Introducing H. Moser & Cie, The Watchmaker With A Sense Of Humour

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Introducing H. Moser & Cie, The Watchmaker With A Sense Of Humour

Words by Mr Chris Hall

6 April 2021

Outspoken. Irreverent. Nimble. Provocative. Funny. Daring. Not a list of adjectives that rush to the front of your mind when asked to describe a luxury Swiss watch brand. But H. Moser & Cie is all of those things. A name with centuries of history, it went out of business in the 1970s. Refounded in 2005, it has built a reputation for getting up the establishment’s nose with inflammatory stunts and attention-grabbing pronouncements, while charming collectors unused to this kind of outspoken honesty with inventive, unusual, high-grade watches.

A few examples: to make a mockery of the “Swiss Made” designation (which states that at least 60 per cent of the value of a watch must be added in Switzerland, a rule many see as allowing too much flexibility), it created a watch whose case was made from Swiss cheese, moulded into a resin. (The brand also prints Trump-esque red baseball caps that say “Make Swiss Made Great Again”.) Two years later, it created a watch bestrewn with miniature plants as a sideways swipe at environmental marketing campaigns. And between those two models, it caused an absolute PR firestorm when it produced its Swiss Icons watch, a mash-up design of at least a dozen much-loved watches from the likes of Audemars Piguet, Rolex, Patek Philippe and Hublot – whose lawyers duly leapt into action. Allegedly.

Moser’s targets don’t end with its fellow watchmakers, either. As a response to the success of the Apple Watch, in 2016 it created the Swiss Alp Watch, a rectangular design with curved corners and a glossy black dial (it advertised it with a Mr Steve Jobs-spoofing promotional video and the tagline “upgrade to a mechanical watch”).

When the Swiss national bank unpegged the franc from the euro, causing chaos for export prices, CEO Mr Edouard Meylan wrote an open letter that went viral, railing passionately against the decision. And in more recent years he has semi-seriously threatened to move the entire company across the border to Germany to make doing business easier in the Eurozone. A Swiss watchmaker, leave Switzerland? Whatever next?

The takeaway from all this is that Moser punches above its weight when it comes to grabbing headlines. The independently owned company makes only a few thousand watches a year and freely admits it will never go toe-to-toe with the giants of the industry when it comes to marketing budgets. But it punches above its weight in other ways, too.

It’s OK to be the class clown every now and then, but if you can’t back it up with quality products, people are going to lose interest pretty quickly. Not a problem for Moser: it has developed inventive and deceptively simple perpetual calendars where the 12 hours of the dial double up as indicators for the months; classically-executed minute repeaters and tourbillons, and makes beautifully-finished in-house movements. (It’s even one of very few brands to make its own hairsprings, a devilishly difficult procedure.) It is at least partially responsible for the current craze for gradient/shaded/fumé dial patterns, having debuted them on its logo-free “concept” watches more than five years ago.

Even when it’s being playful, it manages to score a commercial success at the same time: the Swiss Alp Watch, which pundits speculated that Apple would “shut down” with lawsuits the day it was announced, went on to be one of the company’s most sought-after models, and over the last five years spawned a multitude of variants. In another move uncommon to the watch industry, Moser chose to bow out at the top of the wave, announcing the Swiss Alp Watch would be discontinued at the start of 2021; not before releasing details of the “final upgrade”, a model with a Vantablack dial and small seconds sub dial designed to look exactly like the “app loading” spinning wheel familiar to anyone with an iPhone. Needless to say, it was an instant sell-out.

In recent years, the brand has picked up multiple GPHG awards, the most prestigious in the business, and cross-collaborated with MB&F on a pair of reciprocal limited editions, each with one brand offering its take on the other’s most recognisable model. That’s the genius of H. Moser: it’s a very serious watchmaker, even if it doesn’t act like one. We’re very happy to have it join our ranks.

Time warp