INTERVIEW: Maximilian Spitzy, Fortis CEO
“There are only two brands that have travelled to space. One is Omega, the other is us.”
Since taking over the reins of Fortis in 2014, Maximilian Spitzy has been hard at work reinforcing the brand’s provenance and lineage, in particular, it’s bragging right to space travel, conferred in 1994 when the brand was named official timekeeper for Russian aerospace travel. Its Cosmonaut watches were then decreed as part of standard equipment – it is a relationship that endures till today.
But go back a few more pages in the horological history books, and one will find even more milestones, like how Fortis was the first one to mass produce automatic wristwatches back in 1924, or its advancement of the chronograph complication, such as introducing the world’s first chronograph with alarm in 1997.
A well-travelled entrepreneur who spent almost a decade in Asia working in real estate, Spitzy dived into the watch business sensing room for opportunities despite a downturn. Encouraged by the 104-year-old brand’s heritage, the fledgling CEO spent much of his first year at Fortis streamlining its collections by more than half the original references.
“We have a very distinct and coherent position, and the collections have to reflect that,” he explains. One can choose between the Cosmonautis, Aviatis, Terrestis and Aquatis collections, designed to run the gamut of sports- and casual luxe-inspired timekeeping with land, air, sea and space themed timepieces.
A Fortis Classic Cosmonauts Chronograph
What hasn’t changed, however, is the entry-level price position. The Official Cosmonaut, Fortis’ most coveted model, and the same one worn by Russian cosmonauts, is priced at approximately 2,810 Swiss francs.
“Fortis is a very welcoming brand. We want watch lovers to own an important piece of watchmaking history without having to break their bank,” says Spitzy.
You were in the real estate industry and also working in China before joining the watch trade. What have you learnt that you can bring to the watch business?
In China, because of the one-child policy, many people didn’t have siblings. We learnt then that the people they trust most were friends or perhaps first cousins – that is the circle of trust. And when someone from your circle of trust tells you that a certain deal or a certain brand is good, you take their word for it. This is the sort of route that we’d like to take with Fortis – to have someone you trust tell you that it’s a good watch.
You took over Fortis at a time when the watch industry wasn’t in the best shape.
A friend from Singapore once told me this, ‘You know, Max, if there is no mess, there is nothing to clean. And there won’t be any money to be made.’ When you walk into a well-ordered, well-polished room, what are you going to do? What is your value-add? I enjoy going into a situation where there is supposedly chaos, and we create something that gives the situation order and meaning.
There is sentiment today that consumer goods are not made as well as they were in the past. What is your take on this, as a maker of watches good enough for space use?
We are not a huge brand and it is possible for us to still maintain a high level of quality control, from design to construction. On the contrary, we have clients who are deeply involved with the brand and they are the ones who insist on optimum quality at the best possible price.
Some watch brands higher up the luxury scale are offering timepieces at prices that are competing directly with Fortis. How do you feel about this?
At first, we were not sure what would happen with the extra competition. But we soon realised that Fortis customers are very loyal and that new customers very quickly realise the amount of money that they pay for a Fortis watch is really worth the investment – from the quality to the historical pedigree.
What are the challenges of being a relatively small, mid-luxury brand?
Because we are not big, we take special care not to make mistakes. For example, what you see presented at the BaselWorld fair are watches that are ready to be delivered – not prototypes that will be tweaked after the show so that we can bend over backwards to cater to the various markets. Our size requires us to be very sure of what we are doing, and that’s how we deliver on our promises.
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