Got some spare money taking up space in your bank account? And some free time to spend on your passion; watches? Then come with us, we’re going to show you how to rebuild a brand.
Meet Count Jacques von Polier. First and foremost he is a business man who has called Russia home for more than 15 years. He knows the market, knows the culture, and knows how to make profit from any given situation, which brings us conveniently to today's topic. In a nutshell Russia doesn’t have any authentic, original brands left, be it in the fashion, luxury, or even watch spheres. Yet the country has a rich history of cultivating strong, home-grown labels in all of these areas. This vanishing act resonated with von Polier and so he decided to take action and invest in one of the slowly disappearing categories: watches. Here begins the incredible story of Raketa.
TWL : Why did you choose Russia? There are many other brands looking for outside investment these days, and Russia is well known for not being the easiest place to do business…
JvP: Right, but my main focus is on modern Russia. I live here, and the Country has an incredible history, in maths, literature, industry, etc. But the fact is that there is no real Russian living brand any more, despite this huge legacy.
TWL: Why ?
JvP: The beginning of the 90’s saw the commencement of a period of real wild capitalism. The collapse of the Berlin wall was a real trauma. Many people felt ashamed to be Russian, from that empire that became a simple “country”, and whose economic system had obviously failed. All the manufacturers closed. But there was not many countries in the world with such a watchmaking history. In the 70’s, in terms of quality and quantity, Russia was just behind Switzerland.
TWL: What made you think that a Russian watch brand could live again?
JvP: Because in people’s mind, the Russian watch has always existed and still exists, even if almost all manufactures closed. Moreover, it’s not an exotic item: even before quartz movements, Russia was producing more than 5 million watches per year. A lot of them are still in good hands – and running well!
TWL: What made you choose Raketa?
JvP: Because it was maybe the only manufacture that never stopped its production. It’s based in St Petersbourg and was living upon State’s orders, like many other industries here. But its capital was divided into several parts, privately owned.
Nevertheless, the owners were not interested at all in watches, but on the real estate belonging to Raketa. We must not forget that during the communist era, a manufacture, like many other industries, was built upon a real social perspective, and was part of a global ecosystem that included a school, a hospital, buildings, etc. In the end, the Raketa manufacture as such finally appeared to be the emerging part of a major real estate treasure…that attracted speculators. In the end, the manufacture as such was what was of least interest to private investors. Fortunately it was also what interested me the most.
TWL: What was Raketa like when you bought it ?
JvP: One manufacture, 100 watchmakers, 6000 drawings, no R&D undertaken in 25 years, a know-how, a brand, and one single client, the government. And, needless to say, absolutely no notion at all of ‘money’ or ‘economic efficiency’, let alone mentioning ‘profit’.
TWL: What was your first action as the new owner?
JvP: To delve into the legacy of the brand. I had one real treasure: these 6000 plans of watches, made ‘à l’ancienne’, with black ink on tracing paper. Enough to build from scratch a complete museum!
TWL: Enough to create new models and start thinking about export markets?
JvP: Yes, but that was not my first goal. In fact, my primary market remains Russia itself. The potential is still huge, and unlike past decades, there’s now a nostalgic feeling that pushes the young generation to buy Raketas, as they still sound the same as their grand-father’s watch. Moreover, it remains a reliable product. People still don’t have a lot to spend on a wrist watch, and Raketa is obviously not a jewel of haute horlogerie, but a robust piece that will follow you all your life.
TWL: What’s the economic future of Raketa looking like?
JvP: Well, if we had wanted to be profitable as soon as possible, the best solution would have been to get rid of in-house stuff and integrate ETA movements. Let’s be honest, considering that part of the current capital comes from my personal assets, I seriously considered that option. But, obviously, it would have ruined the spirit and the beauty of the whole story. We finally came to the decision to keep the original movements. The most recent automatic calibre was developed…in 1966! In other words, we had to bridge a 40-years gap in…18 months. Kind of a challenge!
TWL: There was no self-winding movements developed?
JvP: Yes there was. But one day, the Communist Party decided that its people could wind their watches themselves. And from that day, there was no more automatic movements developed. That’s how thing were at that time.
TWL: What does the future hold for Raketa?
JvP: We plan to have a production of 20.000 units this year. We’re moving step by step, but so far we’ve had a tremendous welcome from watch enthusiasts. We have fan clubs in the main European markets, as well as Japan and China. We leverage the history of the brand: last year, we organized a retrospective on famous Raketa’s owners, like Brejnev or Castro. And we were funded by…the Queen of England. Things change!
The official website is undergoing improvements but check it out if you’d like to learn more about this unique brand: www.raketa.su
Olivier Müller – @O_Muller