It’s one of the most popular brands in Asia, where it established itself more than a century ago, well before the success of emerging countries stirred the current widespread keen interest. The firm remains independent of the major watch groups. While Ernest Borel doubtless makes fewer waves than some of its counterparts, it remains an historical pillar of the ‘Swiss made’ identity worldwide.

A quarter of a century in Hong Kong
Next year, in 2016, Ernest Borel will be celebrating its 160th anniversary. The company makes no secret of the crises it has endured, starting with the quartz wave in the 1980s. This transparency is all the more to its credit in that it survived by implementing a development policy well ahead of its time. Its prime territory is Asia and Ernest Borel has notably just celebrated 25 years of activity in Hong Kong, which has meanwhile established itself as one of the hotspots of the global watch trade.

Ernest Borel conquered this promised land with a highly distinctive positioning: romance. In the late 20th century when the Asian ‘dragons’ were in a free-spending mood, when gold reigned supreme and quartz was the in thing, promoting the romantic spirit of fine mechanical Swiss watchmaking was a bold move indeed. So why was the brand successful where so many others failed? Precisely because this romantic image and these historical roots were entirely credible in light of the brand’s own history.

"The range comprises 40 or so references"

Reflecting the stability of its executive management, with the Borel family firmly at the helm for almost a century, the Ernest Borel brand is dedicated to ensuring a consistent and coherent approach in all its endeavours. It has proved capable of exporting its expertise without betraying its roots. The brand used to develop its own movements, some of which even featured a minute repeater mechanism. The requirements of its export markets have led it to develop other approaches, notably by reinforcing a range that now comprises 40 or so references.

 

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The Ernest Borel logo itself represents the brand positioning, which has remained unchanged since 1898 – a constancy that is now bearing daily fruit. © Ernest Borel

The virtues of Swiss romanticism
One particular theme stands out among these models: romance and dancing. Here again, in an era firmly focused on electronic beats and a serial-lover consumer-type approach to relationships, this stance is decidedly singular.

It actually stems from a particular dance in which Ernest Borel himself was a protagonist with his partner at a ball held in 1898. According to the romantic legend related by the brand: “Their graceful dance drew the audience in with others looking on enviously, a photographer then caught their romantic moments on camera. The elegant dance and the romance of the moment ignited Ernest Borel’s inspiration, prompting him to design the trademark logo to immortalize this magical experience. The dancing couple has been the brand’s trademark and inspiration since the late 19th/early 20th century.”

 

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The Jules Borel model, which retails for less than 10,000 CHF and is COSC certified, represents one of the brand’s most attractive alternatives. © Ernest Borel

21st century ambitions
More than a century later, Ernest Borel remains true to its timeless elegance. The brand is a patron of the city of Weifang, renowned as the cradle of kite parades, a supremely romantic tradition. Last November, the brand unveiled a model for couples in its Retro collection, also entirely in tune with this spirit of romance.

 

"Ernest Borel is not an outmoded brand"

Are such commitments disconnected from daily reality? Far from it. Ernest Borel is not the kind of outmoded, out-of-touch brand one might be tempted to imagine. Less than six months ago, it donated 400 desks and school supplies to a school in difficulty. Last summer, in a country much decried for its counterfeits, Ernest Borel paid tribute to China that has given it so much by organising a major conference on the theme of intellectual property.

 

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A vintage Ernest Borel calibre, now a magnet for collectors. © Mark Cro

These successes are having a very real economic impact. Ernest Borel announced its latest annual results topping 30 million euros, based on a network of around 1,100 points of sale. Paradoxically, the brand is planning to take the exact opposite path to that which first led it to China. 15 new points of sale outside the country are to open soon and Ernest Borel is undertaking broader diversification of its collections towards the high-end segment. Finally, back at its headquarters in Le Noirmont, Switzerland, Ernest Borel is planning to expand its production site to help it keep pace with its growth.