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Can Christian Bedat Become the Richard Branson of the Watch World?

Christian Bedat with his late mother Simone (a co-founder of Raymond Weil) started Bedat & Co. in 1996 and by 2000 had already soared to such heights that Gucci Group bought 85 percent. Tom Ford, then the creative force behind Gucci, who championed the acquisition, exited in 2004 and fils Bedat left in 2006. 

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Not many in the closely-knit Swiss watch industry expected Christian to stay on the sideline forever, and three years later he quietly founded Red8 selling watches online.  As he puts, it, “I had an online project since 2009.  I didn’t promote.  It was a small business.”

 

Late last year in a conversation with Jay Vullings, his former U.S. president at Bedat & Co., he said they were discussing “what to do in the United States?”

 

Bedat (below right) continues, “As we talked (the question came) what if we created a brand totally dedicated for the U.S. market?”

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The conclusion:  Bedat says, “If we do Red8USA, then we could do Red8Japan and Red8Brazil, which means we would create a global brand that is the sum of the national brands, but within each country there are individual differences, but when you look at them from afar they are from the same family.”

 

It’s the antithesis of what the big global brands are doing.  “It’s different from selling the same thing at the same price all around the world.  It’s cousins instead of twins,” the watch genius told Elite Traveler during an interview at Couture Las Vegas, a show for the trade.

 

While it may sound a bit like Richard Branson’s collection of Virgin airline franchises, the Geneva resident says it’s merely a coincidence. “I never thought about it, so it’s hard to give you an answer,” Bedat claims, quickly adding that he views a comparison to the British entrepreneur favorably.

 

How is Red8USA going to make an impact when Bedat says today it takes at least $30 million in advertising to create noise in a market like the U.S.?  He and Vullings have brought aboard their former communications guru from Bedat & Co. Lisa Newman Levine who has crafted a social media strategy to create cost-effective buzz, and Bedat says, “In the world we live where there is a race for luxury, and luxury is defined often by price, for me it is defined by aesthetics and craftsmanship and sophistication and who wears it.”

 

Red8USA has created “a product that is elegant, cool and sleek and doesn’t cost a fortune, so it doesn’t arrive as competition to the existing brands, but more as an addition and doesn’t take sales away from anybody.  The person who buys our watch is still going to buy the other watches he or she buys.”

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But can one do a luxury watch with a price range from $695 to $2,495?  “These are my roots in terms of design and quality.  We will produce in Asia,” Bedat says, adding, “People think producing in Asia is bad, but this is no longer the case. When I visited the assembly plant I was blown away by the cleanliness and the technology.  We are using a Japanese movement.  If you know the Japanese, they are meticulous.  It is all about details.  It is the highest quality.”

 

Creating something new is easier said than done. “The idea is to bring something that is not there, something that does not exist,” Bedat says, continuing, “To bring something new is challenging because everything is out there.  We offer a fine watch where the band is a crocodile look in rubber.  When you see the product you will be amazed.  We manufacture with titanium, sapphire crystal, automatic movement, water resistant to 100 meters.”

 

Bedat adds his watches will be split between men and women, and the 16-piece offering will be displayed in sleek case that will enable retailers to give it a high profile in their showcases.  While one might assume a product such as this will be mass distribution, Bedat counters, “We want to treat an affordable product the same way as the top end price product, so we want only top end retailers.  We will fulfill a price point that for the high end retailer offers a look and product that is an addition.”