At this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG), H. Moser & Cie picked up the Tourbillon Watch Prize for the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton, adding to its tally of wins at the prestigious watch industry awards. These include the double wins in 2020 for the Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon H. Moser & Cie x MB&F (Audacity Prize), and the Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic (Chronograph Watch Prize). And these are just the most recent achievements for the Schaffhausen-based watchmaker, which was established in 1828, 40 years before its neighbour, IWC started up. In fact, H. Moser & Cie was making watches some 11 years before the brand that would become Patek Philippe was founded, and close to 50 years before Audemars Piguet got its start. Despite this, it may surprise you to learn that in 2012, the firm was staring down the barrel of bankruptcy.
Many storied names in watchmaking have faced this fate, despite more than a hundred years of know-how and capacity. H. Moser & Cie seemed to have it all in 2012. It boasted a fully integrated manufacture that could not only draw upon its close to 200 years of creating fine timepieces, but also something few others could do: the ability to produce its own regulating organs and balance springs, via its sister company, Precision Engineering AG. Such assets are indeed very rare, but the firm was nevertheless in bad shape, and had no obvious saviour.
Fortunately, MELB Holding, the independent Swiss family group owned by the Meylan family knew a winner when it saw one. This is likely to be because the family itself was steeped in the watchmaking trade — the Meylans are distantly related to watchmaking legend Charles-Henri Meylan, who was active in Le Brassus at the same time as Jules Audemars and Edouard Piguet. At the helm of MELB, Georges-Henri Meylan was famous in his own right, as the retired CEO of Audemars Piguet, where he built many lasting relationships in the watchmaking trade, including in Asia, which we will come back to.
After doing what the company calls “emergency due diligence,” MELB Holding agreed to rescue H. Moser & Cie, becoming its majority shareholder in 2012. What followed was not simply a change in direction, rather something altogether more subtle yet engaging. George-Henri’s son Edouard took the reins of H. Moser & Cie as CEO, supported by his brother Bertrand, and leaned into innovation and disruption to create a future for the independent watchmaking firm. Crucially, the new leadership was not interested in radically changing the watches, by embracing the emerging sports watch trend, or really by jumping on any sort of bandwagon.
“The idea was to draw on what had already been done well — and there were lots of good things — and to further improve this by adding a bit of our own personality, i.e. by respecting the past but incorporating a contemporary and occasionally irreverent edge,” Edouard noted in the press release announcing the 10th anniversary of the Meylan family’s rejuvenation of H. Moser & Cie.
Instead of being trendy, H. Moser & Cie actually gained traction for starting trends, being by turns loudly caustic (the Swiss Mad Watch and the Moser Nature Watch) and quietly revolutionary (by removing the brand name, and indeed all the markers, from the dial). A favourite of ours is the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black in 2019, where even the hands are dispensed with, although there is a tourbillon at 6 o’clock; the brand makes a habit of releasing at least one such concept piece that speaks to who H. Moser & Cie is every year, since 2016. Perhaps the most significant watch that signalled what H. Moser & Cie would become was the Endeavour Perpetual Calendar Funky Blue, with its startling gradient electric blue dial. If nothing else, H. Moser & Cie was renowned for its perpetual calendars, so this 2015 watch combined something everyone already knew about the brand, but now with a twist. The watch also had a raw leather strap, foreshadowing the Swiss Mad Watch and other irreverent concept timepieces.
As wild and polarising as some of those moves and watches were, they had the intended effect of getting H. Moser & Cie some much needed attention. The brand finally had a presence befitting its fine watchmaking skills, and collectors took notice. In the last 10 years, H. Moser & Cie has reported a fivefold increase in production, accompanied by an even more impressive eightfold increase in turnover. Today, its profitability is significantly higher than the average in the Swiss watchmaking sector, and it is riding the second wave of interest in independent watchmaking. Arguably, H. Moser & Cie was at least partially responsible for creating the wave.
These waves of interest in independent watchmaking had long been crashing into Singapore’s shores, where collectors are always on the lookout for rare gems. Although H. Moser & Cie only began its relationship with regional distributor Pacific Time Pte Ltd in 2019, the watches were already known in Singapore. The Meylan family, on the other hand, had a much longer relationship with the distributor, or rather the family behind it. In his days at Audemars Piguet, George-Henri Meylan had established a relationship with Anthony Lim, the man who started what would become Cortina Holdings in Singapore, as Edouard told collectors and press at H. Moser & Cie events in Singapore and KL, Malaysia. Pacific Time is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cortina Holdings Group, which also owns Cortina Watch and now Sincere Watch.
Watchmaking is all about connections, and relationships that last generations. This is as true of the watches as it is of the people behind the watches, and behind the scenes. Today, H. Moser & Cie employs close to 100 people in offices all around the world, from Switzerland to the Middle East and Hong Kong. Its core watchmaking competencies remain as strong as ever, and it tends to partner with the best in the trade to deliver superlative watches to collectors. The brand is thus set to continue on its audaciously classical journey, with a dash of acerbic wit. No doubt you will encounter H. Moser & Cie in the metaverse before too long…
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