“I used to drive a Bentley, but I like this Fiat more. What other car has a turning radius like this? None!” Daniel points this little fact out as he whisks me around Zurich in a very un-Swiss like driving manner. His finesse on the road fits the Italian lineage of the car much better than the conservative tone the bank city we are in is known for.
Daniel Dreifuss, a Swiss native, has been in the watch industry for years. Like many people involved in the world of timepieces, it happened quite by accident to Daniel. His major foray in watches before starting Maurice de Mauriac was a thriving promotional watches business. This involved making special giveaways watches for companies — often in relation to special events, and often to people in the companies themselves. One of Daniel’s roles was to facilitate the design of such promotional watches to be inexpensive, but attractive (and fun) for the customers. He retains a “museum” of these watches and dials close to his shop. In these watches you can see hints of his playfulness, passion for color, and a glimpse of what might come next.
A few years ago Daniel must have decided it was time for something else — a better realization of his clever ideas and higher-quality outlet for his passion. What followed (and continues today) is a business that might seem simple from the outside, but is likely to be deviously complex. As an independent watch brand in Switzerland offering relatively affordable mechanical watches with a fun and readily appreciable design, Maurice de Mauriac is not exactly surrounded by similarly placed competitors.
It actually raises an interesting question about the ecosystem of independent watch makers in Switzerland. Smaller independent brands not associated with offering ultra high-end priced timepieces are extraordinarily rare. If you are a Swiss based watch maker, chances are you are either part of a large group (Swatch, Richemont, etc…) or target only extremely high net-worth individuals with watches costing $50,000 plus.
Maurice de Mauriac has never been about this latter category of watch makers. Daniel seems not have any interest in offering timepieces his friends and colleagues can’t afford — which represent a pool of people that is actually seemingly quite large. Daniel feels like the unofficial mayor of Zurich. He seems to know someone in any place he finds himself, and he certainly seems to know a lot about the important people in town. Zurich, while not large, is a special city. Known for having the highest amount of wealthy people per capita, the city is more about the Swiss financial industry than it is for the other things Switzerland is known for to people around the world.
Geneva for example, is much more a hub of the watch industry than Zurich – though Zurich feels more comfortable and accessible compared the other major Swiss city. A while ago Maurice de Mauriac changed the identifier under the Maurice de Mauriac logo from “Suisse” to “Zurich.” The small change was an important step for the brand – taking it out of the larger watch industry frame and helping to assert the distinct personality the small brand has coming from Zurich. Aside from prominently hailing from Zurich, it is hard to define exactly what Maurice de Mauriac’s goal is — aside from making high-quality good looking timepieces. There is no distinct message the brand emits — until you meet with Daniel that is.
Dreifuss is a charismatic and colorful fellow who is often found thinking faster than he speaks (which isn’t slow paced). While this character trait finds him asking questions and quickly moving on to further topics before you can answer, you can’t help by admire the speed at which he operates. His beguiling conversational style has won him a number of customers — his approach to explaining his watches is much more consultative than passive sales techniques might teach.
The welcoming Maurice de Mauriac boutique near Zurich’s financial district proves a welcome place for a number of Zurich residents who tend find themselves attracted to Daniel’s metaphorical bright light beacon personality. If you live in Zurich, chances are you’ll hear about Maurice de Mauriac from a friend, by seeing one of the watches on a neighbor’s wrist, or via the brand’s unique form of guerilla marketing.
Less like a store and more like a workshop mixed into a living room, Maurice de Mauriac HQ is speckled with watches, dials, bezels and straps. A active watch maker’s desk sits in the middle of the floor, and those walking by on the street almost always stop to look at watches laid out among vintage toys and paraphernalia from activities such as biking, boating, and flying. It is a hands-on experience to browse the shop. People are encouraged to pick up watches, try them on, and ask questions. Daniel is free from tried and tired statement’s such as “can I help you?” The term is likely never needed at Maurice de Mauriac.
To customers, the message is clear. Maurice de Mauriac offers a handful of base designs, on top of which are a galaxy of dials, hands, case sizes, bezels, and straps. Each seeming to come in a dizzying variety of colors. You can pick up something you like and order it, or Maurice de Mauriac will help find you the perfect piece for your wrist. The beauty of Daniel’s operation is the after-sales service. Find yourself yearning for a new dial after a year? You can bring your Maurice de Mauriac timepiece back in and one of the watch makers can install a new dial, strap, bezel, crystal, etc…
Maurice de Mauriac actually encourages this practice in the watch designs themselves. While a broad number of high-quality choices are available, Daniel ensures maintaining a modular design to each of the watches. In particular is the unique bezel design. It allows a watch maker to easily remove the bezel (which has the sapphire crystal connected to it) and install a new one in minutes. The system is simple, but highly effective — and offers customers the ability to fundamentally change the look of their timepiece while they wait. Getting tired of that simple polished steel bezel? Bring the watch in and get one with a coined edge, in 18k gold, or even lined with white or black diamonds. These are just some of the options available.
