Founded in 1929, Louis Erard has circled through highs and lows, but it was Manuel Emch who gave the brand a renewed lease of life.
At 29, he was made the CEO of Jaquet Droz and later took over the reins at Romain Jerôme. These brands saw a shift in the winds and their identities. There’s just something about Manuel Emch and his ability to rebuild brands to their prime. After all, Louis Erard was fast heading downhill around the 2000s until its then-CEO Alain Spinedi reached out to Emch in 2019. The truth was that the brand had been losing money since 2013.
Emch agreed to offer his consulting services and did a thorough decluttering. From the business model to the brand identity, Louis Erard was reborn while retaining the core of its origins: the regulator. Even so, when it comes to his strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all formula — sort of.
During a recent visit to Singapore, Emch clarifies his method when consulting for brands isn’t to first pull out a concept or idea. “The most important bit is to understand the brand, help it express itself and create its own story. It’s the story that makes the brand, not the other way around,” he tells us.
Emch later adds that building strategies, however, need to have heart. Part of Louis Erard’s charm since its rebirth was collaborating with other watchmakers to create new, untold stories together. He coolly shares, “At the end of the day, strategies need to have heart and a plan of action to get it going. You might notice the interaction I have with some of the people I work with — it’s all about people and friendships. It’s all about understanding each other — there is no hierarchy.”
“My dream is for Louis Erard to become a platform for collaborative watchmaking, whether it’s with people, craftsmen, or movement makers. For it to become a place where people do things together.”
— Manuel Emch
Ahead, Manuel Emch generously reveals how he runs Louis Erard, his ‘napkin strategy’, and how one butt dial led to a significant collaboration.
Manuel Emch’s ‘napkin strategy’
Photo: Manuel Emch
“One of the first things I said to the company was that we need to have an identity, rather than a brand. The identity was to be built around the regulator and that’s why most of the elements are above it. Every strategy that I do for any brand, I call it the ‘napkin strategy’. It means if I can’t draw it out on a napkin, I won’t execute it. And I’m not talking about a napkin that you place on a big table — I’m talking about a normal piece of napkin. Anyway, my idea began with the regulator but I can’t have a single product alone. I then replaced the hour hand with a small second hand, and as such, made the second hand into a one-push chrono with a single counter. It made sense, aesthetically. The entire product strategy went through three rounds but, everything was related back to the redesigned logo, which was also visualised on paper.”
The start of the Alain Silberstein collaborations
“When I first started, the CEO back then [Alain Spinedi] asked me to assist him in the meeting with our Japanese distributor, who was our biggest client. After two minutes of sitting in, I realised the Japanese client was trying to pull out — because it was not doing well, after all — but they were trying to approach the subject in a respectful manner. My mind was going wild on what I could do and then it hit me: let’s do a collaboration with Alain Silberstein. Alain is very famous in Japan. I told them and they started to get excited. ‘When, when, when?’ they asked and I simply told them, ‘In four months!’ It was only then that I took out my phone and called Alain.
Photo: Alain Silberstein by Daniel Perret
“I had done one with Alain when I was at Romain Jerôme ten years back. When I asked if he wanted to work together again, he agreed and asked for which brand. I said, ‘Louis Erard.’ He asked, ‘What is Louis Erard?’ and I replied, ‘Oh, it’s a smaller brand.’ That was it. He said sure, he was happy to create — back then, nobody was really working with him and so that’s how the whole thing started. We did the first, and another, and since then, we have made many collaborations with Alain (laughs).”
Winning over Konstantin Chaykin’s trust
“A few years ago, I was working for Raketa and I spent a lot of time in Russia. One of my frustrations with them was how there was a dire need to improve the movement’s finishing as well as the decorations. Obviously, I was new to consulting and Raketa said they didn’t have competence for it. I suggested Konstantin Chaykin — I said, ‘he knows how to do it!’ They were reluctant, saying how he didn’t have a lot of time. I accepted it but paid him a visit anyway.
“We started talking about watchmaking and his challenges, such as not knowing how to access the market. I said, ‘Sure, come with me to Mexico and Geneva.’ Instead of asking him to collaborate, I showed him my way of working. You tell me what you need, and I’ll help. He thanked me, trusted me, and saw that I wasn’t here only to benefit from him, but how I was genuinely trying to help. When the time came and I asked if he wanted to collaborate, he said, ‘Sure.’”
How ‘fate’ started the collaboration with Vianney Halter
“Vianney [Halter] was a pocket dial when I went skiing in the mountains (laughs). On our way back from launching the collaboration with Alain in Japan, I told Alain that we should try to convince Michael Tay to take the brand. He agreed and said he knows Mike well too. We met Michael but he looked at me and asked, ‘Seriously? Do you think that’s enough to sell me this?’ Michael is very polite but he’s also very straightforward — I prefer that, even if it hurts or is frustrating sometimes. At least, you can improve. It just has to be expressed in a respectful manner and with Mike, we have always had a lot of respect for each other.
Photo: Vianney Halter
“Anyway, Mike said, ‘I’m not ready for this. You have to make it better than that. Not because the product isn’t good, but it’s insufficient.’ I told him to trust me, and he replied, ‘Okay, I’ll trust you. I’ll see you at Basel next year and then we discuss. But right now, no.’ I thought it was a fair deal. This happened around October and then, around December — after working on a lot of other projects — I realised we needed to work on the next one because Michael was coming. This was all in my mind and then I went skiing. I was sitting in this small gondola and felt something moving in my pocket! It was my phone. I had somehow left my contacts [app] open and it was dialling Vianney. It probably went to the names under V — don’t ask me how! I have no clue (laughs) but yes, maybe it was fate. His phone was switched off though, but he called back, and I simply asked if he wanted to do a collaboration.”
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.