Semper & Adhuc: How to Launch a Premium Watch Brand

Semper & Adhuc: How to Launch a Premium Watch Brand

This article is written in collaboration with Vagesha Sinha, MSc in Luxury Marketing from Emlyon Business School.

Brands often struggle to stay relevant and be heard, and premium watch brands are no exceptions. New entrants that want to challenge the “establishment” typically do not stand a fighting chance.

That is, unless the new brand is backed by a unique strategy wrapped in a compelling story that resonates with its audience.

As part of the Branding Inspiration series, I want to focus on Semper & Adhuc, a new premium watch brand from France.

I came across the brand while browsing various Kickstarter campaigns in categories that interest me: board games and watches. I was just finishing the article on another watch brand, Baume, in which I questioned the strategy behind it (starting with a name that could generate confusion and a “green brand” positioning that is not strong enough to build a premium brand).

In contrast, I see many reasons Semper & Adhuc might actually succeed in carving its niche in the premium mechanical watch space. 

A Strong “Hook”

Similar to the Baume brand, Semper & Adhuc embraces the “sustainable consumption” trend. At the heart of a Semper & Adhuc watch sits a mechanism typically made in the 1930-1960, carefully selected and restored by the expert watchmaker and company founder Colin de Tonnac.

This “how it’s made” story resonates deeply with those who oppose the disposable society we live in, where products are purposely designed to quickly become obsolete.

In the disposable society, the voice of the master craftsman is often silenced. Mass-produced goods are often impossible to repair, making their way to the landfill when the next upgrade becomes available. 

The hunger for the next big thing, the fear of missing out and peer-pressure that many consumers experience, has given way to a new group of consumers, including myself, who value the opposite: long lasting products, the result of exquisite craftsmanship, and backed by a personal, human promise.

For these reasons, the focus on “responsible consumption” rather than “environmentally friendly” provides consumers with a stronger, more relatable “emotional hook”. 

A Clearly Communicated Brand Story

Many new brands tend to be employ too much creativity when communicating their story. My advice for new brands is to use clear and simple messaging to explain what the brand stands for and generate interest

This is Semper & Adhuc’ value proposition, as communicated at the top of the Kickstarter page:

“Semper & Adhuc restores vintage hand-wound movements and offers them a new skin, thus creating watches unique of their kind.”

Pretty straightforward if you ask me.

The unique brand name perfectly complements the value proposition and captures the brand essence. The Latin words “Semper & Adhuc” translate to “from always until now” suggesting the transition created by the old mechanisms turning into modern timepieces.

Staying (Very) Small

Colin graduated with a Diploma of Crafts in watchmaking, and went on to work at Patek Phillipe in their quality control department, and later as one of their watch laboratory technicians.

He personally sources, restores, and builds all the watches. The production is limited to 150 watches; the limited quantity has the potential to make these timepieces very desirable.

Most watch brands belong to big, multinational groups in search for larger profits. By staying small, Semper & Adhuc will certainly have a chance reinforce its values: craftsmanship, attention to detail, know-how, and personal touch.

The Human Touch

Big brands tend to be very secretive about their products and how they do business; this strategy does little to gain consumer trust.

Colin is very transparent about his business, including the exact provenance of each component, how many watches are being assembled each year, and delivery time.

The presentation video below touches on all the elements highlighted in this article and goes a long way towards building trust and credibility in the brand:

Tough Competition

The wristwatch landscape is increasingly populated by big brands belonging to multinational holding companies such as the Swatch Group, LVMH, and Richmont. These premium watch brands are backed by strong and inspiring legacy, dominant market presence, stable supply chains and distribution network and high brand recall.

For Semper & Adhuc, it is perhaps going to be very tough competing with these high-value, high-recall brands. 

The likely competitors for Semper and Adhuc are brands such as Frederique Constant, Tissot, Hamilton, Gucci, Rado, Tag Heuer, and Longines. Looking at the competition, we’ll discover a mix of heritage brands (Tissot, Longines), newer entrants (Baume, Frederique Constant) and fashion brands (Gucci, Hamilton).

Regardless of positioning, these brands have access to plenty of resources to squash any new entrant. The best strategy is to stay small and transparent and fly under their radar.

Brand Differentiation

Semper & Adhuc have positioned their product as vintage watches from the 30s and 60s that are pure, simple and classic. The narrative is “human” and warming and offers a deeper meaning.

The brand logo of three intertwined faces- the first sister wove the thread (birth), the second unwound it (life) and the third cut it (death), translates to the watch for one’s lifetime.

However, brands like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Phillipe, Rolex are synonymous with that desire and the sense of exclusivity, because of the higher price point.

For Semper & Adhuc to state that their watches for one’s lifetime, the narrative should move beyond durability or marrying past with present, and focus on the essence of human, personal relationship for the lifetime through your watch.

A lifelong relationship with not just time, but with the brand.

In that sense, Semper & Adhuc can position itself as a human brand, focusing on craftsmanship, exclusivity (production limited to 150 watches  per year), and that continues at its pace, un-rattled despite the cut-throat competition in the luxury watch industry.

The country of origin could also appeal to consumers who desire something different. While many associate quality watches with Switzerland, “Made in France” will resonate with those looking for “savoir-faire” while looking for something different, something non-Swiss. France certainly projects of image of quality and craftsmanship, which the new brand is sure to capitalise on.

Semper & Adhuc started its journey with the right ingredients to penetrate consumers mind and hearts. Only time will tell if Semper & Adhuc will be successful, and what the definition of success even means to it founder.

In a premium watch brand segment dominated by resourceful and established players, a good start does not guarantee a successful finish; however, making a first good impression certainly sets Semper & Adhuc on the right path.