— Baume & Mercier has earned the rights to fake Rolex watchmaking usage of the much sought-after Shelby Cobra brand name. It is once again entering a territory beyond its native realm. The long-term strategy of the brand, which is proving to be bolder and more disruptive than one might think, is taking shape… and proving effective.
Any closer look at Baume & Mercier induces a need to spend time on the brand, to look at its products in detail and, if possible, to discuss all this with the CEO, Alain Zimmermann, as well as to meet its teams and partners.
On May 12th, the brand had gathered all these ingredients, and not just anywhere or with any random company: the venue was the Montlhéry speed ring built in 1924 and one of only two of its kind in Europe, and the ‘team-mate’ was the legendary Shelby Cobra performance car company.
News of the partnership between the two firms, which was announced in mid-March right in the middle of Baselworld, went almost unnoticed. And yet it is big news, in that Baume & Mercier is now entitled to put the name “Shelby Cobra” on some of its models.
Alain Zimmermann carefully avoids the traditionally used term of ‘licensing’, “and for a very good reason, given that the term doesn’t really fit”, says the CEO. “While that was indeed the agreement model we were initially offered, I really believed we could do better, which is why, in exchange for the use of this name, we are supporting the Carroll Shelby Foundation, whose main mission is to help children affected by serious heart problems.”
Few would have wagered on Baume & Mercier entering the field of motor racing. “It is indeed a somewhat different area from those we are accustomed to dealing with”, says Alain Zimmermann with a smile. As one would expect, he is focusing firmly on passion, the inevitable “brand values”, and a shared concern for excellence.
Reconciling the irreconcilable
One nonetheless cannot help observing the extreme singularity of the Shelby world. The authentic “AC Cobra” was produced in a run of around 1,000 units, of which 75 for the first 1962 version. These super-rare supercars currently sell for well over a million dollars.
Sceptics are thus bound to cast aspersions on the marriage between mass market and extremely confidential distribution, volume and value. Despite such considerations, Shelby Cobra undoubtedly gives Baume & Mercier a fresh and unforeseen boost. The brand is venturing into a territory where nobody was expecting it, in a move analogous to the Baume & Mercier tourbillon (introduced at the SIHH 2014) that had disconcerted certain observers.
Today, the same critics will deride an initiative that once again bears no direct relation to the Baume & Mercier world. But should one necessarily expect a brand to repeat itself indefinitely?
Capeland models get a shot of pure venom
Once again, Alain Zimmermann begs to differ. He has boldly decided to steer Baume & Mercier well outside its comfort zone. He owns up to having had his own doubts. “Is it truly a natural association? I had to ask myself that”, confides the CEO. Alexandre Peraldi, Baume & Mercier’s Design Director, admits he had the same fears: “When Alain came and asked me to turn my attention to creating a Shelby Cobra model, I heaved a great sigh. What more could be done? It is not our world and everything had already been done.”
Nevertheless, after giving it a closer look, the various teams became enthused by the venture. “We worked on the project for 18 months”, says the designer, who has previously spent time with Cartier. “It was when we made the connection with a Capeland that things became self-evident. The same curves, the same proportions… and suddenly all manner of possibilities opened up. We even had to apply the brakes to a certain extent. There are in fact so many Shelby Cobra details that could be injected into the Capeland that we might have ended up making a kind of ‘billboard’ Swiss replica watches, whereas we were on the contrary determined to maintain a sense of elegance and discretion.”
The initial collection features two models, respectively issued in series of 1,965 and 98. These understated yet well thought-out timepieces respect the essence of each company. The blue/gold model is distinguished by its aura of power and vitality. A one-of-a-kind creation will be presented in the coming months and auctioned, once again to raise funds for the Carroll Shelby foundation. Alain Zimmermann also announces the introduction of certain models into the standard collections in 2016, and is once again liable to win his bet: making Baume & Mercier stand out from the pack and staying well ahead of the field. With sometimes as much as 700hp beneath the dial, the pole position is well within reach.