Corum has been having a difficult time in the last one year, but Soon Boon Chong, its global sales and marketing director, is not dwelling on the past. Instead, he is looking ahead to the brand’s 65th anniversary next year

(July 1): Under normal circumstances, Soon Boon Chong, global sales and marketing director of Corum, would have presented the 2019 novelties at Baselworld, the annual watch and jewellery fair. Instead, this year, Corum did not participate in the fair but held its product launch in the ballroom of Beijing’s Sunrise Kempinski Hotel, to which members of the media were invited. Corum was not the only one, as the Swatch Group had also decided to organise its own series of events this year.

After Soon’s presentation, Options spoke to him and got an explanation for the reason Corum decided not to be part of the fair. “It makes no sense for us to continue being there when we are not able to reach potential new markets. Of course, the disadvantage [is that] we don’t get to meet all the different members of the press and all the different clients. This is why we are trying to do regional events in different countries. It gives us more time to work with and speak to them,” he says.

He adds that at Baselworld, he gets only 30 to 45 minutes with the media. In addition, the cost of doing up an exhibition booth can be high, so it does not make sense for a small brand such as Corum to participate.

Soon, a Singaporean who has been living in Switzerland for the past 14 years, describes this year’s collection as an evolution and not a revolution. The collection is meant to pave the way for next year, an important one for Corum, as it marks its 65th anniversary.

The novelties this year have been streamlined compared with previously, when easily 50 references for each collection would be launched. Corum’s family of watches include The Admiral collection, which will be celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2020; and The Golden Bridge collection, which will turn 40 next year.

According to Soon, Corum produces a total of 9,000 to 10,000 watches a year, and the number is not likely to increase. “If we have 50 references every year plus the current collection, it will be too much; it does not makes sense anymore. What we have done is to reduce the number of references and focus on what we do well, which is mainly collections such as The Golden Bridge and The Admiral. [For the latter,] we have a couple of pieces that are great… an openworked automatic, which is a piece that I think is fantastic. It is really an evolution leading up to next year.”

Market share

Soon has been with Corum for the past nine years and has been instrumental in growing the brand’s markets globally. Asia is the biggest market currently. “Asia represents almost 60% of our turnover, followed by the US, South America and Europe. Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and mainland China form almost 40% of our turnover,” he says.

In terms of price points, Soon notes, “The Golden Bridge itself represents 60% of our turnover in terms of value because the entry price is almost CHF30,000 ($41,597). The Admiral’s entry price is CHF3,500 to CHF3,800, so you have to sell 10 Admirals to reach the Golden Bridge level.”

Key to Corum’s success is that it is able to customise timepieces faster than its competitors. Soon attributes this to the fact that he does not need to go through layers of red tape to get something done, as it is a small company. “We cannot compete in a lot of things, but we can be faster and we can be more creative when it comes to customisation. We can be brave enough to try different things,” he says.

Keeping it small also means that Corum does not run the boutiques on its own. Its business model is to open boutiques all over the world through retailers. Soon explains that he would rather work with retailers  than manage the boutiques and limit their number. There are already five boutiques in Macau and its retailer wanted to open more, but he refused.

Soon prefers to be cautious, perhaps because of lessons learnt in the Japanese market. He discloses that Japan is one of Corum’s largest markets currently, although it had its problems previously. He says the Japanese market had been tepid for a while and it was Corum’s fault for not really keeping an eye on it. Corum used to be one of the top three brands in the country, but when it switched distributors, sales did not take off. In the end, it had to drop that distributorship.

“We had been quite dead in the country for a few years, until about two years ago, when we started working with a new distributor, who has actually invested a lot into the brand. Yes, we can see the success, as we now have almost 150 points-of-sale in Japan,” he says.

Past, present and future

Corum was founded in 1955 by René Bannwart and his uncle, Gaston Ries. In 2000, Severin Wundermann, an American philanthropist, bought the company. Three years later, China Haidian Holdings, now called Citychamp Watch & Jewellery, took over the company.

