In today’s challenging retail climate, top watch brands are searching for any edge they can find. So the Swiss luxury giant Richemont has opened a research and innovation center in Microcity, Switzerland’s well-known think tank and laboratory.
Edouard Mignon, Richemont’s group research and innovation director, said the partnership was intended to supplement the research and development teams of the brands, promote sharing among companies, “and serve as an innovation incubator for the group as a whole, to develop mechanical specialties and, for example, to imagine new materials.”
Innovation is central to the effort, said Jérome Lambert, Richemont’s head of operations. “Being part of Microcity puts Richemont at the core of a unique industrial and academic ecosystem,” he added.
The company’s watch brands — Vacheron Constantin, Officine Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC Schaffhausen, Baume & Mercier and Montblanc — will be a focal point of the work. But, Mr. Mignon added, “we will also work on jewelry, fashion and accessories. It will be extremely varied.”
Housed in a sleek white multilevel building in the center of Neuchâtel, Microcity includes the micro-engineering department of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, one of Europe’s leading engineering schools; the nonprofit Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique; and Neode, a startup incubator. In all, about 1,000 researchers, 7,000 students and 6,000 apprentices are on-site. (It has worked with watch brands, including Rolex, and the electronics center created a microscopic Bluetooth chip for the Swatch Group.)
The Richemont program, which started quietly early this year, began officially on July 12, but the group already had a link to Microcity, as sponsor of a professorial chair in micro-engineering and micro-manufacturing in 2014.
Mr. Mignon said there now are 30 Richemont employees at the center, and next year it intends to add about 20 engineers who specialize in micro-systems, micro-manufacturing and micro-engineering.