Content - Oris Group Chairman: “Young Japanese inspired me”

  • October 01, 2018

Oris Group Chairman: “Young Japanese inspired me”

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – At the September Luncheon, about 40 members and guests of the SCCIJ learned from Mr. Ulrich W. Herzog, Chairman of the Oris Group, one of the last independent premium watchmakers in Switzerland, how to go as a company your own way. They were fascinated to learn how young Japanese consumers in the eighties of the last century influenced the brand strategy of Oris and how its management buy-out during the quartz crisis was turned into success by completely turning against the market trend of that time. Mr. Herzog spoke on the occasion of the opening of a pop-up store in Aoyama after Oris founded a subsidiary in Japan earlier this year. The group is represented in 75 countries.

SCCIJ September Luncheon

Proud and long history

Oris was founded in the Swiss town of Hölstein in 1904 and named after a nearby brook. The company based its strategy on producing watches in a more industrial way and soon employed 500 workers. During World War II, it expanded into alarm clocks which became well-known for their 8-day power reserve. After the war, Oris invested in their own watch movements and were among the industry leaders in automatization. At the same time, it kept its own school of watchmakers.  

Oris suffered during the “quartz crisis” of 1974 to 1982. “Despite [the quartz movement] having been invented in Switzerland, the national watch industry did not move fast enough,” the luncheon speaker told his audience. When the quartz movement prices dropped quickly, the Swiss watch industry lost about two thirds of its workforce. Mr. Herzog joined Oris in the middle of this crisis. “It was the most interesting moment and an unbelievable experience,” he recalled that time. “Everybody was scared that the watch industry would fall apart.”

SCCIJ September Luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog, Chairman of Oris Group (click to enlarge)

SCCIJ September Luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog, Chairman of Oris Group (click to enlarge)

Special experience in Japan

Nevertheless, Mr. Herzog took the great risk of a management buy-out in 1982 together with a partner. Shortly after this, he traveled to Japan to find retailers there but he discovered that it was difficult to convince them of the appeal and value of Oris’ mechanical pieces. “I observed a newfound passion for mechanical watches, though,” he told the SCCIJ audience. “Young Japanese liked our models because they could wind them, listen to their sound and feel some emotions towards them.”  

Recognizing the influence which Japanese have over global trends, Herzog introduced a new business vision: Oris would aim to become the global leader in purely mechanical watches with special movements at competitive prices. In 1984, he reintroduced the Pointer Calendar first seen in the Big Crown watches of the late 1930s. In time, this distinctive function would become Oris’ signature complication.

SCCIJ Executive Committee members and advisors with luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog, Chairman of Oris Group (click to enlarge)

SCCIJ Executive Committee members and advisors with luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog, Chairman of Oris Group (click to enlarge)

Strong values for the brand

The group chairman also talked about the values of the brand Oris: Besides having only mechanical models, the brand also needs to be inventive. “We want to register one patent every year, such as the movement 110+, a built-in depth gauge function and an automatic watch with altimeter function, the rotation safety system for divers or a non-linear power reserve,” he gave some examples of the latest patents which Oris registered. Also the brand Oris has to be Swiss and genuine. Finally, the brand emphasizes its independence. “There are not many of such brands left anymore,” he said with a smile. One safety feature: Oris has no bank loans.

The chairman went on to talk about the keys to the success of Oris. One would be a motivated team. He quoted Richard Branson from Virgin: “Clients do not come first, employees come first, if you take care of your employees they will take care of your customers – we follow this belief,” he argued against the mainstream thinking. Hence, the 160 Oris employees worldwide meet four times a year and do some group work, such as participating in World Clean-up Day. At the same time, Oris keeps its hierarchy flat and moves quickly. “We stay at piece prices the working force can still afford, between 2,000 to 5,000 francs, which is not easy for other companies to follow,” he stated.

SCCIJ September Luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog at the Oris pop-up store in Aoyama (courtesy of Oris Japan K.K.)

SCCIJ September Luncheon speaker Ulrich W. Herzog at the Oris pop-up store in Aoyama (courtesy of Oris Japan K.K.)

Marketing with corals and soldiers

Another key to success would be emotional marketing. In particular, Mr. Herzog mentioned a cooperation with a professional North Sea diver to develop new watch features, a partnership with the Williams Formula One team, the support of an organization which is planting new coral reefs in Key Largo (Florida), a collaboration with the Swiss Air Force, the French aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” and the United States Marine Corps, as well as a watch project with Bob Dylan. 

Such special marketing seems to pay off: As a family owned company, Oris does not publish sales figures but the company registered a growth of 24% this year, with a 39% sales share each in Europe and Asia. In the Q&A session of the luncheon, Mr. Herzog showed some optimism about the future. “Nowadays, young people do not wear watches often, but if they discover smart watches, they might one day upgrade to a mechanical watch because of its higher emotional value,” he predicted.  

About the speaker

Mr. Ulrich Walter Herzog is the Chairman of Oris Group. He was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1943. 

1950-1964   Basic education in Basel; specialized studies as banker, Swiss banking diploma. Banking training assignment with UBS London

1965-1969   Union Trading Company, Basel Export Supervisor for Far East. Business mainly in sporting goods

1970-1977   Chevron Oil Company, Basel, Retail and Wholesale Manager, eight months training assignment in petroleum marketing with Chevron Oil USA mainly in California

1978-1981   Oris Watch Co. SA, Hölstein, Switzerland, Marketing Manager

1982            Partner in the management buy-out and co-founder of Oris SA.

1982-2001   Managing Director of Oris SA

2001-2004   Executive Chairman of Oris SA

2005-2015   Executive Chairman of the Oris Group with affiliated companies in Germany, Austria, France, Great Britain, China, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Canada, Australia, India, Taiwan and Mexico

Since 2016      Chairman of the Oris Group & in charge of product development.


Text and photos: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ


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