Oliver Ike, CEO of A.Manzoni & Fils, talks about his new watch and his new manufacture
Oliver Ike, formerly of Ikepod, is currently sourcing funds through Kickstarter to launch an exciting new watch called the A.Manzoni & Fils Canopus Weekplanner Watch, details of which are comprehensively covered in Oliver’s Kickstarter pitch. Check out the full story here
But to give Watchuseek readers a better insight into the rationale behind the watch and the brand, we interviewed Oliver to find out more about the design team behind it, as well as his decision to revive the once legendary watch manufacture A.Manzoni & Fils based in Lugano, Switzerland.
What follows are his in-depth replies.
1. What made you decide to revive A.Manzoni & Fils and are there many former well known watch brands still lying dormant?
A.Manzoni & Fils factory
OI: I’ve lived in Lugano, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland South of the Alps, for 14 years. I was looking for a brand that had a true connection with Lugano and its surroundings, and through a coincidence I discovered an empty factory in Arogno, a little village above Lugano directly on the Italian border to Como. At the same time, I was researching in Switzerland’s biggest library for watches in the watch museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds and I discovered a picture from A.Manzoni & Fils advertising their mechanical movements. Suddenly I realized that the factory was from them and next time I visited the little village I learned about a book that was written on the story of that brand by a local journalist.
I don’t think that there are any other dormant brands in this area of Switzerland and the history of A.Manzoni & Fils is absolutely unique. In order to create or revive a watchbrand it has to have a connection to the geographic location otherwise for me it lacks the true authenticity.
2. Can you give us some background to the A.Manzoni & Fils brand and how you managed to acquire it?
OI: The background of A.Manzoni & Fils is very fascinating. At the end of the 19th century electricity was still produced by watermills. The headmaster of a women’s boarding school in Alle, a little village near Porrentruy in the Swiss Jura originated from the village of Arogno near Lugano and noticed that the local river Alle did not have enough water to produce electricity. An earthquake in 1871 had opened the mountain in Arogno and they had a waterfall coming out so he proposed to move the company that was called Challet & Frottez to Arogno where Alessandro Manzoni just started his watchmaking company in 1873. Then they merged the two companies and changed the name in 1888 to A:Manzoni & Fils. The company was producing mechanical precision movements for watchbrands of the French part of Switzerland.
Around 1888 about 80% of the local population of Arogno worked in the watch industry. This mountain village on the Italian border reminded me of Le Lieu or Le Brassus in the Vallée de Joux where also most of the workforce come out of the neighbouring France.
I registered the brand worldwide and even found with the kind help of the local journalist who wrote the book about A,Manzoni & Fils one of their grandchildren. The factory was integrated in the 1960’s into what later became the Ebauches reunis and closed in 1978. When I visited Mr.Manzoni his eyes were lighting up and he was absolutely overwhelmed by the idea to revive the brand of his ancestors and as well various personalities of the village of Arogno encouraged me in my project. More and more information is gradually coming up and I am sure that we will open a company museum in case we succeed in the revival of the brand.
The historic premises are empty since 1978 and the property even includes the water rights so if we can realize the project we will even be able to produce our own electricity and create a second income by selling the access to the commune.
3. What is your own background?
OI: I am trained as a chemical engineer but I never practiced that profession. During my studies I worked to finance myself in the marketing and sales of leading Italian furniture companies such as Moroso, T70, Living Divani etc. Like this I came in touch with the design world and was organizing the first exhibitions of Ron Arad in Switzerland when I discovered the talent of the Australian designer Marc Newson with whom I later teamed up to start Ikepod. I was truly in love with his design style and made him a partner of the company.
4. What happened to Ikepod?
OI: It’s a rather sad story. At the time I was too young and over enthusiastic and trusted people too much. I had no idea how much money was needed to build up a watchbrand and in the end I lost quickly the majority and the whole company, due to its instant success, became an object of investor speculation. In order to protect the suppliers I tried hard to bring the company into Chapter 11 and after 2 years that the assets of the company changed hands many times I gave up on trying to repurchase my own company. This was back in 2003 and for the last 10 years I have been doing consultancy jobs for other watch brands and was managing the production company Ikebranco SA of my wife, who is a renown architecture and interior photographer.
4. The design of the new watch was made by Finnish designer Ilkka Suppanen. What can you tell us about him and how did you start working with him?
OI: Ilkka and I met through my dear Swedish friend David Carlson when David asked me to participate on a designboost panel in Malmö back in 2009. I always loved Nordic design and was since years a big fan of the architecture of Alvar Aalto. So to be able to work with the most known contemporary Finnish designer was really a privilege that I could not refuse. Every designer I work with I give a very detailed briefing and Ilkka came back with an impressive answer that convinced me he was the right partner for designing the first timepieces for A.Manzoni & Fils.
