Born in 1955, Corum was one of the few small Swiss watch brands that managed to survive the quartz crisis as an independent. It did so largely on the back of its Double eagle and Walking Liberty coin watches, and its flag-strewn Admiral’s Cup. In 2000, Holocaust survivor and Gucci watch license holder Severin Wunderman bought Corum and launched expensive limited edition “artisan” pieces like the Big Bubble 52 Magical Matt Barnes above. Wrong answer . . .
Although there were some hits and terrific parties, the strategy didn’t pan out.
Three years after Mr. Wunderman’s death in 2008, Hong Kong’s Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group added Corum to its portfolio, which includes the incredibly restrained Eterna brand (awesome video here).
The vertically integrated Chinese conglomerate continued along the heritage plus art-for-art’s-sake path laid out by Corum’s previous owner.
In 2017, Citychamp hired Jérôme Biard. They charged the former Girard-Perregaux international sales director and CEO of Russia-centered watch distributor Lifestyle Products International with reinvigorating the moribund brand for their Chinese audience.
Although Mr. Biard launched what he calls “disruptive collections” (e.g., Lab 01), he reined-in Corum’s worst excesses. The timepieces released under his watch have added credibility to the brand’s pretense that they’re still Swiss.
Which brings us to today – and yesterday’s Corum catastrophes.
The following limited edition products pushed the outside of the envelope – and folded like a cheap tent. The numbers don’t lie. Authenticwatches.com (no commission on link) offers the following new-in-box Corums at astounding discounts. Read ’em and weep.
Like most of Corum’s expensive watches brought to market back in the day, the Ti-Bridge wasn’t a mainstream model. This watch is one of “just” 500 Ti-Bridges made. Made. Not sold.
Assuming the Corum Ti-Bridge sells at the new asking price – which I don’t think we can – the watch will have shed 67 percent of its original retail price.
The titanium-cased tourbillon is an excellent example of Corum’s combination of technical prowess and aesthetic failure. How do such things come to exist?
Part of the blame rests on the shoulders of the horological press, which never met a
junket watch they didn’t like. “There is a lot to like about it,” ablogtowatch.com’s Ariel Adams declared at the time of the Ti-Bridge’s launch. Interestingly, Adams’ review used the word “interesting” five times.
This entirely positive manufacturer <> reviewer feedback loop encourages watchmakers to create products from the Just Because We Can School of Watch Design – technologically sophisticated timepieces destined to end-up in the “Sell to the Gray Market At Any Price” column in the watch dealer’s ledger.
As mentioned above, Corum CEO Severin Wunderman brought modern art and high horology together for their limited edition Bubble series.
For what it’s worth (less than four grand), the Centro outdoes the Ti-Bridge on three fronts. It’s rarer (only 99 made), it’s lost more of its original value (72 percent) and you get a lifetime warranty (as opposed to three years).
Corum deserves credit for creating a complete horological farrago – a watch where none of the aesthetic elements have anything to do with each other. In this case, there’s no modern artist to blame. But there was a designer.
When left to their own devices – shielded from marketing mavens‘ influence – design teams can easily become divorced from retail reality. If no one shoots down their flights of fancy, horological Dodos hit the streets.
The reverse can also be true. If marketing puts too much pressure on the design team to create new pieces – the next one’s gonna be a hit for sure! – desperate designers end-up creating desperately bad watches, like this.
That said, the titanium-bezeled monopusher chronograph (running on an in-house movement) shows that Corum’s engineering and manufacturing departments had mad skillz. They just didn’t know what to do with them.
The Admiral’s Cup was a prestigious sailboat race that ran from 1957 to 2003. In 1960, Corum launched a small, square, water resistant Admiral’s Cup watch to capitalize on the hoopla.
Unveiled in 1963, the next generation Admiral’s Cup was radically different: a twelve-sided case with 12 brightly colored nautical pennants as indices.
The playful piece found favor amongst chino-wearing WASPs trying to look casual down at the yacht club. The new Admiral’s Cup was an immediate and long-term hit – that mutated into dozens of highly questionable variants.
The 50mm Black Titanium Admiral’s Cup is hardly the most egregious, but it was one of the most expensive.
It only vaguely resembles its famous forbearer. The Darth Vader-esque watch shows just how far Corum was willing to stray from its roots. And how badly it faired – one of 300 Black Titanium AC’s made, this one’s lost 61 percent of its msrp.
And no wonder. Corum’s designers sucked all the color out of a timepiece famous for its color and transformed a casual dress watch [sic] into a funky chunky rubber-bezeled COSC-certified chronometer dive watch.
The Admiral’s Cup Black Titanium is nowhere near as objectionable as the other examples above. But it shows what happens when a watchmaker chases the genre-of-the-moment without acknowledging its language and traditions.
I don’t think the Corum watches under Mr. Biard’s watch will suffer the same fate as these refugees from The Island of Misfit Toys. The executive knows what Corum is: an upmarket watch brand for Chinese consumers shopping for a Swiss watch (that isn’t Swiss).
Corum now sells watches appealing to reasonably refined tastes, such as the Lab 01 riff on Richard Mille, and the return-of-the-brightly-colored flags on the Admiral Legend. Meanwhile, the Corum Golden Bridge woos Chinese bling seekers with no less than 65 models. Tasteless sure, but not unloved.
If Corum can avoid future catastrophes and reboot after the current one (not of their making), they’ll leverage their access to the Chinese market to continue to be what they’ve been for 45 years: a survivor.