High-end independent Swiss watch maker De Bethune today announced the sale of a majority stake in the company to an investment consortium. This, however, does not appear to be another case of an independent brand gobbled up by some corporate conglomerate, but rather a musical chairs of management and ownership as the investors are led by none other than former De Bethune CEO Pierre Jacques along with private equity investor Giovanni Perin. While the news is noteworthy and a fun excuse to speculate on the brand’s future, the short announcement makes it yet unclear how De Bethune’s business, products, and marketing might be affected. For now, we can assume that a shot of fresh capital and energy might be good for the brand.
Mr. Jacques led the company for five years from 2011 to 2015, and is now back in charge as CEO once again as well as Chairman of the Board – see our interview with him for our My First Grail Watch series here. De Bethune co-founder and COO Denis Flageollet will retain an undisclosed “substantial stake” in the company as well as, it seems, his current position. Fellow co-founder David Zanetta had already stepped back from being operationally involved with the company after his 70th birthday in 2016 and will no longer be directly associated having ceded all his shares. So, while the departure of a co-founder might cause concern for brand fans about a change of direction, De Bethune is left in a familiar place with familiar management that oversaw some, frankly, fantastic products.
In this watch enthusiast’s opinion, De Bethune is one of the most far-out but consistently exciting high-end brands. If one is paying absurd prices for watches, something like De Bethune’s utterly unique and genuinely artistic creations is what you should be getting. Personally, they are at the top of my favorite brands to follow from afar, and I’m not even into sci-fi or the Star Trek universe that inspires their products. For people who are, the brand’s watches must hold a whole other level of appeal, and even more so for the ultra rich watch collectors among them who might actually be able to consider purchasing one.
However, even with such a niche audience, extremely low production volumes, and often six-figure prices, perhaps De Bethune could be doing more to gain attention on a regular basis – not that that is what the brand’s core fan base necessarily wants to see, rarity undoubtedly being part of De Bethune’s charm. One conceivable direction for the brand would be stepping up production and putting more energy into marketing – like, for example, fellow high-end, ultra-avant-garde, sci-fi-inspired MBF that is so often in the spotlight. Urwerk is another peer brand that has been successful in marketing an otherwise unorthodox, esoteric, and expensive product.
For now, we are told that the future holds “new investments designed to strengthen the brand.” Referring to a “new growth phase,” Mr. Jacques says he plans on “further enhancing the reputation” of De Bethune. So that is what we have to go on. De Bethune is only 15 years old and in that time has produced a lot of impressive watches, in-house movements, patents, and “world-firsts.” Hopefully, they will be making inspired, futuristic wrist-art for many more years. debethune.ch