Since then, Corum has seen three CEOs come and go, with the last one leaving about a year ago. It may be a sensitive -topic, but  Soon is quite happy to talk about it. He starts by saying that the owners had always maintained that Corum is a Swiss brand and it has to be managed by Europeans. “Whether it is the right or wrong person is not for me to say,” he points out.

Soon was there in 2013 when the company was bought over. He reveals that Corum was purchased for about CHF90 million in cash. “The biggest error that [Citychamp Watch & Jewellery] probably made was that due diligence was not in depth enough,” he says.

The owners could have easily put someone with proven success in running their Chinese brands from Hong Kong or China in Europe. But they did not want to do that. Soon says the team in Switzerland stays in constant touch with the owners through meetings and reports. At the moment, before a new CEO is found, the company is run by four parties: the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, human resource and Soon himself.

Quoting legendary Swatch founder Nicolas Hayek, Soon says, “Mr Hayek used to say: First is the product, second is the product and third is the product.”

Product focus is what Corum is all about and on Soon’s wrist we spot a version of the Golden Bridge we have never seen. It is a prototype that Corum is working on to launch next year and he is giving it a test drive. He agrees to show it to us only if we promise not to photograph it. All he will reveal is that it is going to be one “crazy” watch.


Corum’s best offerings this year

The Corum Admiral 42 Full Black

The usually colourful Admiral timepiece gets the all-black treatment and we love it. The smart and chic design still retains its core value of paying homage to everything nautical. In this version — of which there are only 100 pieces — the 12-sided case is maintained, but it is coated with black PVD-treated stainless steel and paired with a blackened brass dial. The nautical pennants and minute markers are presented in greyscale tones to balance the depth of the all-black design, while the minute and small seconds markers are made visible using a tone-on-tone effect.

The Dauphine-style hour and minute hands are skeletonised, given the black PVD treatment and then filled with white Super-LumiNova. Vulcanised black rubber straps with a black PVD-treated buckle complete the edgy look.

The Admiral 42 Full Black is powered by the automatic CO 395 movement, which provides a power reserve of 42 hours and is water-resistant to 50m.

The Admiral 45 Openworked Tourbillon

The designers of this watch were inspired by offshore boats. To make it even more interesting, they created the open-worked movement. In addition, the three-minute counter at 9 o-clock has three dauphine hands representing an offshore boat.

For aficionados who prefer something more complicated and gravity-defying, Corum has the AC-ONE Openworked Tourbillon. At the six o’clock position lies the tourbillon, revealing the intricate heartbeat of the movement and ensuring higher accuracy in timekeeping under challenging conditions at sea.

Both the AC-ONE Openworked Automatic and Openworked Tourbillon feature redesigned straps. Crafted with rubber on the surface and synthetic textile on the underside, these bi-material straps are designed to seamlessly integrate with the lugs. This minimises any possible gaps between the lugs, strap and wrist, which not only makes wearing the watch more comfortable but also protects the lugs and straps from being damaged.

The Golden Bridge Round

At first glance, you will notice the absence of the girders in this timepiece. Instead, there is a beautifully handcrafted 18-carat Chinese dragon that is intertwined with the movement. From the case back, the lower half of the dragon appears to coil around the back of the movement, and on its tail sits a pearl, which symbolises power and wealth.

The Corum Golden Bridge Round 43 Dragon is presented in two versions — 5N rose gold or 18-carat white gold. For the rose-gold timepiece, the unparalleled manual-winding caliber CO 113 has its bridges and plate crafted in 18-carat rose gold. For the white-gold timepiece, the bridges and plate are made from 18-carat white gold. The rose-gold edition comes with an 18-carat gold dragon, while the white-gold one boasts a dragon made from 18-carat gold rhodium. Both watches are set with 52 diamonds on the bezel and 32 on the lugs (about 2.16 carats in total). The eyes of the dragon are set with rubies. Only 18 pieces are made for each version.