Carl F. Bucherer
Thomas Morf loves two topics more than any others: fine watches and luxury cars. That ideal combination came together this spring when the CEO of Carl F. Bucherer discussed his company’s category-defining timepiece innovations with Elite Traveler’s Editorial Director Laura Hughes—all while he was driving his Range Rover through the rolling hills of Switzerland to pick up an Aston Martin. In the course of the phone conversation, Morf talked about CFB’s emergence as a manufacture; how to make the most of a recession; and what is most gratifying about his business trips around the world.
ET: How did you arrive in the watch business?
Thomas Morf: Basically, I have a passion for technical things overall. I’m a very tech guy. Watches, they fascinated me from the time I was little. It is the same way with cars. They are both technical, and are things that seem to have a soul. There is something to it you can’t explain, and it works. People are either attracted to them or not. I got my first mechanical watch when I was 16, and I started putting money aside to save for nice watches. I developed a passion for nice watches and in general quality things; I hate mediocre things. Things need to be quality, and created to last. So I actually have a degree in mechanical engineering, and went into information technology. That was a good thing for me to do because I found out that gray boxes with software inside are the contrary of passionate emotions. So I said to myself, “Look, you make your hobby with watches or cars; make it your profession.” The cradle of the watch industry is Switzerland–it doesn’t have a car industry. I ended up meeting someone on a flight back home to Switzerland from LA, who owned a little watch company in the Valle De Joux, and I entered the watch business at that point with Claude Meylan. That is where it all began. Claude Meylan was a kind of Franck Muller at that point. It was very small, and then his investor pulled out. But he made a fantastic product then in 1993. Next I joined a large, Swiss trading house that distrubuted a couple of expensive watch brands, including Porsche Design and Maurice Lacroix, which it also owned, and I ran the Maurice Lacroix business in the Asia Pacific countries. At that time I lived in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Finally, I returned for Carl F. Bucherer, back to the mother land of watches, back to Switzerland in January 2001. I joined the CFB group in March 2001, and have been trying to run it as well as I can.
ET: What distinguishes a Carl F. Bucherer watch from other timepieces inside a display case?
Thomas Morf: As you saw with our new movement, our technology is a driving force. I don’t want to have a watch that is just crazy, in terms of excess. I’d rather have something in an affordable price range. I don’t believe that only the watches priced at more than $100,000 are good. And I don’t want to personally pay over $250,000 for a watch. Our core price range is between $10,000 and $50,000, and these models have superior technology. That technology is new, reliable and gives the brand a clear distinction from the rest of our competitors. We want to set the technological benchmark in the industry. And we have already done that through the TravelTec and EvoTec collections. Of course it doesn’t have to be every little model you have. But the core product line is different through the technology we are using. With our new movement, we have an absolute revolution because it is something no one had in the past. There is only one winner! We have made something hot, brand new in the industry, and it sets our brand apart from the rest.
ET: Is there a connection between the watch company Carl F. Bucherer and the Bucherer jewelry stores in Europe?
Thomas Morf: They have the same owner. Bucherer is a total, vertical organization, from manufacturing jewelry, to wholesale distribution, to retail, and everything else. It is a family-owned company, now lead by Mr. Jorg Bucherer, who is the third generation.
ET: In the last two years or so, you’ve made great investments in production by acquiring a manufacture. Why did you decide to direct your investment in that part of the business?
Thomas Morf: What my job is, is convincing the owner that my strategy is right. The business strategy is defined by me with my management team. I am a firm believer that if we want to be seen on the same planet as genuine watches, we must distinguish ourselves from the wannabes, and alongside genuine watch brands like Patek or IWC or Audemars Piguet. I always said if we want to be perceived and respected as a genuine watch brand, we have got to master the technology. I said there is no compromise, we have to do it the hard wary, which is building in-house technology and mastering those technologies. I had to convince the owner–since this is not my company–that this is the right approach, and I did. We are 100 percent convinced that this is the right direction for the whole group.
ET: Now the payoff is here, in the form of the first timepieces with Carl F. Bucherer’s own in-house manufactured movement, the Patravi EvoTec. Congratulations! What has the response been so far?
Thomas Morf: This isn’t just a knock-off of an existing movement. It’s technology leadership! The watch has received phenomenal feed back. People love it. It’s not a crazy watch. It’s timeless. Everything is just right.
ET: What will you introduce next?
Thomas Morf: Next year and every year we have plans to bring something new based on our in-house EvoTec technology, which is the signature technology of Carl F. Bucherer now. I get so much positive feedback. People say, “I’ve seen the brand from day one, and where you stand now shows clear progress, continuity, and that everything is just right.” This is true.
ET: What are your strategies for surviving, maybe even thriving, in this economy?
Thomas Morf: The strategy remains the same. Even if the economy is on a downturn, our strategy has to be kept the way it was initially planned. There are always things that turn sour in economies. The problem is, the strategy has to remain the same, while your operational approach changes. We adjust where the money goes, but it doesn’t influence the strategy. We will keep investing in the right markets while asking “How much mileage do I get for the dollar?” To invest in Russia wouldn’t make sense right now, because there is no payback right now. So we allocate funds somewhere else. From a technology standpoint we will keep the schedule we have. We monitor things, we work with our partners, want to keep them happy and motivated. Compared to large groups that really want retailers to swallow more merchandise, we do keep our relationships as partnerships. The Bucherer name is ethics, no bullshit. There is too much bullshit in this industry, especially in luxury, because everyone wants that glitz and glamour. But we are about serious work and strategy, which we continue to pursue in difficult times. It’s not about shareholder values. Carl F. Bucherer has been here since 1888 as a family company that is down to earth and straight.
ET: Are there other brands or individuals who share the company’s values that make good marketing or philanthropic partners?
Thomas Morf: We support the company Rinspeed, and not just because they make crazy cars. It’s the way they think out of the box. And we try to think out of the box as well. We don’t want to go mainstream and team up like everyone else. We think different, and like other brands that are the same way. We support Boris Blank, founder of pop group Yello. He was the guy who invented electro pop music in the 80s and we support him because he has a matching philosophy.
ET: Your travels are so extensive. What recent trip has given you great joy?
Thomas Morf: I started the business from scratch for Carl F. Bucherer. I built the team. The greatest memories I have were from building the US market from zero! America is a different planet. No matter how big a group may be in Europe, it’s not necessarily known to someone in the Midwest. We started by having presentations of what we do, and now it is really rewarding to see where the brand stands in the US and Caribbean. It was blood sweat and tears. This is the rewarding thing, and each trip to the U.S. has more rewards. People began calling up to say, “We would like to represent the brand in our territory.” In Japan I can’t do as much of the development myself because I don’t speak Japanese. But in America, with Ron Stoll, I did it from scratch, in the largest consumer market in the world. Now we are harvesting the fruits of what we have done from day one. That’s what I like about the whole project so much. I can say Carl F. Bucherer is absolutely a success story. There are always things you can improve, but 99 percent has been right so far—from the marketing mix, to product prices, to promotions placed, to the people. I’m really proud of my team world wide and what we have accomplished in the past couple of years.
Connect with us
Follow us for regular updates.
Subscribe by Email
Receive our luxury travel email newsletter.