Founded in Switzerland, the home of luxury watches, Rotary has been providing timepieces for its clientele for over a century. Claire Adler finds out about the brand's focus on fashion,the introduction of diamonds and an elaborate treasure hunt
Despite its 113-year history, Rotary watches is refreshingly grounded in the present. Fourth-generation chairman Robert Dreyfuss is trend savvy, fluent about his market positioning and hungry for new ideas.
Dreyfuss's belief and pride in Rotary are typical of someone who sees himself as the custodian of a company that he plans to pass onto the next generation. The company was founded in 1895 in Switzerland by Dreyfuss's great grandfather Moise Dreyfuss – a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Robert. Within 12 years, the company had opened an office in the UK to import watches and in 1940 Rotary was appointed official watch supplier to the British Army,
Becoming a superbrand
With head offices in London's prestigious Regent Street, Rotary currently produces half a million waterproof watches annually, which it sells in 35 countries. The company also sells watches under the J&T Windmills brand, a family-owned, 18th century clockmaking company acquired by Rotary when the last family member died and had no heirs. "We are a traditional brand with watchmaking credentials in a contemporary setting. My forefathers built an admirable and enviable reputation and brand equity," says Dreyfuss.
In 2005 Rotary became the first watch brand to appear in the annual Superbrands book, in which an independent panel of marketing and PR specialists, along with the public, awards brands for their marketing impact and consumer perception. Rotary then scooped up the award for the following two years running, which is a little surprising given that its watches are, for the most part, strikingly conservative and traditional in style – even former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a customer.
"The recognition from Superbrands is a nice accolade for us and we believe it shows we can punch above our weight," says Dreyfuss. It was Rotary's Round Revelation, a watch with two faces that rotate to result in two watches in one, which captured the attention of the judges.
Since then, Rotary has been concentrating on becoming even hipper still, while remaining loyal to its core clientele. "We are re-engineering our product offer globally. We recognise there are different segments and we realised we needed a more contemporary element," explains Dreyfuss.
While the traditional Rotary Timepiece range is "the Saturday night posh watch", according to Dreyfuss, he recognises that the brand is a popular option as a gift for young people and he wanted to expand the offering. Dreyfuss recalls being given a Rotary for his 20th birthday by his grandparents – probably not the best illustration of the brand's gifting associations, given that his grandparents owned Rotary and Dreyfuss was about to take up the reins at the company that very year.
Trends in the watch market which Dreyfuss is now tapping into include a growing demand for automatic watches (watches that are activated by the movement of your wrist), larger dials, women opting for men's watches and a desire for more complicated watches, such as those with power reserve and chronograph (stopwatch) functions and also skeleton – or see through – dials.
The company's greatest growth is currently coming from Rotary's more fashion-conscious diffusion brands – Rotary Rocks and Rotary Editions. Last year, Rotary brought Rotary Rocks onto the market, a range of 20 waterproof ladies watches set with diamonds, all accompanied by diamond grading certificates attesting to their quality. Now, building on the success of Rotary Rocks, the brand is appealing to those with a penchant for high fashion, having introduced the brand's most edgy collection of all – Rotary Editions.
"Rotary Editions works as a treasure hunt concept," says Dreyfuss. "All the Rotary Editions watches are available for a very short period. It's a bit like shopping at Zara, where the product turnaround in the shops is really fast, so there is a sense that you have to hurry while stocks last.
"With the help of Paris-based trend forecasting agency Promostyl, who advise us on the season's colour trends 18 months in advance, we've brought out a collection of 25 watches, all fitted with automatic movements which we have made in-house." Rotary's customers will find summer 2008 watches in white, lilac and orange and autumn will see more rose gold watches with aubergine and purple hues.
Rotary Editions watches are more "muscular, robust, in your face and trendier," says Dreyfuss. Fashioned from titanium, rose gold plate and stainless steel, they all have glass case backs to view the inside of the watch. Those with an eye for watches from higher-end brands will also spot design cues from the likes of Cartier, Hublot and Audemars Piguet incorporated into this collection: for example, the Roman numerals on a square case suggesting the Cartier Santos or the screws on the bezel echoing Hublot watches inspired by boat portholes. Meanwhile, the skeleton watch, whose dial completely reveals the workings within it, fronts the current advertising campaign and, according to Dreyfuss, "looks like a million dollars".
Product development is Dreyfuss's favourite part of the job. "Dreyfuss & Co, Editions and Rotary Rocks – these are all internally born ideas. We enjoy seeing a niche and building a product to fill it. It generally takes nine or 10 months to create a new, living brand," he says.