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The young CEO of the exhilarating new brand, Norqane, speaks.To deliver traditional Swiss watches to a new generation: Aera Style Magazine – Asahi Shimbun Digital

Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, the world has been forced to undergo major changes. The watch industry is no exception. While temporarily suffering from the suspension of production and distribution, the need for high-end watches has increased unexpectedly, and the secondary distribution market is showing unprecedented excitement. On the other hand, popularity will concentrate on specific brands, and the polarization between winners and losers will also progress. In particular, there are quite a few brands that are said to be struggling in the under-500,000 yen mid-price range. Under such circumstances, it is the emerging brand NORQAIN, which was founded in 2018. What is the attraction? How did you get the support of so many watch lovers? We will unravel the secret while interviewing 34-year-old young CEO Ben Kaffer, who came to Japan with a new timepiece limited to Japan.

New (look to a new world), Open-minded (flexible thinking), Rebellious (have the spirit to face things), Quality time (pour passion into each moment), Adventure (continue to challenge the unknown), Independent ( Search for your own way of life), Niche (take pride in not being like anyone else).

The brand name NORQAIN is the initials of seven words that represent our attitude. Founded in 2018, the first collection was announced the following year, and soon landed in Japan.

There are three main players involved in the launch. First, CEO and founder Ben Kaffer. Born in 1988, he is now 34 years old. His father, Mark Kaffer, is headquartered in Bienne, known as the base of the Swiss watch industry. A person who serves as a director of the Watch Association. In other words, Ben Kaffer grew up familiar with watchmaking from an early age. He joined Breitling in 2006, worked as a brand manager and sales manager in Asia, and became independent in 2018, starting Norqane.

Another key figure, Ted Schneider, is the son of former Breitling president Theodore Schneider. He is childhood friends with Ben Kaffer. The third is Mr. Mark Streit from Bern, Switzerland, who was a star player in the professional hockey league NHL in the United States and Canada. A watch brand formed by two thoroughbreds from the watch industry and a superstar from the sports world could not go unnoticed.

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“I want to make a watch that people with a dream-challenging mind can sympathize with.” Mr. Ben Kaffer says so powerfully.

“There are many independent brands that supply high-end watches at high prices, but there are not many independent brands in the position we are in.”

In fact, there are many high-end watches that are a testament to success. However, I have the impression that brands that are conscious of young people who challenge themselves to reach the top have somewhat lost momentum in the recent scene. However, NORQAIN continues to make good progress in the volume zone of 200,000 to 500,000 yen.

“We are committed to high quality, from being made in Switzerland to finishing details such as polish and hairlines, while always being conscious of reasonable prices. We are an independent company that inherits the culture of Swiss mechanical watches. I will continue to take on challenges as

This year’s new watches include Japan-only models

NORQAIN’s collection is conscious of the outdoors and sports, “Adventure Sports” featuring a robust case, and “Freedom 60”, which incorporates the vintage style of the 1960s and embodies the free spirit of the time with modern technology. , Equipped with only chronometer-certified calibres, it consists of the three pillars of “Independence”, which is packed with the pride of an independent Swiss brand.

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“Independence 22 Skeleton”. As soon as it was released in 2021 with a limited number of 100 pieces, it was based on the skeleton DLC black specification that was sold out immediately, and it was made into a SS case & bracelet specification, and a version that was continuously available. Equipped with a COSC-certified skeleton caliber. Automatic winding, diameter 42 mm, SS case & bracelet, water resistant to 10 bar. ¥539,000.

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“Independence JP Black Mother of Pearl”. An elegant and tough Japanese limited edition with a jet-black black mother-of-pearl dial. Equipped with Kenissi Manufacture Caliber NN20/1. Self-winding, SS case & bracelet, diameter 42 mm, water resistant to 10 bar. ¥594,000.

This time, CEO Ben Kaffer came to Japan with four new models that had just been announced. First, “Independence 22 Skeleton”. Based on the skeleton DLC black specification, which was sold out in a blink of an eye as soon as it was released in 2021 with a limited edition of 100, it is an evolved version that adopts SS case & bracelet with 3 different finishes and is continuously available.

“Independence JP Black Mother-of-Pearl” is a Japan-only model that combines elegance and toughness with a black mother-of-pearl dial. Equipped with Kenissi manufacture caliber.

The Japan-only model of the “Adventure Sports Auto JP”, which is positioned as an entry model, has a calm atmosphere by changing the bezel from ceramic to SS and eliminating the red color. Prices are also more friendly. With the mountains symbolizing Switzerland as a motif, the pattern of the dial, which is shaped like the brand’s initial N, is reminiscent of woven patterns such as tweed and herringbone, and is not only sporty, but also suitable for suits and jackets. Easy to match with style. Both models are of high quality and promise a sense of satisfaction beyond the price.

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“Adventure Sports Auto JP”. Adopted a dial with a three-dimensional pattern with the NORQAIN logo mark as a motif. Available in two colors, black and blue. A model with a regular ceramic bezel for SS and a chic impression that eliminates accent colors and fits well with suits and jackets. Self-winding, SS case & bracelet, diameter 42 mm, water resistant to 10 bar. ¥330,000.

