In 2004, after selling the Early Learning Centre, my friend Peter Ellis and I were seeking a new challenge. During a conversation on the boat of our friend Christopher Ward, we lamented the extortionate pricing of good quality watches.
Due to our retail backgrounds we knew that, frustratingly, the inflated price of excellent timepieces was in large part down to astronomical marketing and advertising overheads that were passed on to consumers.
An idea formed, and the three of us decided to challenge the watch market by providing timepieces with all the quality of a luxury watch, but at a far more competitive price. Thus Christopher Ward was founded. All three of us have long been captivated by the design, intricacy and precision that goes into designing and building a truly sublime watch. Our mission was to produce timepieces of the requisite quality, and at a price that made them available to everybody.
Peter and I invested £25,000 each to get the business off the ground. We started in a converted chicken shed in Cookham Dean, Berkshire, with Chris and I designing the first watches for our new brand. We also developed a unique business model for a watch brand – selling directly from our website to the consumer.
We shunned expensive marketing campaigns, brushed away celebrity endorsements and decided we had no room for third-party retailers. Without the overhead expenses of these various marketing ploys, we made a commitment to our customers that we would never sell a watch at more than three times the manufacturing cost.
We had been sourcing our watches from Switzerland for some time, but in 2008 watchmaking atelier Synergie from Biel in Switzerland became our sole supplier. The credibility of our watches being Swiss-made allied with the pre-existing aspects of British-design and affordable prices meant that we were providing something genuinely unique to the market.
By this point our theory that we could provide a genuinely viable alternative to the market was ringing true. We were starting to get real traction as people began to realise that we were delivering on our promise of high quality timepieces at never seen before price points.
But to compete with the real top-end of the sector, we knew we had to continue to innovate and progress. In 2014 our master watchmaker, Johannes Jahnke, created our first in-house mechanical movement – Calibre SH21.
Calibre SH21 was the first commercially viable movement from a British watch brand in half a century – something not even some of the world’s biggest watches companies have yet developed. The creation and implementation of our own movement propelled the Christopher Ward brand upwards, marking us out as a genuinely innovative watchmaking force in the sector as well as having a unique business model.
In our first year of trading, Christopher Ward sold 500 watches with a turnover of £100,000. Now, 12 years later, the brand employs 40 members of staff, has customers in 110 countries and a turn over forecast for 2016/17 of £7.5m.
We will be sharing the everyday experiences of running Christopher Ward with you here on Real Business. From the positives to the negatives, I hope we will be able to offer you a genuine insight into the monthly world of running a luxury watch business.
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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