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Interview with Pierre Nobs
On September 18, 2002
TimeZone Interview with Pierre Nobs
|I am pleased to present to you, another in our series of interviews with the Watch Companies.|
This interview is with Pierre Nobs, President and Founder of “VENTURA Design on Time SA “. The interviewer is Richard Paige, 4th generation watchmaker.
RP: Can you give us a brief history of how the Ventura watch company came into the watch market.
PN: In ’87, engaged in the production of &laqno;me-too watches, the day came,when I decided in my early 40′s to start my life all over again. I got myself a new wife, sold the company and founded Ventura with the intent to engage myself for the rest of my life in meaningful things, quality etc. and most of all get away from all those morons that waste 4/5ths of your life.
My vision was to get back to the art of architecture in watches. Almost everything nowadays is “styled”, especially in watches. Take one of the books depicting watches of the late twenties to the fifties, even early sixties, and you see how they built watches then: like houses…and look what they do today: a little screw here, a facet there, always that sickening, fake nostalgia.
So I decided to make Ventura watches architectural again, of course contemporary, and based on functionality.1990, our second ever (digital) time-piece ‘watch’ by Flemming Bo Hansen was included to the permanent design collection of the MoMA NYC and subsequently received just about every design award one can obtain. Ventura was on the map; we did some amazing watches,-all quartz, because our design required thin movements-, and got ourselves a very good name mainly in Europe and Japan.
At the time, the USA market (with the exception of a few architects and fellow designers) did not really understand our product, the clean forms and lack of any decoration was conceived as low cost, Americans did not understand the special quality of stainless steel. So we concentrated on our main markets.
RP: What made you decide to go into mechanical watches, and when?
PN: In the early nineties, I discovered Alain Silberstein and the similarities of our philosophy and thoughts. I felt that he did everything in mechanical watches and that I had nothing left in that area, we agreed that Ventura would import and sell his watches in Switzerland. It did not work for long, not surprising when one considers that we both have very hard heads.
The very day we split, I decided to make a mechanical chronograph, the v-matic.
I was ever so lucky to have (Swiss architect and designer) Hannes Wettstein at my side and together, we first drew a list of what we wanted, or rather, what we did not want. Unlike Alain, we for instance decided not to venture into complication movements, tourbillons and all that; I still think that this should be an area reserved to the great traditional ‘manufactures’. It is our policy to use the most widely used (and reliable) Valjoux and ETA movements, but we give them to SOPROD for a perfect tuning and polishing.
I never forget the day, when our first v-matic Chronograph was assembled,(-I wear it still on my wrist every day-),it was everything that we wanted it to be: a really serious and no-nonsense shape, a great movement, quality that you sense and, -another piece of luck-, made in that nitrogen-hardened, scratch-resistant titanium, for which we succeeded to obtain the license.
Today, we have a line of 20 v-matic models, including the only ladies chronometer next to Rolex, the first certified chronometer-chronograph for ladies ever built and the v-matic Loga, the first waterproof chronometer-chronograph with a logarithmic calculator disk. What I am particularly proud of is, that in spite of all those ‘firsts’, we succeeded to keep our prices way down from competition. IWC would easily charge double on a time piece with the qualities of a v-matic.
RP: From our previous discussions, I understand you have a problem using the name Ventura, in the United States. Has this problem been solved, and can you tell us about the chain of events leading up to this?
PN: When I registered the name ‘Ventura’ in the USA, we got the rights clean and fast, but the same asshole-lawyer, to whom we paid dearly at that time, turned back on us a couple of years later, saying that his new client SMH had, although not registered-, older rights on the name. This was at a time that I did not particularly care about the US market, so we struck a stupid deal that would allow SMH to take over our registration, but giving us the right to use ‘segments by Ventura’ as our US-brand.
I appealed to Mr. Hayek three years ago to give us a break (-after all we are good customers of ETA), but the SMH-laywers involved wanted to prove their salaries by demanding impossible terms, so we decided to go by that awkward name of ‘segments by Ventura’ in the states, that’s how we started again a couple of years ago.
Then I find myself last year in a plane on its way to the Far-East, watching that movie ‘Men in black’ promoting the ‘Hamilton Ventura-watch’. So I questioned SMH, how they could infringe on our rights for the ‘Ventura’ name outside the USA. The result was as entertaining as the movie itself: a settlement with SMH was reached in weeks, giving us now the right to use our own brand ‘Ventura design on time’ also in the USA.
RP: Did you “search” for a designer to work with?
PN: We never actually searched for designers. The latter are species that sense very well the companies that are truly and honestly serious. Ventura was always regarded by designers as a desirable partner because we always remained honest with them. Design is never ‘objective’, there just is no absolute rule for what is ‘good’. So I always accepted and conveyed the fact that my own personal judgment was ‘subjectively’ the decisive factor, -right or wrong.
Designers, you see, are people who are trying to have the industry interested in their work; they do not expect that you fall immediately in love with their concepts. What they really want is to be taken serious and be told honestly, whether they have a deal or not. At the beginning, I frankly had a hard time to turn a kid down, but then, I thought that it is far better for him/her to be tough than just nice.
RP: Is Hannes Wettstein, besides being an accomplished Architect, also a watch collector?
