Despite difficult market conditions and a small volume output, at least one Swiss watch manufacturer remains committed to staying independent, not selling out, and doing all of that while keeping to its core watch-making competency and not diluting its positioning.
Originally founded around 300 to 400 years ago, Graham is one of the rarer independent Swiss watch brands that faded a century after it was created, but was then revived circa 1995. The company’s founder was George Graham, a London based clockmaker who made a name for himself in the early 18th century for his contributions to the chronograph, the dead-beat escapement, and a mercury pendulum.
Today, Graham remains independent and now operates as a maker of small volume tool watches easily recognizable with its trigger feature look and chronograph functions. Talking to Fortune India, Graham’s CEO Eric Loth points out that there have been new models like the Swordfish from the company, but creation of new models by and large have been reduced because of excessive counterfeiting in the past. However, beyond that, Loth says the company tries to adhere to its tried and tested models, that also include its Fortress range of pieces.
Business for no manufacturer in the last 16 months has been easy. “I had Covid-19 myself in March last year and while business travel reduced in certain markets, the U.S. business picked up and we can’t explain why. We did no special marketing or launches but think it was collectors who wanted something unique,” Loth adds. Graham makes very small quantities of its watches and volumes range between 3,000 and 5,000 time-pieces produced annually.
Graham sells in around 25 shops globally and through Ethos Watches in India and also offers watches directly to customers online.
Amit Dev Handa, a professional luxury time-piece concierge who has sold watches to international celebrities and world figures, says that “there are a lot of brands that make bigger mechanical luxury watches and then there is Graham. As much as they are known for the unique, masculine, and immediately recognisable Chronofighter model, I am most impressed with their sophisticated and complicated Orrery Tourbillon.” “This is a modern day mechanical solar system for the wrist in 18k pink gold. I have had the privilege to hold it and try it on and I have seen a lot of watches in my lifetime but this is special, not just because of the complexity but also its beauty, finishing and functionality,” he adds.
Graham’s watches find themselves being purchased by collectors and watch lovers who appreciate value for money in the realm of Swiss quality. Pankaj Jagawat, CEO of a gold wholesale company in Mumbai, says that he bought a gold Chronofighter several years ago and adds that he picked the time-piece because it was functional, high quality and very comfortable to wear despite its size.
Graham watches range between 48 mm to 55 mm. “It’s unique in terms of style, and design with the trigger function on the side and is a great conversation starter," Jagawat adds, noting that there are other super luxury watch companies that offer similar products with prices that are two or three times higher and he doesn’t see the difference.
Yet, there is a general sense that Graham can do more to broaden its base of collectors and aficionados.
“They need to expand upon their more complicated pieces and or release something within the $3000-$5000 price point that will make them contend with the likes of Tudor, Omega, and Oris so more people know who they are,” Handa says.
Loth, of course, is content doing what Graham does best but does admit that being a small player means he has to work twice as hard to retain quality talent. "The second challenge that I have is to stay independent which is for any player who is in my position. You have to stay committed and also resist the call of the mermaid, so to speak," he says.
Is there any more innovation in the pipeline ? Loth says he’s always working on new products and cites the mono-pusher watch last year but is looking at new materials and technologies. “We are using carbon-fibre and also a new material that is translucent carbon fibre. It took us a year to make it and we worked with a firm in Switzerland who proposed a new material to do it.”
There are other novelties. Loth had bought 50, 1 gram Swiss gold ingots and on impulse he decided to introduce them into his watches as part of the decor “There was no planning, no strategy but it was done through freedom of choice and that allows us to do things which customers seem to like and appreciate.” Loth says, adding that is what Graham is ultimately all about.