‘Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong’. Exclusive Interview with Christopher Ward CEO Mike France
Editor’s note: This interview with Christopher Ward CEO Mike France is our latest interview with industry leaders for our segment of talking about everything from upcoming 2020 novelties to COVID-19’s impact on the Swiss watch industry. For our introductory ones with Niels Eggerding, Maximilian Büsser, Ming Thein, and Edouard Meylan, please head to our interviews page here.
Winston Churchill once said, “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” In the midst of a Swiss dominated watch industry, stands Christopher Ward. It may not be the only British brand, but it sure is one to reckon with. Amidst this global pandemic and Swiss dominated watch market is this brand, growing strong.
This seminal British brand stamped its existence on the Swiss luxury watch market in 2004. Production of quality watches at par with the Swiss watchmaking industry standards and then selling them on the internet directly to enthusiasts rather than availing the services of retailers and wholesalers has been at the forefront of the company’s success. After all, when they started, they were the first online-only luxury watch retailer.
They haven’t looked back since.
I feel the British brand imbibes Churchill’s another saying very well too: “It is no use saying ‘we are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
Since releasing the C5 Malvern Automatic and the C3 Malvern Chronograph watches and updating their logo to releasing this year’s novelties, the C65 GMT Worldtimer and C60 Elite GMT 1000, despite the Covid-19 crisis, if there is one thing that Christopher Ward has shown us, is that it will continue to beat the odds and rise.
“The thinking man’s watch brand.” That’s how Mike France, CEO & Co-founder of Christopher Ward describes the brand. I think there is a fair amount of truth and burden in that statement.
Truth because despite online watch shopping not being an established concept a decade ago, and potential buyers being of the mindset to not trust a watch without physically holding it, the brand has managed to break that mould and has managed to achieve a lot.
The brand in its short existence has managed to spread its business to customers in over 109 countries, sells from eight geographically targeted websites, produces over 20’000 watches annually, and has sales with a turnover of around 10 million annually. Mind you these figures are conservative as they come from a report by Watch Pro from two years ago. The brand since has continued its ascent. At the rate its sales are going, the British watch company is projecting to double or triple its production in the coming years.
Burden because it needs to constantly evolve with the thinking of the consumers. But Mr France doesn’t seem to have any challenges when it comes to that. He feels he knows the pulse of his customers and understands their needs well.
“Apart from the givens of quality, value and outstanding service, it’s increasingly about authenticity. People see through the PR puff and marketing hype and want brands to be original, open and fair-minded,” says France.
Talking about customers, to understand the brand better, we wanted to dive further into Christopher Ward’s ideal customer profile. We discovered that his customers may be spread across nations but are united by their faith in the brand’s watches.
“We appeal to the curious-minded. Typically (but not exclusively) men of all ages who are intelligent, independent-minded and appreciate, and seek out, products for their intrinsic value rather than because a celebrity may have endorsed them,” says France.
This rings about right. After-all, the brand has survived solely on the power of the internet and people’s intrinsic trust in the brand. Given the brand offers the 60|60 Watch Guarantee — guarantees the movement for 5 years and accepts returns within 60 days — without going up in arms about it has also helped cement this trust in its client base.
“We took a bet when we launched Christopher Ward that this constituency of people would grow, in part due to the incredible information reservoir of the internet, and thus far I think that’s what has happened,” he adds confidently.
The Novelty Train
While the former beautifully marries the opposing worlds of deep diving and world travelling, the latter, a part of the young brand’s Trident dive watch collection, provides with exceptional versatility. The C65 GMT Worldtimer is an excellent daily wearable watch that at the price point of only £995 combines a GMT function with the worldtimer complication and presents the hot package with a 316L steel case that is impressively a 150m water-resistant.
“The two key platforms for us are the C60 and C65 Collections. The former is about technical excellence in contemporary dive whereas the latter, which is also a dive collection, takes its design cues from the 1960s and ’70s,” says France.
The New Stations
This is not where the CW train stops. The C60 and C65 collections are merely station platform stops, with the journey of 2020 still in full motion.
