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The Raymond Weil Brand Makes a New Play for Watch Enthusiasts

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At the award ceremony for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last November, one winner provoked a few double takes.

The victor among six finalists in the annual design competition’s Challenge category which, last year, focused on watches priced at 2,000 Swiss francs, ($2,203) or less, was the Millesime Automatic Small Seconds, a 39.5-millimeter vintage-inspired dress watch with a steel case and a sector dial, with separate concentric hour and minute tracks.

Its maker? Raymond Weil, a brand making a new play for watch enthusiasts.

Competing against timepieces including a dive-GMT from the industry giant Seiko and a colorful chronograph from the buzzy three-year-old newcomer Studio Underd0g, the Millesime came from a brand that is known more for its affordability and its mainstream appeal than it is for earning the praises of connoisseurs.

Elie Bernheim, 43, is Raymond Weil’s chief executive and a grandson of the company’s eponymous founder, and he was among those who did not necessarily expect the watch to win.

“We had no expectations,” he said in a video call. “It’s something great, absolutely great for us.”

The timing helped to boost the profile of the brand’s wider Millesime collection, introduced this past October. “I don’t want to say that this is the first time that we have so much positive feedback from all the markets,” Mr. Bernheim said, “but it’s not far away from the reality.”

He said that new variants of the timepieces, “with different execution, different sizes, some for ladies and moon phases,” will land in stores this year, at prices ranging from $1,625 to $3,625. The new Millesime pieces were introduced at Watches and Wonders Geneva in April, the first time the brand had participated in the watch fair.

But while the brand has been a mainstay in malls and department stores — categories that have been ailing as of late — the company is revising its strategy somewhat, Mr. Bernheim said, in the form of “a more selective distribution.” It also edited its assortment, he said, to focus on four core collections, down from six.

A relatively new maker, founded in 1976 during the so-called quartz crisis, Raymond Weil built a following by offering well-priced battery-powered quartz and mechanical watches and promoting them through ad campaigns that connected the brand with the art world. The Precision Movements campaign in the 1990s, shot by the American photographer Lois Greenfield, captured dancers in the air while performing athletic choreography.

Production has reached approximately 80,000 pieces a year, according to Mr. Bernheim, who would not disclose sales figures. By comparison, Longines, a Swatch Group-owned competitor that operates in the same general price range, sells about 1.6 million pieces, according to the 2024 Morgan Stanley report on the watch industry.

The company faces no shortage of challenges in the current market.

“Once upon a time, Raymond Weil had been quite successful in a very challenging market segment — the lower-middle range,” Oliver Müller, founder of the Swiss consultancy LuxeConsult, said in a video call. But now, he said, “you have a strong competitor called Swatch Group, owning quite a few brands with the same price positioning of Raymond Weil.”

Upstarts also pose competition for Raymond Weil, Mr. Müller said, which must compete not only with strong institutional brands “but also newcomers coming from crowd-funded campaigns on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.”

Still, he said, “Retailers need brands like Raymond Weil because that creates traffic in the shops, and the guy buying a Raymond Weil — or whatever — at 1,000 to 3,000 Swiss one day might buy a Tudor and then a Rolex.”

And Mr. Bernheim, the Raymond Weil chief executive, plans to remain loyal to that relatively affordable price tag. “We care about the accessibility of our watches,” he said, “and I think that it will be a mistake for the brand to go higher than the price point, at least in the short to midterm.”

James Lamdin, vice president of vintage and used timepieces for the Watches of Switzerland Group, a retailer that carries Raymond Weil, along with Longines and other brands like Rolex, Cartier and Omega, sees the brand’s strategy heading in the right direction.

“They’re looking to bring up the overall quality of construction and manufacture, particularly with more widespread use of mechanical movements,” he said, citing the direction of Raymond Weil’s flagship Freelancer line — which includes some timepieces that incorporate RW1212, the company’s first proprietary movement — along with the wider Millesime collection.

Adopting a throwback design for Millesime is a clever way to give a relatively young brand an aura of heritage and capture the attention of knowledgeable collectors, Mr. Lamdin said.

He noted that Raymond Weil is “paying tribute to an era of Swiss watch design that is certainly very popular today.”

“There’s a lot of attention to detail, and it shows that the people making the design decisions and the market decisions for their product collections are very in tune with the enthusiast buyer,” he added.

One advantage that not-so-big independent brands like Raymond Weil have over the dominant corporate groups is the ability to pivot quickly and experiment with unconventional offerings that generate excitement.

“There are limitations to what some of these big groups can produce,” Mr. Lamdin said.

That’s not a significant issue, he noted, for a family-owned brand like Raymond Weil, “that can move a little bit more lightly on their feet, that isn’t afraid to have a little bit more fun, like they did with their Basquiat piece” in its Freelancer collection.

The Raymond Weil x Basquiat Special Edition chronograph, introduced late last year, was created in collaboration with the estate of the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died in 1988.

The 43.5-millimeter titanium and black ceramic watch is emblazoned with motifs from the artist’s oeuvre: the crown, the T-Rex, and the primary color palette. With a retail price of $4,725, it sold out: Mr. Bernheim said that 85 percent of the run was spoken for within “five or six days.”

Culture and music have been consistent elements of the Raymond Weil DNA since the early 1980s, Mr. Bernheim said, when his grandfather “decided to partner with music events.” The brand has previously created watches in tribute to bands like The Beatles and The Who, and Mr. Bernheim said a collaboration would be introduced this year “centered around a popular comic book” and the artist behind it.

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