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Article courtesy of The Watch Lounge

Daniel Dreifuss (Maurice de Mauriac): The man who stands out from the crowd

Posted: 12 Feb 2010 10:42 PM PST

Daniel Dreifuss is the kind of man who, when discussing haute horlogerie, talks pretty much about everything… but haute horlogerie. Star behavior, snobbery even? On the contrary. Daniel Dreifuss is a lover of life, constantly unsatisfied, a workaholic who is as happy working 12 to 16 hours a day as he is upset by the IP infringement of which he’s been a frequent victim.

Whilst frustrating it is a clear sign that the Maurice de Mauriac brand is strongly coveted by competitors, but more importantly by customers. Or, as we should actually say, by its partners, since, when someone wants to acquire a de Mauriac, there’s a need to be involved, to confess your wishes, to share the intimacy of its creator: Daniel Dreifuss. A man who rethinks his way of working every morning, and tells us he constantly learns…from his own clients!

Taking a different approach, with this, an entirely different man, we engaged him in a discussion based on a series of words and concepts, which this tireless aesthete went through in his own inimitable way, occasionally showing a refreshing freedom of speech! He gave us a true lesson on the philosophy of watchmaking!

This interview is also available in French.

Active patience, I’d prefer to say. You must never be passive or fall asleep. You must work all the time, because we operate in a specialized industry where 8 years can easily slip by between the initial idea of a watch and its concrete realization. A few years ago, I was working in the banking sector, which is completely the opposite of watchmaking. It’s a very fast-paced world where sometimes it only takes a few minutes to become a millionaire…and just a few seconds to lose everything.

In contrast, watchmaking belongs to the land of extreme patience and that is the key to its success. We should not forget that Breguet made his most beautiful pieces at the age of 60. Energy and patience are as essential as they are inseparable. You must combine these two characteristics with a touch of good fortune, which nonetheless remains distinct from pure luck! You must be able to ‘activate’ your luck, using your network of relationships, for instance. And each day must be an opportunity to learn something new or to meet someone new.

This constant learning process is the key to innovation and to brand new ideas. But be careful, I don’t really focus on pure engineering as such. My primary goal is above all the top quality of the whole of my work. For me, the exquisite quality of a crocodile strap is far above the quality and feelings generated by an ephemeral cigar, or a car. It is worn very close to the body, and to the heart.

Note that some brands invest large sums in advertising, marketing, on the web, which finally create a gap between imagination, the marketing fantasy, and reality. That’s the reason why my retail outlet is so important to me. I enjoy a personal relationship with my clients who sometimes bring me gifts. I collect a lot of things, I store up energy and knowledge that I then share with my family and especially my children. Our home is a college! Everyday we learn something new!

My clients stimulate me. A lot of them have better taste than I do! I think in colors and try a lot of different combinations, and each and every watch that I produce is the result of striving for daily improvement. My watches are my best business cards. I rarely exhibit in any trade shows, even less at organized private sales. I make between 300 and 400 units per year, and my sales grow thanks to the buzz they generate.

Made in China?
China is already in the house! How do you think that minimalist manufacturers such as the ones we have in Switzerland, with only a few dozen employees, are able to produce thousands of units all over the world? China is already a well established supplier. Globalization is total. Many Swiss manufacturers have reduced their role to assembling pieces. The situation is comparable with that of the higher-end of the leather industry.

New medias, web 2.0?
It’s an external sales aid, an ideas lab…for brands that don’t have anything to lose. And to do it properly requires quite a significant budget. It’s not a priority for me right now, in investment terms. In my daily job, I meet high level people who can open doors for me. Based on their function, but also their private and social lives, they are my best ambassadors. It’s important to remain patient. If you hurry you get lost.

I make small series, which is not really customization. If one of my clients gives me a good idea, he might get the n° 001 watch in the end, but I don’t usually guarantee exclusivity. I’m in a niche market.

Influence is a kind of copy. For me, the London antique dealers are a great source of influence. In my workshop, I also overhaul watches, and that feeds my work. I often use primary senses like touch, sight, and smell. I listen to a lot of music: classical, folk, Dylan, Cohen. And if we are talking about influence and freedom of creation, Karl Lagerfeld is one of the best. He’s a true creator, with complete freedom of thought. He never gets bored, he is in constant innovation, and keeps his focus on the future.

Crisis? It has always been a crisis situation for me! I need to stay on the edge of creation, to think all the time. Nowadays, there are far too many brands, too many watches. But crisis, above all, has an impact on masses, airports, duty-free shops. I’m working in a niche, and I need to produce high quality items every day. And I have my daily duty to work on ! (“I’m definitely not short of work!”).

The future?
The priority is to survive day after day! It’s important to take things step by step. I’d like to have one reseller on the ground in each European country. Haute horlogerie is a field where you can harvest the true value of your work late in the course of life, around the age of 60 or 70. So yes, I’m here to stay for quite a few more years! Not necessarily in Zurich, it might be in Hong Kong or New York. Watchmaking has this unique particularity that companies founded 230 years ago are still profitable. It’s a great symbol, and the watch often stands for the soul of the dead.

Feelings, in watchmaking, are very important.
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