TimeZone Interview with Pierre Halimi


Interviewer: William Massena

September, 1998

 Here’s TimeZone’s latest interview with Pierre Halimi, distributor of Bell & Ross, Dubey & Schaldenbrand and Van Der Bauwede. Also, the publisher of Wings of Time Magazine.

The interviewer for TimeZone is William Massena, a regular on TimeZone since the beginning and one of our roving reporters.

WM:  William Massena, on behalf of TimeZone
PH:  Pierre Halimi

WM:  Can you tell us more about you?

I started 12 years ago as a retailer. I always wanted to be a watch distributor, after learning the trade at the store, I started a watch distribution company and launched a magazine (Wings of Time flyer).

WM:   Which brands do you distribute?

PH:  Bell & Ross, and through another company I distribute Dubey And Schaldenbrand, Van Der Bauwede, and we are introducing smaller companies such as Vincent Calabrese, Graham, Tompion, and Halter Barnes.

WM:  Can you tell us more about Dubey And Schaldenbrand?

PH:  DS is a traditional watch manufacturer, you will see many old and interesting movements. The company is own by a woman (Cinette Robert). The riches of DS lies in its stock of old movements. In the 70′ s Mrs. Robert was buying old movements from manufacturers literally by the pound. What should be done with these old movements? She decided to re-case them in the same case style of the era of the movement. I.e. a cushion shapes cases “Tonneau”, tank ‘s and round’s. This is how, by the way, Chronoswiss started 10-12 years ago. DS finishes the movement. However, the demand for these watches exceeded the availability, so DS has also watches based on modern movement like the exclusive one that fits the Aerodyn Duo. (The base is Valjoux but the complication is exclusive).

WM:  You are a watch retailer, a watch distributor and beside writing for your Magazine you also write for IWW, So what do you think of the Swiss watch industry in the US today?

PH:  I am capable of purchasing a watch, sell it and write about it (grin). Not bad for vertical integration. The industry is booming in the US, we are the second largest importers behind Hong Kong (based on Swiss export only). I see the US market becoming the first Swiss watch importer very soon, by 1999. The US customers are much more aware today of the products, they are more demanding. They are also ready to take on new brands. Ten years ago, it was much more difficult to enter that market which was dominated by Rolex. Breitling were the first one to successfully enter the US market in 1988.. There were not really present in the US before that or maybe in the 40’s and 50’s. They arrived with a marketing idea to create an image and rapidly established themselves.

Today with the problems in Asia, I see many Swiss companies who want to focus on the US market. I receive a phone once a week from a watch manufacturer asking me to help him sell watches in the US. There are approximately 300 Swiss watch brands registered in the US. We are not even talking about the French, Germans, Japanese and Italians. It is already an over saturated market. However, for many Swiss companies it is still a virgin market. With 16,000 registered jewelers in the USA, they believe that selling a watch here is easy but I can tell you from experience that it is very difficult.

WM:  What changes are you seeing in the high end Swiss watch industry?

PH:  Manufacturers are going back to the “in-house” calibers. The best example is Chopard who was always weak in its gents line. They decided to commission Michel Parmigiani to build a new caliber for them. This movement is really beautiful. Chopard decided to ask one of the best watchmaker around to create this caliber. Today, if you want to create a new caliber you need to innovate in order to establish yourself among the watch manufactures.

Until four years ago, the trend at Basel was to create the most complicated watch, like the Blancpain 1735. We rapidly reached a plateau and the traditional watch industry decided to move on to new movements to help create new design. For example Halter Barnes, has introduced this new watch with a new design, a perpetual calendar with four separate dials designed by Jeff Barnes. Vianney Halter who made movements for Franck Muller complications created a movement specifically for this model. Vianney told Jeff to design whatever he wanted and that he will make it work. It is a radical new approach to watchmaking where the movement is made to serve the design.

WM:  Let’ s talk about Bell & Ross and the vintage line. Who makes these watches?

PH:  The Movements are ETA for the Quartz chronograph 120, Jaquet-Baume for the automatic chronograph 126, ETA automatic for the 123. The Previous line was made by Sinn but these are not. Our approach was always to select the best partner for each product. Each watchmaker has his own specialty and should be contacted for specific jobs. Since Bell & Ross sold a stake to Chanel, B&R now has the means to create their exclusive line made in-house for some Vintage models and Meca Control for other ones. We are already working with Sinn on some new projects.

The vintage line looks very simple but it took 1,350 man/hours to design the new model. We used the Dassault Aviation Katia CAD to obtain the Vintage 123. The design has nothing superfluous. The crystal goes to the edges of the case and that makes the watch look big. However it is the smallest B&R with a 37.5mm diameter. This is the origin of B&R, a watch of the 1940′ s. The prologue of B&R. Next year we will introduce the future of B&R with the Space 3. The Space 3 will have an integrated crown (a first) and integrated pushers.

WM:  It seems that the trend today is toward reeditions of older design from Patek to B&R while the less expensive watches such as swatch try to innovate in terms of design, would you agree with that statement?

PH:  Jack Freedman wrote an interesting article about the Skin watch and the delirium, I believe it is archived in TZ. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel. The market wants something that makes sense.

WM:  How do you think the Internet will affect the industry?

PH:  The Internet is just a medium of information. But because of its speed of delivery and its minimal cost, it is much more powerful than anything we have seen before. You can write a post for free and it will be read around the world in a matter of seconds. Every time you have a revolution in communication (Press, radio, TV now the web), it takes time for any industry to adjust. The stakes are enormous and I am not sure that the Swiss understand its power (and therefore danger).

Some clever guys like SKW use this power against the established market. By advertising watches below list prices, and not being authorized agents for any watch company, they act as mercenaries. They reap the profit of distributors without paying their dues as members of the trade. Even though I appreciate the idea behind SKW, I cannot respect them either. Their lack of ethics (what is their address? Why do they claim to be distributors for Nigeria and then sell watches to the US?) makes me nervous. I have tried to buy a few Bell & Ross from them to check their sources. I have never received one. But they still claim that they can get it whenever I want. What is the trick? They want the consumers to believe that they really can get anything they want even though they cannot. That is their only way to convince consumers to check their web site.

Notice that the brands that they claim they can have are small to medium ones. No Rolex or other big companies. Big brands would have enough money to sue them for impropriety use of registered names and models. They feed on the less rich companies. If you allow this for the sake of free trade, forget about registering anything. From software to music to clothes.

WM:  How do you feel about Timezone?

PH:  I wish TZ had more competition, in this business: the more the better. We have the same problem in the US with the printed watch press. International Wrist Watch magazine is an “OK” watch magazine. It is the best medium we have right now to advertise in but I wish they were more critical. It has been also the pioneer. American Time is the best Industry magazine and Joe Thompson’ s articles are excellent. When is American Time will release a consumer edition? We will soon have Uhren and Chronos US versions and that will be much more critical and they will compare wristwatches. My own magazine “Wings of Time Flyer” can be seen as a conflict of interest but this is what I dwell in , I was the first one to criticize my own watch, the Hydro Bell & Ross when I recognized that it had flaws.

I use to respond often on TimeZone, but I am now more careful and I post rarely. It is very easy to post a comment without seeing the consequences. My French blood can get me into trouble by reacting too fast.

I do hope that you will pursue these behind the scenes with a lot of people as it brings out many information that we could all share. Good luck with it and to TimeZone.

WM:  Thank you very much for your time Pierre, and I hope we will see you soon on TimeZone.