Earlier this week, Richemont made an unexpected reveal: it’s debuting a new entry-level watch brand called Baume. As the name suggests, it’s a sub-brand of sorts to the group’s previous entry-level brand Baume & Mercier, yet the brand plans to operate independently from its big brother, and design its watches in Geneva and produce them at a Richemont facility in the Netherlands. In addition to offering its pieces at a low price point (relatively speaking for the brand, which owns horological heavy-hitters like A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre), buyers have the option customize the quartz lineup, by choosing between dials, hands, case finishes and straps.
Baume is also preaching an ethos towards sustainability, hoping to reduce its carbon footprint and use as many recycled and sustainable materials as possible. That’s primarily seen in the straps; leather is eschewed in favor of materials like recycled plastic, linen and cork. Baume is also offering an aluminum case on its top-of-the-line mechanical which contains some recycled aluminum. This is the kind of marketing you’d expect to see utilized by a Kickstarter brand, with an aesthetic to match. Given that more and more new watch buyers are turning to the crowdfunding platform and microbrands in general, this is likely not a coincidence.
Overall it’s a smart play: sustainability, personalization and affordability certainly appeal to some new watch buyers. But in some respects, the final product falls flat, especially if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool watch enthusiast. For one, the brand’s most affordable pieces — which are powered by Ronda and Miyota quartz calibers — start at $560, while its sole mechanical offering is $1,100. That, at first, doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you consider that Richemont’s competitors at Swatch and Seiko are making very captivating mechanical pieces around $500, it’s a lot to pay for something with relatively unremarkable guts. (This is a similar beef I have with Shinola.)
This would not be as much of a problem if it weren’t for the styling — aesthetic preferences are subjective and all, but it almost looks too much like its crowdfunded-competitors. The crown at 12 o’clock, for example, is not just ergonomically unsound, it also feels aggressively trendy rather than timeless (same for the lug design). Meanwhile, the “UPCYCLED TIMEPIECE” text on the mechanical variant is as grating as shouting “my dog is a rescue!” in a public park. Admittedly, Baume was smart in going for a modern aesthetic that doesn’t try to go for a heritage look (this is something every other brand in the group’s lineup does and does well), but many aspects of Baume’s designs feel like they lean too hard on tropes that will quickly become dated.
That said, the audience Baume is chasing is likely to be less indoctrinated in the watch world and will probably appreciate the kind of styling the brand offers and will care less about the guts inside. But watch enthusiasts like to buy cheap watches too. For Richemont to really take a hold into the low-cost watch market, it would be wise to create more watches that lean less on fleeting design characteristics and are more value-conscious. Baume itself will probably not do that because that’s not the market the brand is chasing, but if Richemont did at some point create a new entry-level brand that did cater to the enthusiast market, we sure as hell wouldn’t say no.
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