Even so, why was NORQAIN able to realize finish and specifications that exceeded the price in a short period of time since its establishment? CEO Ben Kaffer reveals the secret:

“I think there are two reasons. One is the strong network of suppliers. In addition, we have received the support of many people involved in watch manufacturing.The fact that we have been able to receive manufacture calibers from movement supplier Kenissi is an extension of building such a relationship of trust. I did it.”

Kenissi is a movement supplier founded by Tudor, a subsidiary of Rolex, and its director is Jean-Paul Girardin, former vice president of Breitling. Tudor, as well as Chanel’s new “J12”, and some models of TAG Heuer also supply calibers, raising their reputation. By receiving exclusive calibers exclusively for NORQAIN from Kenissi, the presence of the brand has increased significantly.

“The second reason is that we limit our investment in marketing and focus on investing in the product itself. thinking about”

Overcoming the Pandemic and Joining Jean-Claude Biver

“After the brand was established, sales started in 2019, the following year, and sales were four times the annual target, which was a good start. It was a nightmare, with the lockdown in Japan and the closure of all offices and factories. We have started to prepare.As a result, we have a stronger system than before Corona, and we are currently able to expand our sales network to 70 stores in 12 countries around the world.In Japan, we have received particularly hot support from the beginning, and currently have 38 stores. are handled by

This young and energetic brand has also found a strong following. Jean-Claude Biver, that person. Mr. Biver is known for reviving Blancpain in the early 80s and leading the revival of mechanical watches, and after holding important positions in the Swatch Group, he led the revitalization of Hublot to great success in the 2000s. is a living legend. After stepping down as LVMH Watchvision President overseeing Hublot, Zenith and TAG Heuer, he is currently preparing for his eponymous brand, J.C. Biver.

“I was told by an acquaintance who had a relationship with him that I should definitely meet Mr. Biver. It was Easter 2019. We met very quickly and understood that he was very supportive of the young force in the Swiss watch industry.We are a young, independent team with an average age of 35. , Mr. Biver was very sympathetic to the challenge with passion.

In an era where digital and smartwatches dominate, we were able to reaffirm our mutual passion for mechanical watches. He readily agreed to serve as an advisor to the board of directors. You attend the board member meetings held four times a year. It is not a capital participation, but a pure advisory stance to support us. His wealth of experience and know-how has become a great strength for Norqane.”

Biver’s advice has led to some projects moving forward, he said.

“I wanted to make a model that is positioned at the top of the current collection someday.When I told Mr. Biver that I wanted to move forward to about 2025, he said, “If you think so, now is the time. It is important to become a top runner in a new category. I was surprised at the speed of his decision-making, but in fact, I am also good at making quick decisions ( (Laughs) So, we are preparing a model called ‘Wild One’ to be announced in the second half of this year.We are also developing new materials, and I think it will be a completely new NORQAIN model, including the case structure.”

Approach to Digital Natives and Sustainability

Now, in the watch industry, how to appeal traditional mechanical watches to young people called digital natives, generation Z, is becoming a big issue.

“At NORQAIN, we have a message of “MY LIFE MY WAY,” and we have appointed ambassadors who empathize with it.In Japan, soccer legend Shinji Okazaki, Japan’s leading sports climber Chia Narasaki, , the partnership with the NHLPA, the players’ association that governs the National Hockey League, is also very meaningful.Through this, while utilizing SNS and digital, it is not a smartwatch but a mechanical watch that inherits tradition. I want to spread the message of sharing values ​​and approach young targets.”

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CEO Ben Kaffer also has a high awareness of sustainability.

“Through the ‘Neverest’ model in the ‘Adventure’ collection, we have formed a partnership with the ‘Butterfly Help Project’ to support the bereaved families of Nepalese Sherpas who lost their lives while supporting Himalayan climbing.” A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Neverest will be used to support the education of orphaned Sherpa children, and we are also working to support environmental protection groups that are working on tree planting and marine litter issues.

Of course, such activities are important, but since we are in the manufacturing industry, we believe that we should introduce sustainable elements into the manufacturing process itself. Currently, we do not use crocodile skin for straps, and we plan to use only materials that do not contain animal-derived ingredients in the future. We are also looking at upcycled plastics. We will also invest in developing new materials and manufacturing processes that are sustainable. It will cost a lot of money, but I think it will be our asset in the long run.

At Dubai Watch Week, I was one of the panelists to speak about our efforts at the Sustainability Forum. In fact, next month (August 2022), NORQAIN will be the first watch-related company to receive the CO2-neutral quality certification mark from Swiss Climate, a consulting team working on carbon neutrality and sustainability in Switzerland. rice field. We would like to announce this as a positive evaluation of our efforts.”

Finally, when asked about future goals, CEO Ben Kaffer declared:

“It’s a stronger independent watch brand.”

The goal is visible, the environment is getting ready, and there are strong supporters–no blind spots. NORQAIN is steadily making its way to the top of the watch scene.

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Ben Kaffer
Born in Bienne, Switzerland in 1988, the son of Mark Kaffer, who runs a watch manufacturing company. Joined Breitling in 2006 and became independent after working as a brand manager and sales manager in Asia. He founded Norqane in 2018 and became CEO.

Photograph: Sho Ueda
Interview & Text: Yasushi Matsuami

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