In 2009, the horology galaxy experienced a small seismic shake. Although on the tiny Rocher, as we call Monaco in France, it may have been considered by some to be a Big Bang: the creation of a new independent watchmaker named Ateliers… deMonaco.
However, it hasn’t all been celebrations and explosions. The launch and the subsequent first year of a brand is critical to its long-term success. For one, the brand has to consistently find ways to answer all those annoying questions about their reputation, how they’re building brand recognition, what will be the return on investment, how they will increase sales and so on.
Undoubtedly every other brand in the world faces these same issues on a regular basis, however, the key difference for a young brand such as AdM is that the answers to these questions will not just determine their ability to pay off potential debts or deficits, but indeed their ability to survive to year two.
To gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced in the first year by a young start-up company competing in a capital and research intensive market place we decided to go straight to the source. In this case the charismatic and insightful Robert van Pappelendam, Initiator and co-founder of the Ateliers deMonaco.
What follows is a chronological journey through the short life-time of a very exciting new company, and a must read for any aspiring entrepreneurs out there.
From L – R: Robert van Pappelendam, Manuel da Silva Matos (engineer), Peter Stas and Pim Koeslag.
Anatomy of a (forthcoming) success.
2004 - Master Horloger Pim Koeslag, Robert van Pappelendam and Peter Stas – future co-founders of Ateliers deMonaco – meet at Swiss watch-maker Frédérique Constant. First challenge: they all are very, very different, yet somehow complimentary characters.
However, they soon discover that they have more in common than just their Dutch passports. They are also all passionate watch nerds. However, is passion enough to launch a new brand? Well, if history is anything to go by than the answer is a resounding no.
Fortunately, the heroes of our story have far more than just their passion to rely on.
Pim had a tremendous talent and intuition for designing innovative movements. Peter had the knowledge and more importantly the experience to create a new company from scratch, as he had proven with Frédérique Constant, and Robert had earned his reputation as successful marketer and brand builder. Individually, it never could have worked but the three of them together just might be enough.
Summer 2005 – The team starts thinking about a dream: creating a high end luxury watch brand from scratch that would over time become a legacy of their generation. According to Robert, the initiator & co-founder of the brand, “each generation wants to develop its own innovation that will cascade to the next generations. It’s a deeply rooted desire to leave a legacy, and we wanted to leave ours, or at least give it a try!”
A bold notion but certainly easier said than done. Doing the same things others do rarely results in something that will stand the test of time. So the team gave themselves one year to come up with an idea, a unique style & signature and innovation program. This is where the soul of Ateliers deMonaco was born.
Summer 2006 – Time to make it reality! The team felt they had come to a point where their idea was strong enough to start translating the dream into viable business. It was time to progress innovative thinking into real-time development, to create something truly unique: “If you launch from scratch, you need to have breakthrough innovation that must trigger a wow-effect. This is where we realized we must set foot where no one else has before”, remembers Robert.
Summer 2007 – Well into the journey and with serious money being invested into the research and development program as well as building the brand’s proposition, Robert remembers that the question most frequently asked at that time was: “Are you guys nuts or brilliant?”
Probably a mix of both.
Things are progressing well but now it’s time to think about a location. Switzerland is the logical choice for haute-horlogerie, especially when considering the tight link with Frédérique Constant. But the team argues that new concepts need new territories, and they draft a list of countries that, as Robert puts it, goes “from the classy London to the trendy Paris, via Dubai, Singapore or even China»”.
As a great lover of art, Robert noticed that painters like Matisse and Picasso, writers like Checkov and Cocteau, philosophers like Nietzsche or architects like Le Corbusier all had something in common: the south of France, the Riviera. When Robert matched that report with the necessity to find a place that could serve both as an inspiration, aspiration as well as being a good reflection of the brand’s essence, Monaco magically appeared as front runner.
“Monaco has this Hollywood like mix of style, money, stars and luxury”, analyzes Robert. Next challenge: incorporate the brand « Ateliers deMonaco » in Monaco!
Summer of 2008 – Pim finalizes the very first model, the Carré d’Or Grand Tourbillion XP-1, with its own in-house developed and manufactured Xtreme Precision tourbillion movement. The question is, how do they make 101% sure that the products works perfectly and is fully reliable over a long period of time? The solution: the team will wear the couple of watches night and day for the next 6 months to iron out any last minor adjustments – in the shower, jogging, while sleeping, even during a relaxing round of golf!
Remainder of 2008 is spent obtaining permits and finding a suitable head office location – not an easy task in a city state of the size of a postage stamp…
March 26, 2009 – The official birth certificate of the Ateliers deMonaco is awarded and a new brand enters the world of haute horology! It wasn’t all smooth sailing though explains Robert; “Creating a company in Monaco really can be seen as a nightmare! All around the world, it usually takes between 48h and one week. But to avoid speculation based upon fiscal laws, it can easily take up to 9 months in Monaco.” Unperturbed, however, the team presses on and are rewarded for their efforts. The launch party with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco happens in May 2009 and is a huge success.
After 4 years of tireless work and more than a dash of luck, Ateliers deMonaco is finally open for business.
H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and Robert van Pappelendam.
Summer 2009 – The team sets a goal to produce around 5 to 10 tourbillon units per year. Soon, though it becomes apparent that this may be a little low. “Quickly,” remembers Robert, “we changed that to 20 units, but it was not enough though, as we registered even more orders on the very first year, which was way beyond our craziest expectations!”
September 2009 – First retail shop opened in Monte-Carlo. The challenge: determining the correct size of retailer network to enable it to work cohesively with a carefully planned production capability & capacity. The decision was made that for the production of high-end complications, regardless of the demand, Ateliers deMonaco would stick to its original plan and focus on quality first, and over time scale up to maximum 100 to 150 pieces per year as the company’s capabilities grew.
“Making a customer wait for their watch can be a very disappointing message to send, but diluting our quality just to make a few more watches is worse as it would kill the dream and brand promise that we set out to realize”, says Robert, explaining the logic behind the brand’s reasoning.
March 2010 – Baselworld – In the world of horology the stage does not get much bigger. This is the event that secures – or dissolves – your place as a credible player in the watch industry. There is no room for error, no time for mistakes, especially when you are launching an in-house developed Minute repeater, considered by many to be the most difficult of the watch complications.
But how will people react? And more importantly, will a small start-up from Monaco even get noticed among the 500 other watch brands? The numbers speak for themselves; “7 days, 2040 minutes of appointments and 100,700 visitors later, we somehow emerged still alive” says Robert with a smile.
April 2010: Successful conclusion of Year 1 and of a course a special celebration to acknowledge the official first anniversary of the brand. For Robert the high point of the event was the private meeting with H.S.H. Prince Albert II in which he received his very own Ateliers deMonaco watch.
The team present H.S.H. Prince Albert II with his very first Ateliers deMonaco timepiece.
The Final Word
When Ateliers deMonaco first entered the luxury watch scene we were, and still are, incredibly impressed with the brand’s attention to detail and overwhelming desire to innovate. In our humble opinions the future of this small, yet ambitious company is not only very bright, it is also very exciting, especially if Robert’s final words are anything to go by:
“We have a lot of innovation still to come in the next couple of years. So far, we have had a tremendous amount of fun, disappointment, anger, sense of achievement, feelings of victory, failure, and probably all other emotions known to mankind. Still the thought that we have the opportunity to realize our dream and leave a legacy, is a huge motivating factor. And having a lot of fun in the process is a great bonus!”
If you would like to find out more about Ateliers deMonaco you can visit their official website complete with company blog at: www.atelier-demonaco.com
Category: Recommended Reading