5. Your price range for when the watch comes to the market seems to be steep, can you explain your pricing strategy?
OI: I do not think it is steep at all. You have to take into consideration that we make a small production and don’t produce several hundred thousand watches a year as does Rolex for example. The margins in distribution, advertising and retailing as well as after sales service are necessary to put the brand on the map. As an introduction to the market and to honour the people on KS who believe in us from day one we are making a limited edition available already at 5000 USD ( a third of the future retail price). This is a very innovative luxury marketing strategy and helps to make the brand known more quickly around the globe.
Please consider as well that 100% of our components are manufactured in Switzerland, the watch always comes with both metal bracelet and leather strap, both of which have a patented regulation and rapid exchange mechanism.
If a metal bracelet of a major brand without those features already retails for 2500-3000 USD our market introduction price is a real bargain.
The recommended retail price of 15.000 USD is a very good offer as well and not a steep price. Consider the solid mahogany watchbox from craftsman Pierluigi Ghiand which is an applied art collectors object in itself.
Compare us to Ressence, AP, Patek, JLC, VC or Journe and you will see that the price is reasonable for the craftsmanship that lies in the timepiece. The sapphire crystal alone costs more than 300 USD in production for no one can polish such an a-spherical shape and we had to develop extra tooling for it. The price strategy is to allow the retailers and distributors to make enough margin to display, service and advertise our brand in a proper way.
6. What are your future plans when your Kickstarter project reaches its goal?
OI: If we reach the KS goal we will go in production with the first watch.
7. And what happens if it does not?
OI: If its not reached we will go in production nevertheless but we will have to take an additional investor on board by selling a minority participation.
8. Can you explain a little more about your decision to introduce the Brazilian flavoured Côtes de Copacabana, as this seems to depart from the ‘all Swiss’ contemporary image. It lends the watch something of a 70s feel.
OI: The Côtes de Copacabana is there to give a reference to culture in the detail. This gives the timepiece an emotional touch, a feeling a scent. For you it represents the spirit of the 70’s for someone else it might be a nice memory of a brazilian girlfriend in Rio for a third person it simply reminds him his hometown. We have registered the strapline “A movement of culture” in class 14 as we want to be the first watchbrand that mixes commerce with culture as a foundation of its DNA. In the future there will be other patterns and details referring to culture but for the start we chose these sidewalk lines that the landscape architect Roberto Burlé Marx gave to the Copacabana.
The “all Swiss” is referred to the production of the watchparts but A.Manzoni & Fils should reflect a truly international spirit. From the Finnish designer to the Italian wood craftsman of the box, to the brazilian culture reference, to the international backer in whatever timezone who helps us on kickstarter to revive the brand.
9. When you say there is an absence of genuine industrial design in watchmaking, how do you feel the likes of Linde Werdelin might react? Also, given that several notable watches were designed by Gerald Genta in the past, perhaps certain brands introduced industrial design to watchmaking some years ago?
OI: LW is a nice brand but I can’t help to see the analogy to the Royal Oak from Gerald Genta, similar like the Hublot (not the old ones that Carlo Croco created an Giorgio Armani wears) or the Bulgari model. There is no innovation as such for me in that design.
Under true industrial design I understand to work with designers who have a worldwide reputation in more than just one area. Most of the designers of watches today only design watches and no other objects. Ilkka for instance is a trained architect and has a different perspective when he said that he created a three dimensional architecture on the dial. Watch designers are mostly anonymous and hardly ever mentioned by the brands they design for. A.Manzoni & Fils in contrast puts the designers first, who work in the watch business exclusively for us, as their notoriety outside the watch industry will also help contribute to put our brand on the map in the same way than the collaboration with famous renown craftsman do. Our second strapline contemporary craftsmanship underlines this strategy to update ancient traditions of craftsmanship and preserve them through contemporary approaches to narrative, ornament and detail. We want to oppose globalism by showing the true origin of the products and support local craftsmanship traditions. Gerald Genta was by far the only known and talented watch designer for me but also he did not work to my knowledge outside the watch industry at least not that I am aware of.
There are some young talented designers nevertheless like Markus Eilinger from ID Connect who is behind a few great designs like Moser & Cie for instance. But outside the watch industry he has not yet got a reputation in industrial design or maybe he is not even looking to achieve that.
10. It says on Kickstarter your target is $850,000 and with 14 days to go you have raised $99,093, so how is your off Kickstarter fundraising doing?
OI: We have been approached by several equity investors and family offices who want to consider an investment in A.Manzoni & Fils. We will evaluate all offers over the next months and go with the partner that brings us the best synergy. We are as well open to any further offers from private individuals, funds or venture capitalists who see like us the high potential in building a global Swiss Luxury brand with base in Lugano. Important for our decision whom to chose is as well that they have to stay on board for at least 5-10 years as this is the minimum time horizon to build up value for a brand.
Many thanks for answering and good luck with the project!
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