He’s not the typical luxury watch brand CEO. He doesn’t want us to show his photo. You cannot argue with him when he says that the product should be the star. But which watch brand boss doesn’t say this? In an industry where image is everything, the personality behind the brand can be just as important. Jean-Claude Biver has shown just what a difference this can make.
Robert Dreyfuss has been working in the watch industry for nearly 30 years, managing the family business until it was sold to China’s Citychamp Group at the end of 2014 after a long courtship that predated the group’s acquisition of Eterna. Although he mulled over the thought of leaving the watch industry completely at that stage, the Chairman of the Citychamp Group persuaded him to take on the challenge of turning around Eterna.
To listen to Dreyfuss, this challenge was nothing short of mission impossible. He uses a mixture of medical, anatomical and scatological references to describe the state of the company when he first arrived in Grenchen as a Swiss national in a country that he has never called home. “Eterna had been in the wilderness for 20 years,” he admits in one of his more diplomatic analogies, before going on to talk about the brand being in “intensive care” and “flatlining”. Dreyfuss thus casts himself in the role of a doctor who has the job of coaxing the patient back on the road to recovery, stressing that the brand “didn’t decline overnight and will not rebound overnight.”
Underneath the metaphorical lab coat, however, there is a ruthless salesman with ambitious objectives. The first was to make a profit at a loss-making business in his first year. Mission accomplished! He says he has quadrupled revenue and turned a profit. Next comes a two-year strategic plan that is based around the four Rs of rejuvenating the brand, remodelling and rebalancing the collection, and repositioning the price. Eterna will migrate downwards from a price range of 700 - 7,000 Swiss francs to a narrower range of 700 to 2,500 Swiss francs. “We will never do smartwatches, plastic watches or kids watches,” says Dreyfuss. The brand is instead likely to take on a much more feminine guise and he insists it will be “unrecognisable” at Baselworld next year, when it celebrates its 160th anniversary.
Eterna Movement Company, which supplies the brand and third parties with movements, will continue to operate as a separate entity, but the manufacture movements within the Eterna collection are likely to be more the exception than the rule, continuing only as limited or special editions, especially given the downward trend in the core price range.
Dreyfuss admits his feelings have now progressed from “what am I doing here?” when he arrived in Grenchen in February to “a feeling of enthusiasm and quiet excitement”. The full details of the new strategy for the brand and its 60 employees will be revealed to its partners at a conference in late November.