Maurice de Mauriac has even taken the approach a step further by now offering customers true colored sapphire crystals. This new feature opens up a world of options testing how a blue tinted sapphire crystal plays with various dial colors and styles, as well as bezel options. A fan of toys himself, it is little surprise that building a Maurice de Mauriac timepiece feels a bit like playing with Lego blocks.
The brand’s most popular timepiece collection is easily the Chronograph Modern. Coming in 39, 42, or 45mm wide sizes, the aviation style chronograph watch is the cornerstone of Daniel’s art. A good look unto itself, the Chronograph Modern is like palette for playing with design, and most importantly colors.
Daniel possesses a unique trait that leaves him quite chromatically gifted. Rarely seen wearing fewer than half a dozen bright colors, he seems to liven the world around him but adding friendly hues to it. So strong is the characteristic, that you will find signals of this in each of Daniel’s family members. A dedicated family man, Daniel is quick to teach his two sons and daughter the ways of the world, and the watch business.
Putting it all down on paper, you might think that a starting and running a watch brand isn’t all that hard. Case, movement, dial, voila! How wrong you would be. Watches are precise little instruments no matter how simple they are. While polished brands with easy to love designs make “it” seem easy — the brutal devil is in the details. And after you make a good watch, you need to inform people about them and sell them. Daniel makes it seem fun and accessible to the consumer, but privately he emotes on the complexities of the mini machines and the bodies that house them. He tires, he learns, he improves. It is for this reason Mr. Dreifuss is wise to extend his passion, and knowledge of the family business to his children.
Zurich seems to accept Daniel’s enthusiasm and designs quite openly. Quick to point out Zurich residents that own one of his watches, Daniel and Maurice de Mauriac have no desire to rest having just a few good designs that keep people interested. Daniel’s greatest motivator is experimentation it seems. Working like a scientist on the cusp of a research breakthrough, there are fresh ideas constantly being tested in new timepieces. Though an idea alone is highly insufficient, one needs the means of executing them. It is a good idea to go to the moon, it is much harder to actually get there. Using his wit and charm, Daniel navigates the extremely murky waters of the watch industry looking for suppliers and methods to realize his latest “vision.”
A poetic link to his love of color, Daniel recently claimed a source for acquiring colored sapphire crystals at affordable prices. Giddy like a painter who for the first time discovers red, green and blue; the new tool for color exercises is an enormous creative outlet for Maurice de Mauriac, and source of enviably interesting watches for brand customers. Even if the concept is simple, you’ll be impressed by just how much a different color can make when semi-transparently applied over a dial via a sapphire crystal.
One day while I am visiting the Maurice de Mauriac shop a regular walks in who Daniel is proud to greet. The young man is Switzerland’s top hip hop artist (at least the Swiss equivalent of the musical genre), named “Stress.” He is in today to pick up his Maurice de Mauriac watch in for a new crocodile strap and crystal shape along with purple colored chronograph seconds hand. The Chronograph Modern watch he wears is unique to him and features a black on black dial, with a diamond decorated bezel featuring alternating white and black diamonds. It is a fitting look for the popular musician — who is happy to express his fondness for the brand, and the unique experience he enjoys having with Daniel versus other watch brands.
I am left with a sense of great appreciation for what Maurice de Mauriac offers and represents. The brand’s honest, hands-on approach makes the customer feel part of the process, and keeps them coming back for more. Fairly priced, Maurice de Maurice features easy to enjoy watches that are simple and satisfying. Seemingly following Bell & Ross co-founder Carlos Rosillo’s design philosophy, you don’t need to be educated or explain why you should like Maurice de Mauriac designs. Those who buy Maurice de Maurice watches not living in Zurich are certainly missing part of the experience, but no doubt they are welcome to visit.
Prices for Maurice de Mauriac watches clearly vary based on the watch specification in question. Prices seem to start at about $2,000 and average in the $6,000 range for the Chronograph Modern models. With all the options available, the hardest part of getting one is realizing what colors you dream in.