The Next Big Thing: NorqainBy Cheryl Chia
Founded in 2018, Norqain is somewhat of a unicorn as far as watch startups go, treading familiar ground with various factors that set it apart from its peers. The fully-independent family-owned brand is helmed by Ben Küffer, who spent 11 years at Breitling and whose father, Marc Küffer, co-founder and Norqain’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, has 45 years of experience in the watch business notably as the former CEO of Roventa-Henex, one of the biggest private label watch manufacturers in Switzerland. The company also counts among its board members Ted Schneider, son of Theodore Schneider, the former owner of Breitling as well as Mark Streit, the Swiss ice hockey legend and Stanley Cup winner.
Its high-profile founders and allies already put Norqain on an unusual footing relative to other watch startups, which will require years to have the same doors opened to them. But today, the brand has announced the arrival of yet another veteran – industry icon Jean-Claude Biver – who is joining as an advisor to the board.
Jean-Claude Biver as Advisor to the board
An industry titan whose career has spanned nearly half a century, Biver is best known for having a Midas touch – a visionary and commercial genius that saved and shaped the industry and led remarkable turnarounds of not one, but five brands. Above all, the energetic septuagenarian is also an inspirational leader with a deep belief in giving back to the industry, society and the environment. Having emerged from retirement earlier in the year to build an eponymous watch brand, JC Biver with his 22-year-old son Pierre, he is now joining the advisory board at Norqain.
“Giving back to the younger generation now at the forefront of the industry is always something I’ve wanted to do. From 20 to 40, I learned, from 40 to 60, I capitalised on my knowledge, and now I want to share my experiences and know-how with the young talents who are shaking up the watch world. I am happy to support Norqain because of its young, dynamic team, and I share their passion for the Swiss watch industry,” says Biver.
“…my role as Advisor to the Board at Norqain allows me to be associated with an exciting brand in an essential price-point for the Swiss watch industry. It is very important to have strong Swiss independent brands in different price segments and Norqain offers an exciting challenge to the status quo,” he continues.
It doesn’t take much to see why the young startup would attract the attention of a fabled figure the likes of Biver. Shortly after its founding, the brand secured a partnership with Kenissi, the movement manufacture jointly operated by Tudor and Chanel, consequently being able to offer the most advanced movements in the highly competitive sub-$5000 price segment of which it occupies.
Beyond that, Norqain also walks the talk of sustainability and responsible commerce. The brand has pledged to use only vegan-certified straps for all watches and is on track to receiving its carbon-neutral certification by the end of the year. Additionally, 10% of proceeds from the Neverest line is donated to the Butterfly Help Project, which provides educational support to Nepalese children.
Biver asserts: “I have kept a close eye on Norqain since its founding and have been consistently impressed with the team’s achievements around the world in such a short amount of time. The brand’s values align with my own, and I am looking forward to climbing new peaks with them and developing innovative products using new sustainable materials”.
Particularly in a time when most startups have bypassed the traditional brick-and-mortar approach in favor of crowdfunding and e-commerce, Norqain’s unique standing has helped open many doors, allowing it to grow a strong physical presence globally and at an explosive pace. Today, its watches are sold in retail stores throughout Europe, the US and Japan. Its extensive network of retail partners includes Bucherer and Kirchhofer in Switzerland, Wempe in Germany, Watches of Switzerland in the UK, Ben Bridge, Tourneau, Westime and Govberg in the US and over 30 points of sale in Japan. Last year, the brand also opened its first flagship boutique in Zermatt, Switzerland. To supercharge its global footprint, Biver has already held several workshops with the team to develop innovative marketing and distribution strategies.
The guidance and mentorship of Biver would no doubt provide rocket fuel that would propel the already promising brand to greater heights in all aspects of the business, but most importantly, the product. The industry legend will oversee the brand through the creation of “a revolutionary, eco-friendly, robust and ultra-light product line” that will be launched later in the year.