Roger Dubuis Seeks Recovery With $155,000 King Arthur Watches

Roger Dubuis, a Swiss watchmaker Cie. Financiere Richemont SA bought in 2008, aims to help fuel a recovery with a 145,000 Swiss franc ($155,000) King Arthur watch and the first timepiece encased in light-weight silicon.

The brand is targeting high-end luxury consumers with its Table Ronde timepiece, which depicts the round table and has a knight figurine at each five-minute marker, Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Pontroue said in an interview. Roger Dubuis will also display the Excalibur Quatuor, a model which will have 3 units encased in silicon, at Geneva’s watch fair, which starts today. Those will cost 1 million francs each.

“We have changed more or less everything over the last two years, and we’ve seen increased sales and brought confidence back to customers,” Pontroue said at Roger Dubuis’s headquarters in Geneva. “We still have room for improvement, but we’re on a good track to improve our profitability.”

Richemont has overhauled the brand by cutting about 70 jobs in 2009, reducing the number of product lines, redesigning its boutiques to include lounges for customers and expanding the distribution network. Roger Dubuis will have 22 boutiques by the end of this year, double the number it had at the end of 2011.

The Swiss watch industry slowed in the second half of 2012 as sales of timepieces and jewelry in Hong Kong, the biggest market for Swiss watchmakers, declined in August and October. Swiss watch exports rose 4.5 percent in November, compared to the 13 percent growth rate in the first 11 months of 2012, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said.

Asia Slowdown

Richemont doesn’t break down sales or profit for each of its watch brands, though revenue from the group’s watchmaking unit climbed 13 percent to 784 million euros ($1 billion) in the three months through December, the company said today. Richemont’s total sales growth in the quarter missed analyst’ estimates as third-quarter Asian Pacific revenue excluding currency shifts was unchanged for the first time in four years.

Roger Dubuis probably had sales of about 35 million euros last fiscal year, Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel, estimates.

Roger Dubuis’s watches bear the Geneva Seal, a 127-year-old accolade from the Geneva Watchmaking School. It’s one of the industry’s most difficult designations to obtain as it requires all components of timepieces, including the screws, to be engraved or decorated and the watches must meet performance standards.

Brand Revamp

The world’s second-biggest luxury goods maker has re-engineered Dubuis’s range of watch mechanisms after a series of technical problems and developed new ones. Output will rise to 4,500 watches this year from 4,000 in 2012, according to Pontroue. The brand’s lowest prices have dropped to about 12,000 Swiss francs from 20,000 francs, Vontobel’s Weber estimated.

“Roger Dubuis had big issues when Richemont acquired it, but there’s clearly much more of a focus now,” Weber said. “They’re probably close to break-even.”

The brand was set up in 1995 by founder and namesake Roger Dubuis, a former designer at luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe SA. He returned to the brand last year to work with key customers.

“The brand was in a critical situation four years ago and without the purchase by Richemont, it wouldn’t exist today,” said Pontroue, who previously ran product development for Richemont’s Montblanc pen brand in Germany.

Swatch Group AG, the biggest maker of Swiss timepieces, last week agreed to buy the Harry Winston watch and jewelry brand for about $1 billion, to better compete with Richemont’s Cartier brand.

Roger Dubuis is also seeking to sell 88 units of a rose-gold version of the Excalibur Quatuor for 380,000 Swiss francs each. Excalibur Quatuor watches won’t be sold in Roger Dubuis boutiques and collectors interested in buying them will be flown first-class to Geneva and shown the watches at the brand’s headquarters, according to Pontroue.

“We are not a typical brand --- our customers like private one-to-one presentations like collectors’ dinners and meetings with Monsieur Dubuis himself,” Pontroue said.

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