A few days ago, Norqain announced its latest watch, the new Wild ONE. The launch provided the opportunity to present NORTEQ, a new material. The big news with this carbon fibre composite is that it can be mass-dyed, making it a perfect solution to craft colourful, rugged sports watches. The whole project was sparked by watch industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver, Advisor to the Board of Norqain. During the launch in Zermatt, we sat down with the young CEO of the brand, Ben Küffer, and Jean-Claude Biver to understand how their collaboration works.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – Norqain has come a long way in just four years. The launch of the Wild ONE is an important step for the brand. Can you tell us about it?
Ben Küffer, CEO of Norqain – It is a huge step for the brand. The project started two years ago when I met Jean-Claude Biver. Norqain had a great start but in the midst of the pandemic, I started thinking about our future. I was put in touch with Jean-Claude by a mutual friend, and very soon, we had a conversation. Jean-Claude wants to help the young generation. In fact, he challenged me, telling me that we had created a great base at Norqain, that this was a great first step where many people fail, but that it was now time to become the challenger brand, that it was time to invest in product and innovation. I asked him if he would help us, and he answered straight away: “Of course, but I want to know what you are going to do.” A few weeks later, I told him I had an interesting idea for a new material; the Wild ONE is the result of this first meeting.
How was this innovative material developed?
Jean-Claude Biver, Advisor to the Board for Norqain – The idea was to find a supplier that could provide new materials in terms of resistance, weight, and colours… we thought the best supplier would be Biwi. They have played an essential role and made things possible. You can have ideas, but you must also realise them. Biwi understood our needs, and our brief and took the challenge.
And then everything started. We had the shape of the case, and the material; we had the engine with the Kenissi movement, which is another interesting asset.
Ben Küffer – it was also essential for us to be 100% Swiss-made. Jean-Claude constantly challenges us to opt for the best solutions. His phrase is always “zero compromises whatever we do.” His attention to detail is remarkable. Just take a look, for instance, at these screws that follow the shape of the lugs perfectly.
Did you use the Independence case to create the Wild ONE?
Ben Küffer – We kept the idea of the case. Jean-Claude immediately told us that the Independence was a winner; it was available in steel, and we had to bring it to the next level.
The Wild ONE is very different from an Independence case: there is this 25-piece construction, the two levels, the bumpers, the strap is integrated… the ergonomics are incredible. If you put the watch on, it feels like it was meant to be on your wrist. Everybody says it fits perfectly on the wrist.
What about the dial?
Ben Küffer – The dial is made by Montremo in La Chaux-de-Fonds. There again, the idea was to do something that had never been done. With the expertise of Montremo, we created a three-layer, laser-cut 3D dial. It really gives the watch a distinctive touch.
Jean-Claude Biver – indeed, this is not a watch that would be easy to copy!
Ben Küffer – The initial feedback is excellent. We wanted people to see how much has gone into the creation of this watch but at a price that still matches Norqain. This is our flagship product. Four years after the brand was launched, we are really making a big statement.
This is a big step for Norqain; what is the next one?
Jean-Claude Biver – Consolidation. After such a big step, you need consolidation. You need to improve on all sorts of details that people might not see but that will make a difference in the end.
You have a playground for creativity with the Wild ONE, particularly in terms of colours. Can we expect new movements?
Ben Küffer – Yes. The Wild ONE is based on a container protecting the movement. We can play with it. If we make the container slimmer, there are compromises regarding water-resistance. But yes, we can work with different movements.
How is your distribution network growing?
Ben Küffer – We will have 200 stores in 30 different countries by the end of the year. We try to build partnerships with strategic partners to be able to provide the right service. This year our growth is 130%, which could be unhealthy – we have to be careful that we can still offer the best service. Norqain has become successful because we offer excellent service and treat people the right way. We need to be there for our partners. Our priority is to support our retailers and our clients. This is consolidation, just like Jean-Claude mentioned.
Jean-Claude Biver, you are launching your own brand with your son. You are supporting the young Norqain team. Is there a theme here about passing something on to the next generation?
Jean-Claude Biver – My son is 22. He is working with me, and the idea is to create a brand from scratch and to master even the invisible parts of a watch by finishing every single part of the movement, including the screws hidden inside the movement. Things are done in the most traditional way. We have a preliminary assembly for complicated movements; then, they are taken apart and cleaned before being assembled again (montage à blanc). This is the ultimate luxury, the ultimate attention to detail.
The difference with Norqain is very small. There is the same attention to detail but for a different type of watches; it is what we were saying about the screws affixed to the lugs earlier. Conceptually, we follow very much the same route.
My son is younger than Ben. He is just 22. I am telling him to hire people his age. He often tells me, “well, Dad, we cannot hire only people in their early 20s.” But yes, I want to work with young people and pass something on. What can I pass on to someone who is 50 years old? I want to give back.
What subjects do you talk about with Ben and the Norqain team?
Jean-Claude Biver – I discuss anything they want. Any question is open. I am an Advisor of the Board; I am not a Member of the Board. I think a board sometimes needs advice from the outside. It gives me much more freedom.
Ben Küffer – Imagine what it means for me to have this backbone. I am 34 years old. When we started, we were five people; now we’re 50. I am managing Norqain with little experience and a lot of passion. When I have an important decision, I call Jean-Claude. Like our partnership with the New York marathon. I called him, and he told me this was a “yes” partnership within five seconds. I don’t have a problem calling someone who knows better than me. It just makes us stronger.
Jean-Claude Biver – Ben has great qualities. He is passionate, open and curious.
Ben Küffer – We get along very well… we are passionate, and have a positive mindset and attitude when facing problems. And most importantly, we are having fun!
For more information, please visit www.norqain.com.