 
(Mr. Eric Loth)

 

  1. You did not exhibit in Basle 2002, why?

    EL: The
    Basle Fair organisation was not in a position to allow us an appropriate location. The British Masters is not looking for participation to the Basle Fair for sales reasons, but rather to share values and presentation with our partners from the market. That is the only reason why we decided to postpone our decision to participate to the day when the Basle Fair organisation will offer a convenient space to The British Masters.

 

  1. How do you see the position of The British Masters in the next 10 years? Any excitement for us collectors to look forward to?

    EL: The British Masters together with its brands Graham and Arnold & Son still retains a fantastic potential for growth. However, our products’ complexity will restrain our volumes and maintain a limited offer to the market. We will go for special products that will increasingly attract the passionate lovers of chronographs with Graham and world Timekeepers for Arnold & Son and will become the ultimate “niche-leaders”.


(Graham Chrono-Fighter, movement view, COSC certified, Cotes de Geneve)

 

  1. I have heard a lot about Dr. Ernst Thomke. What can you tell our readers about this man?

    EL: Dr. Ernst Thomke is a brilliant man. He is known for having saved the Swiss watch industry when he merged and restructured a majority of Swiss movement makers under the ETA Company. He is also considered as the original father of the Swatch and the saviour of Omega, Rado and Tissot in the eighties. He is equally known as an aircraft pilot that can fly large planes with instruments, as a sailing skipper that won an Atlantic race in 2001, the Chairman of a Swiss biotechnological investment fund or the owner of the largest gold making company in Switzerland. He is a valuable and decisive partner for The British Masters.

 

  1. Who is your favourite watchmaker of all time? And your favourite living watchmaker not working for The British Masters?

    EL: My preferred watchmakers in history are, this will not be a surprise for you,

 

    1. George Graham for his decisive contribution to the mechanical horology and his proverbial humility.
    2. John Arnold for his extraordinary contribution to precision timekeeping and active participation to the quest of the Longitude, but also for the opportunity he gave to the most famous explorers from the XVIII and XIX Centuries to find their routes at sea.

 

My preferred living watchmaker is definitely François-Paul Journe, for his unique realisations, his personal commitment for each of his babies and his bright understanding of modern complication.

 

  1. I can see that you are a food connoisseur and is someone who appreciate fine wines. How important is Good Food and Fine Wines? Compare to watches?

    EL: Thank you very much for considering me as a connoisseur of food and fine wines. My father, who was professor in the engineering
    school of Neuchâtel, transferred his two passions of techniques and good wines to me. My passion for good food came from my mother, who was Italian from Tuscany. You see then that passion is often a heritage. Today, I am proud of my wine collection and I feel very close to my customers that collects Graham and Arnold & Son specialties.


     

    (Collectors 132, Rose Gold, White Dial. Originally intended to be Limited to 100 pieces, but only 90 pieces of Rose Gold version were finally made. The  Collectors 132 will actually be limited to only 122 pieces in all combinations instead of the planned 132 pieces, I hope to elaborate on this in the future)
     

  1. What are your favourite British Masters and non-British Masters watches?

    EL: My favourite Arnold & Son is the Longitude, because this watch appears to me as a summary of the entire Arnold & Son history. Its new version that will be delivered for Christmas is exciting me a lot. My preferred Graham watch is not available yet, but might be introduced to the market next year, its code name “Swordfish”. I also will, one day, buy for my other collection of watches a F-P Journe Tourbillon with constant force winding, and the A Lange & Söhne Datograph. Both are in my eyes the most remarkable technical achievements of the last decade and represent outstanding benchmarks for my next realisations.

 

  1. Are you sometimes upset by Internet discussions on your watches? Especially when some of the information being tossed around is completely false? Are you supportive of web discussions on watches generally?

    EL: Being honest with you, I do not spent enough time on looking web sites or participating in discussions. Maybe will I increase my web contribution with your support and constant motivation?

 

  1. What do you feel about ThePuristS.com?
    EL: I surfed
    ThePuristS. I was attracted by it and spent, for the first time, not less than an hour of readings. It looks like I saw you in Singapore : critical but not controversial,  subtle and complete, open-minded and truly independent. A good example for others.

 
(Arnold & Son, GMT Master Tourbillon, Front & Back View, Triple TimeZone)

 

  1. Thank you very much for doing this interview.

    EL: Thanking you warmly for your interest in The British Masters, I remain at your disposal for further requests or questions.

 

Jaw


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