“Well, apart from the C65 GMT Worldtimer and C60 Elite GMT 1000 which we released in March and April, the most important launch of the first half of the year is undoubtedly the C60 Sapphire. Not only is it arguably our most mesmerisingly beautiful watch ever, it is also the watch that launches our first-ever TV campaign on May 1st”he says.
Mr Ward is right; the new C60 Sapphire is indeed a very important next step for the brand and stunning in its own right. It has just been announced as we write this interview article, and to find out more about it, please head to our review of the new C60 Sapphire here.
“Very few watch brands, and certainly none at our price-points, have ever created a watch with a sapphire crystal dial that allows a translucent view into the mechanical movement within and so we are particularly proud of our design and engineering teams’ achievement,” France adds.
Even the new C60 Sapphire is not where the brand pauses this year. The next stop for the brand’s novelty train will be revealed in a few months time from now.
“Both (C60 and C65 collections) have important novelties this year but perhaps the REALLY big one is a C65 watch which launches in the autumn. It is an incredible horological achievement and just talking about it raises the hairs on my neck. If I told you any more I would have to kill you – so best leave it there for now!” he so nonchalantly says.
The Phoenix Moment
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world. From societies to watch brands, from factories to consumers, they are all feeling its heat. But you can trust the tour de force behind Christopher Ward watches to come out with his own perspective, a unique take on the pandemic that sure spells a re-birth moment.
Mr France feels — and we are glad he does because we will all have to see the silver lining somewhere in all of this to mentally cope with it — that the current global pandemic will obviously affect Christopher Ward and the society in general, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
After all, as Churchill put it, “The English know how to make the best of things. Their so-called muddling through is simply skill at dealing with the inevitable.”
“As for everyone else it has been a shock to the system but one that we think could ultimately be good for society in general and the watch industry in particular. I think there will be a reappraisal of what is important in our lives, what really matters as well as a redefining, hopefully, of how we value certain jobs and the people who do them.
“On a business level, we took the view that you don’t cut your engines when flying through a storm so have increased our marketing spend rather than reduced it and have paid our staff a premium for working during the crisis. So far we have been lucky enough to see significant growth during the crisis and an increase in market share,” he says affirmatively.
While the brand under his leadership should be able to cruise to new heights despite the pandemic, he nonetheless acknowledges that this pandemic will affect the entire Swiss watchmaking industry as a whole.
“There will inevitably be a shake-out of brands and distribution. This trend has been there for some time and the Covid virus will accelerate the process. Size does matter but quality matters more. I am much more interested in the relationships with customers than between brands. If you are good enough you’ll grow, no matter your size,” says French.
The Train Shall Chug Along
In our interview with Christopher Ward CEO Mike France, he has given us a few points to ponder over, and a few watches to daydream over. But the brand is not done. If anything, they are getting warmed up.
“The next phase for us is all about well-considered growth in all markets but mainly overseas and particularly in North America which is already nearly a third of our business and where we spent the princely sum of £5k (yes, £5k) marketing the brand last year. The next phase for us is all about getting the CW message out there. We have the resources now, we believe we have the best value-for-money proposition in the world of watchmaking, now it’s all about, as we say, ‘Spreading the Ward’ ”, he wraps up.
Adequacy is the vehicle upon which mediocracy rides. Christopher Ward could have left its 2020 releases simply at the two watches released earlier this year. But they decided to soldier on. Since Christopher Ward was built on trust and transparency, it is bound to thrive.
When asked what he sees as the next phase of Christopher Ward’s evolution, he jokes, “World domination!”
Someone you may have heard of — if not anywhere else then in this article repeatedly — is another British gentleman who simply once inspired an entire nation, Winston Churchill. He seemed to have been of the similar mindset as the trio behind Christopher Ward. He once said, “I am easily satisfied with the very best”.
We wish to thank their team for this interview with Christopher Ward CEO Mike France. To find out more about the new C60 Sapphire and other CW watches, head to their website here.