Ex-Nestle Chairman Helps Save Sigmund Freud’s Watchmaker
(Bloomberg) -- A Viennese watchmaker that once counted Sigmund Freud as a customer has risen from the dead, backed by former Nestle SA Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.
An accredited purveyor to the Austro-Hungarian royal court, Carl Suchy & Soehne made luxury timepieces for the Emperor Franz Joseph, aristocrats and industrialists. After World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg empire, the business was disbanded.
Brabeck supported its revival when he bought a third of a new company founded by a Vienna art and design entrepreneur last year. The former Nestle chief said the move was sparked by a desire to keep ties to his native Austria after his mother died and his family sold its last properties there -- and after he spent half a century at the Swiss food giant.
“It’s a special, small project,” Brabeck said in an interview near Nestle’s headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva, describing it as “this emotional link to Austria I was looking for. That was my motivation.”
As Swiss watchmakers slowly recover from a multiyear slump and adjust to new competition from Apple Inc., the industry might not seem to need another brand making expensive but technologically old-fashioned timepieces -- in this case, a 7,850-euro ($9,100) model from a neighboring Alpine country that’s not known for its horological prowess.
The business is dominated by three Switzerland-based producers -- Swatch Group AG, Rolex and Richemont. French luxury conglomerates Kering SA and LVMH also own prominent Swiss brands.
Carl Suchy, named after a 19th-century Vienna watchmaker, is one of a range of small brands outside the country that have been popping up as high-end mechanical timepieces attract new fans looking for an alternative to an IWC Schaffhausen or a Patek Philippe. Leica, famous for its cameras, is trying its hand at $12,000-and-up mechanical watches made in Germany. Belgium’s Ressence marries traditional watchmaking and digital technology. Many of the new brands, including Carl Suchy, sell directly to consumers online.
“Small brands can survive, especially when working with the exclusivity, but they need to be aware that they’ll always be destined to remain small,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG.
Other names have been resurrected. Germany’s A. Lange & Soehne was mothballed for four decades after World War II, until the founder’s great-grandson helped reform the company. Jean-Claude Biver, now head of LVMH’s watch division, revived Blancpain in the 1980s.
Carl Suchy is the second watch brand Brabeck has invested in, after he helped to raise 23 million francs ($23 million) in 2016 to fund HYT SA, a Swiss maker of wristwatches that use liquids to tell time. Nestle’s honorary chairman and former chief executive officer said he became interested in timepieces when he inherited an Omega some five decades ago, and now owns about a dozen.
Waltz No. 1
Carl Suchy was revived when Robert Punkenhofer, who organizes design exhibitions, stumbled upon it in a history book and realized the brand was in the public domain. The company has restarted with a minimalist timepiece called the Waltz No. 1, its dial adorned with guilloche -- a centuries-old craft that uses machines to engrave delicate patterns on metal.
The watch dispenses with a conventional hand to tick out the seconds, instead featuring a striped disc at six o’clock that spins slowly to align with the dial’s pattern once each minute. The design quirk was influenced by Austrians’ more relaxed approach to time, compared with the Swiss, Brabeck said.
“In Switzerland, every second counts,” he said. “It’s more important to waltz in Austria.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.