Interview with Patric Zingg, Graham
Graham is synonymous with the chronograph, a complication loved by legions of watchmakers. While attending Baselworld 2018, Angus Davies visited the brand’s stand and took the opportunity to conduct an interview with Patric Zingg, Graham.
During this interview with Patric Zingg, Graham, the charismatic Managing Director of the Swiss brand, talked candidly about the focus of the brand. Moreover, he explained the rationale for lower prices, elaborated on the brand’s unique personality and shared his aspirations for this fascinating company.
George Graham was born near Carlisle in 1673. During his illustrious career he became Master of the Clockmakers’ Company and a Fellow of the Royal Society. His ingenuity was manifest with the invention of the dead-beat escapement, the Mercury clock and the ‘cylinder’ escapement. Quite simply, George Graham continues to be fêted by the watch industry.
Today, Graham is based in the watchmaking haven of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The company is synonymous with the chronograph. Furthermore, Graham, a brand which always seeks to stand out from the crowd, is known for its unusual ‘trigger’ device.
Graham Headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds
The trigger, positioned on the left flank of the case, starts and stops the chronograph. It is operated with the thumb, the fastest acting digit. It is the alacrity of the thumb pressing the trigger which confers enhanced precision.
During Baselworld 2018, I was offered the opportunity to chat with Patric Zingg, Managing Director, Graham.
Interview with Patric Zingg (PZ) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: Graham has always been associated with chronographs, but it has also offered tourbillons too. Are there any other complications that you would like to offer in the future?
PZ:. In the future, we are concentrating on the Chronofighter, which is what made the company what it is today, a globally known brand.
Graham Chronofighter Grand Vintage
The Orrery Tourbillon was a product which was aligned with our history. In 2013, we released this watch in order to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first ‘Orrery’, a planetarium made for the Earl of Orrery.
If there is something aligned with our history then why not, but our focus will be the Chronofighter and maybe another watch later in 2018 (Zingg said this with a broad grin on his face).
AD: Since you arrived at Graham, the average retail price of watches seems to have fallen. Is this the case and, if so, can you explain the rationale for this?
PZ: Yes, prices have definitely come down.
In 2001, Graham brought products to the market which looked different and were offered at a good price. The company gained international recognition for this. The Chronofighter in 2001 was approximately CHF 5,000.
Within the enthusiastic environment which lasted up to 2008, every single brand increased their prices. Various reasons were given, some were valid and some were not. At a certain point Graham exceeded an acceptable price threshold.
The issues of price raised questions in the marketplace, not just with Graham but the Swiss industry as a whole.
Graham Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art Ltd
When I was invited to join Graham and I talked to the shareholders, I realised that Graham had a niche around the CHF 4,500 to CHF 6,000 price level, depending on the specification. Our recent sales figures have shown this to be correct. In 2017, we experienced organic growth. After launching the Chronofighter Vintage in 2016, celebrating that year the 15th anniversary of the first model, retailers came back the following year and reordered it.
Tactically it made sense to go back. ‘How did we do it?’ For the past two years, whether it is with the Chronofighter Vintage, Chronofighter Vintage Aircraft, GMTs ..we tried to have a certain logic in the product development, product design and so on. It starts with the quantity of movements we order and assemble, a smart design. Now we blend the creative process with a certain rationality. This allows us to offer a qualitative product to the end consumer at a good price.
AD: While your timepieces harness serious watchmaking know-how, Graham appears to be a fun brand. This is evident with the colourful Chronofighter Superlight Carbon and the Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art. Please can you tell me more about this playful side to your brand?
PZ: We all know there are certain prerequisites in watchmaking such as the provenance of the product. ‘Swiss Made’ at our price point is a must. As a matter of fact we have always been ‘Swiss Made’.
Graham Chronofighter Superlight Carbon
In Switzerland and in our industry, heritage is a key component for Swiss made products. Graham’s origins are in England with George Graham, dating back to 1695, we communicate this because the public associate a long history with quality.
Materials are vitally important. When the customer pays a certain amount of money, they expect a qualitative product ensuring no allergic reaction for instance. We make sure that we meet all these requirements.
Movements and innovation are also relevant.
Design-wise. You have the big groups, which have to fulfil their industrial needs, usually by sticking to round watches and traditional material and designs . We have to give a reason to the end customer, who probably already has three mainstream watches, to choose a watch from an independent brand. At this stage, it becomes a must for us to differentiate ourselves. not with a colour or shape, but through a certain brand attitude.
So now, I will slowly but surely, answer your question. I think it is important to understand why we promote a certain lifestyle, a certain attitude, when others ‘zig’ we ‘zag’. In today’s world it is extremely important for Graham to be Graham Our DNA allows us to stand out from mainstream brands.
So who is Graham? Today Graham is Eric Loth and William Asprey; along with the entire team they reflect the brand and this twist. Indulging an adrenaline filled life and remaining themselves.
The message the shareholders were trying to deliver when they launched the brand, was to offer an alternative.
And this year again, we did what we do and what we wanted to do. We decided to, once again, push our Nose Art concept and turn it into Noise Art by involving music; we went bigger when others are getting smaller. This is probably part of the freedom of being independent.
AD: What are your aspirations for the Graham brand?
PZ: My objective with any company I have worked for has always been to make that company ‘sustainable’. I am not going to say we will turnover 100 million or 2 billion. I believe what this brand needs is a sustainable plan for the next 10, 20, 30, 50 and 100 years. It does not need to be 100s of millions or 10s of millions. It just needs to be stable, ensuring the jobs within the company are secure.
On a personal level, I want to make sure customers identify with the brand and our vibes.
Interviewing Patric Zingg was a refreshing experience. He spoke candidly and avoided the politicians favourite tool of ‘spin’.
The focus of the company is producing chronographs, albeit Zingg did hint there is another range of watches waiting in the wings.
Having offered good value chronographs in 2001, the brand, like others, raised its retail prices to unsustainable levels. When Zingg arrived, he got back to basics. Prices were realigned and so far the responses from the market have been positive.
In order to deliver keen prices, Zingg looked at the construction of watches. For example, the inventory of different sized straps was cut by designing cases to accept a one-size fits all strap. This know-how was applied to other areas of the business, reducing the cost base and, as such, allowing Graham to offer watches at lower prices without any detriment to quality.
Whilst creating an array of serious watches including chronographs and tourbillons, there is also a playful side to Graham. This is no accident. Graham seeks to differentiate itself wherever possible. Some areas of the brand’s operation do not provide a means to stand-out and Zingg, on a couple of occasions, talked of being ‘aligned with the industry. However, when the company has been able to create a competitive difference, it has grasped it with both hands. Indeed, when Zingg states ‘design is an attitude’ he is alluding to the disruptive image the brand chooses to portray. It is this attitude, or lifestyle, which makes Graham stand out from the major brands.
When asked about his aspirations for Graham, Zingg did not talk about numbers of watches, sales growth or turnover. His sentiments focussed upon the longevity of Graham, the welfare of its employees and a desire to produce ‘non-conformist’ watches.
I applaud Zingg for his passion and his rational insight into the Swiss watch industry. During his tenure, this charismatic professional has overseen the release of several magnificent watches. His shrewd review of the parts inventory has allowed Graham to deliver very keen prices. Under his stewardship, I suspect Graham will continue to flourish, releasing more eye-catching timepieces and sating the desires of those watch lovers who appreciate edgy and thought-provoking design.