Editorial: With the Introduction of Richemont’s Baume, Are Micro-Brand Ideas Going Mainstream?

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Richemont is the world’s second largest luxury goods holding company. They own controlling shares of IWC, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Vacheron Constantin, and many more. Is this mega-corporation now taking cues from the micro-brand scene? With the introduction of their latest brand, Baume, the answer seems to be an emphatic yes.

Large corporations have been subsuming grassroots ideas and practices (not to mention controlling percentages of stock) for decades, maybe even centuries, but Richemont’s formation of Baume is, as far as I know, the first blatant attempt by a mega-corporation to commandeer the market that today’s micro-brands have so successfully created and served. Small batch offerings from larger, mainstream firms certainly attempt to cater to a similar consumer interest, but Baume is the first ground-up watch brand to do this, and that’s a wholly different animal.

The customizable range from Baume.

Before digging into Baume’s offerings, it’s important to clarify that Baume is not directly related to, or a part of, Baume & Mercier. I personally find that confusing, but Richemont seems to want to capitalize on the wide reach of the Baume & Mercier brand, one that has omnipresence in malls, airports, and jewelry stores around the world, and, of course, online. Apparently, some of Baume & Mercier’s management are migrating to Baume, too, but it is impossible to know everything that went into this branding decision.

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Baume is blasting two loud messages: customization and sustainability. Both are overt grabs for younger watch consumers who have come to expect and value such things. A quick glance at Baume’s website confirms all of this: photos of beautiful young women in high-waisted jeans sporting scissor-cropped bangs identify an up-to-the-minute global style; green foliage and arctic scenery serve as stereotypical symbols of environmental consciousness; an empty concrete skateboard park generically refers to youth culture.

Youth serves as Baume’s brand ambassador.

While it’s hard to attenuate cynicism when witnessing the trappings of a beloved subculture like the micro-brand scene being subsumed into corporate strategies, such cynicism doesn’t really speak to the products themselves. Hopefully we still live in a time when the products outweigh the marketing around them, and Baume’s highly customizable watches are, I’m relieved to report, quite unique looking and carry a compelling feature set.

All crowns are positioned at 12 o’clock and all lugs are the wire type; it’s an unexpected and truly unconventional look that lands Baume in the minimalist, Bauhaus-inspired aesthetic realm of brands like Junghans, Nomos, and Stowa, among many others tapping into this look.

There are four basic templates to start from: a 41-millimeter small seconds, a 41-millimeter retrograde day-date, a 35-millimeter small seconds, and a 35-millimeter day-date with a moon phase complication. Once you’ve chosen your “blank” (Baume’s term), the customizer will be familiar to anyone who’s played around with those from other brands. You can choose dial color, case finish, strap, hands, and custom engraving for the solid case back. I typed in “Dude Seriously?” just for fun, and, to my surprise, it looked great. What sets Baume’s customizer apart from others—and this is where Richemont’s large coffers show themselves—are the stunningly realistic rotating 3D images of your work in progress. Little is left to the imagination, and that’s a positive when dropping either $560 or $630 on a watch that doesn’t even exist yet.

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The Iconic.


Movements are proven quartz units from either Miyota (Japan) or Ronda (Switzerland), though there is one mechanical watch in the lineup called The Iconic which sports a Miyota 82D7 and will run you $1,100. It is curious to see a Swiss behemoth like Richemont using Japanese movements, and my guess is that the moon phase and retrograde day-date units were readily available from Miyota at a suitable price point. I’d wager that a majority of Baume’s customers will likely prefer the conveniences of a quartz movement over a mechanical one.

For me personally, messages of sustainability coming from large corporation almost always smack of marketing rather than sincere environmentalism. Unlike Omega or Oris, however, Baume isn’t sending bad-ass ambassadors with an environmentalist bent to the ends of the Earth or the bottom of the oceans. For Baume, you are the bad-ass environmentalist, the consumer voting with your dollars, sporting an eye-catching product that acts as a symbol of your commitment to a healthy planet.

This consumer-as-environmentalist strategy reminds me of a friend’s overpriced 7th Generation toilet paper on display in their bathroom, their Toyota Prius parked in their driveway, or their up-cycled hemp sofa. All of that is great on the surface, though I’ve always wondered what the empirical science has to say about the sustainability of these products (too few who have already bought in seem to talk about the science). Unfortunately, Baume doesn’t offer up any evidence, nor do they reveal the sources of their materials. Eventually it will be important to have an in-depth look at the real-world stats on how Baume’s materials and manufacturing processes accomplish such lofty environmentalist goals—or fail to.

As an example, when customizing your Baume watch, you can choose a cork strap, and The Iconic features an aluminum, rather than steel, case. As I understand things, cork harvesting is bad for rain forests* (thus the ubiquity of screw caps on wine) and aluminum smelting is terrorizing ecosystems in Icelandic fjords (I’ve painfully witnessed such tragedies first hand). I highly doubt Baume hasn’t done their homework, but perhaps they have underestimated just how cynical, suspicious, and demanding of empirical evidence environmentalists can be. Hopefully Baume will eventually follow the basic rule of good communication and show us—rather than tell us—how their products and processes achieve their stated goal of sustainability.

One thing we’ll never get with Baume, however, is the one-to-one interaction with the brand founder that is so charmingly front-and-center when dealing with a micro-brand. And that personal interaction goes well beyond a mere feeling of connection; it guarantees transparency about business practices and material sourcing that simply isn’t possible when operating a large-scale business like Baume.

Among other things, Baume is an experiment in trying to float micro-brand practices at the mega-brand scale. If dollars are indeed votes, it’ll be interesting to watch the election results roll in. Baume


*Editor’s note: *”We intended “forest,” not “rain forest.” While cork is, indeed, broadly considered a renewable resource because the trees remain alive, the rising demand for wine and cork building products globally has stressed cork producing forests, and recent studies are starting to re-evaluate cork production in light of these rising demands. This is not to declare cork unsustainable, but to raise healthy skepticism about its expanding use. A number of new impact studies have been published in the past couple of years, some of which can be found in this search result from The Journal of Cleaner Production.

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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