PN: Hannes is most of all a friend, one of the very few one can accomplish to have in a life-time. He also is my ‘alter ego’, his qualities and talents are those I always craved to have. I consider him, subjectively, as one of the most important living architects and designers. He is above all modest and basic, but also very charming and never, ever boring; we could be banished for years on a deserted island and never get bored talking to each other, hell for our girls!
RP: Can you give us an explanation of your exclusive process of nitrogen-hardened titanium?
PN: Titanium is a very tough material, but one that lacks the hardness and the shine and attractiveness of stainless steel. I think that initially, titanium was just being used for watches as a marketing gimmick; it looked different and there was that ‘high-tech’ image. We at Ventura always studied material intensively; I was always fascinated by hard-metals such as tungsten-carbide and ceramics, but I found that these materials all have the flaw of being extremely brittle. Finally, and by chance, we discovered a patented method to harden titanium, developed by the Japanese camera industry. From there, it was a long and costly way to arrive to a feasibly way of adaptation to the watch-cases we are implementing today.
RP: What is Ventura’s position regarding the internet?
PN: First of all, (and whether the politicians get it or not) the Internet will change the world more than any previous world war. The web will finally abolish all political borders and set new rules in commerce.
What the Internet will not do however is to sell luxury durable such as watches, which will always need a knowledgeable intermediary, who can personally explain and demonstrate quality to the consumer. I have no problems to shop today my daily consumption on the net and have them delivered to my house, great!
I also appreciate the existing possibilities of general product information provided by the net. But when it comes to ‘feel-touch’ that special product of my dreams, I have to go to a retailer capable of providing me with the ‘right’ environment and atmosphere, that sensual and yes: sexual experience that gets me exited enough to spend insane money for something that I really need like a hole in the head.
RP: Why did you decide to release all the mechanical watches in your line as certified “chronometers”?
PN: A chronometer stands for horological competence. While it is comparatively easy to send in 1’000 timepieces to the COSC to select, say 250 chronometers,-something most watch companies are doing-, it is an entirely different matter of having an entire collection certified, like it is the the practice of Rolex…..and Ventura. The former way is cheap, dirty and easy, all you do is to use the chronometers passed for an overly expensive ‘special series’, and to put the remaining ‘failed’ movements into your regular production. If however you do it ‘straight’, you have to build in quality where it starts, right in your mind! This is the hard, expensive and honest way.
RP: What’s new on the horizon ? Can you give us a sneak look into what new models are in the wind?
PN: I know that I am going to offend with my answer some of the watch-buffs hooking up on your web-site! For one, I am not agreeing with the statement that only mechanical watches are to be considered as ‘serious’ time-piece; in fact I strongly believe that mechanical watches are somehow the dinosaurs of our time.
Having accomplished the traditional v-matic collection, we are much more thrilled by the possibilities of high technology. This is the domain of our new ‘v-tronic’ collection. This year, at the Basel fair, we will bring out the third generation of ‘power-generating’ watches, also known as ‘kinetic’ or ‘auto-quartz’ time-pieces. These products, mainly from Seiko, Tissot etc., feature good time-keeping, but they all lack a reasonable power-autonomy, a scarce few hours only. If you wear our new v-tronic SPARC model for one day, it will run (most accurately) for more than 120 days consecutively. This is what we call watch technology.
The v-tronic also happens to be one of the sexiest wrist-watches presently on sale. Ventura pioneered and actually invented the round crystal curved in the direction of 12h to 6h, which contributes to a totally new and sensual design.
RP: What’s the production numbers for Ventura, and what % go to what countries.
PN: We currently produce about 50’000 pieces of watches per year. Half of it are Ventura time-pieces, the other half (still) is produced for top world brands such as BMW and other international brand names. The tendency is definitely in favour of our own brand. Our main markets are Germany and the USA, but the rest of Europe and Asia is developing fast.
RP: Is it increasingly difficult to find an audience in the crowded watch market, and how does Ventura plan on expanding it’s audience?
PN: The international watch market is very crowded, it always was. This crowded market however always craved for ‘something different’, and indeed, different we are. I think that the only criteria finally is QUALITY. No matter how ‘hip’ a product or brand may be, it will bore and wear off in due course, when quality in every issue is not being provided. Quality is most of all a matter of restriction: you can not provide it by simultaneously producing high volumes. Therefore, it is only the restriction of greed, which will provide real quality. I,for myself confess, that I am greedy, but not for money, but for quality!
RP: Q. What watches do you like to collect?
PN: I do not collect watches, my collectors item is always the latest Ventura project, such as the prototype of the new v-matic EGO in platinum, which we are going to introduce at the forthcoming Basel fair in April ’98.
RP: Are you optimistic about where the company is going and are you optimistic about the watch industry in general.
PN: Yes, I am optimistic. My only worry, in fact, is to stay as ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ as we are today. Success is the most corruptive element and to say ‘no’ is very difficult at times. We are so lucky to have real talents on our side. The traditional companies in our business are so stupid not to recognize that brand- awareness, money, markets, and whatever else they consider to be assets, are totally worthless unless you are really and 100% committed to something you honestly believe in.
RP: Are you a watchmaker ?
PN: Yes and no. A real watch maker is a priest, a saint, a craftsman, in this sense we are far from being one. (Hey, all you youngsters out there, here is a trade that truly gives you everything a person can dream of, and more!). We contribute, without false pretense, an element of form, shape, design, excitement, technology and pure pleasure to the trade, which indeed is in the very tradition of watch making.