A Brief History of Marvin Watches ¶
We here at Matt Baily have a reputation for seeking out new and interesting luxury watch brands and introducing them to the Canadian market. Over the years we have ‘discovered’ U-Boat, Bell & Ross, Alpina, Frederique Constant, and many others. In most cases we were the first dealers in Canada. And that is exactly what we did with Marvin Watches. In June 2010 we became the first Marvin dealer in North America, and since then we’ve witnessed the company grow into an excellent value luxury watch brand. But Marvin is not a new brand. Dating back to 1850, Marvin has a rich and interesting history.
Marvin didn’t begin as “Marvin”. It was founded in 1850 in Berne, Switzerland by the brothers Marc and Emmanuel Didisheim as a small watchmaking operation that finished watches using parts from outside suppliers. The first factory proper was opened in 1891 under the name Albert Didisheim et Freres, referring to Marc Didisheim’s sons who took over the operation. In 1893 the Marvin name was registered.
The name “Marvin” came about when the Didisheims began to introduce their products into the American market, starting in 1893 in New York. The name “Albert Didisheim et Freres” didn’t quite have the marketing punch needed in the US market, so the company took the name of their US distributor – Marvin. By 1905 Marvin was the principal name of the company but it was still run by the Didisheim family, who had now moved operations from Berne to La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Marvin quickly established itself as a brand that provided good design and quality finishing for reasonable money. In 1912 it became a true “manufacture” producing all of its components in-house. It had a state-of-the-art facility and a reputation for excellent treatment of its employees. Through the middle of the 20th century Marvin expanded and made a name for itself through motorsports sponsorship, international distribution, celebrity “endorsements” (Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevera both wore Marvins), and producing high quality movements for other brands.
The success of Marvin peaked in the 1950s and 60s, by which point the company had produced nearly 7 million watches. The 1970s, however, were a different story. The introduction of the quartz movement in the late 60s by the Swiss industry was heralded as a breakthrough in high-technology timekeeping. Ironically, it would result in the near total destruction of the Swiss watch industry. While the first quartz movements were very expensive and occupied the upper end of the market, the second generation produced by Asian manufacturers were very inexpensive and still highly accurate and reliable.
The influx of cheap Asian quartz watches effectively killed the traditional mechanical watch industry. Hundreds of brands and suppliers folded, were liquidated, or were consolidated into larger groups of companies. Very few brands survived unscathed. Marvin was a victim of the “Quartz Crisis” and was absorbed into the Manufactures d’Horlogerie Suisses Reunies (MSR) conglomerate in 1970. The brand subsequently disappeared, aside from a few offerings during the 1980s and 1990s, after MSR absorbed the manufacturing facilities.
In 2002 the Marvin brand was purchased from MSR by Cecile and Jean-Daniel Maye, who had previously run Time Avenue and Nina Ricci. The story goes that the Mayes were interested in the history and strength of the Marvin name, and approached the descendants of the Didisheims about purchasing the rights to restart the brand. After much back and forth, they finally agreed over a bottle of wine and Marvin was reborn.
By 2007 the new Marvin lineup was introduced through a clever “New Times, New Codes” advertising campaign that created a unique, playful identity around the brand. Clients became “Transumers” and were invited to fill out an quirky “Mood Generator” survey on the brand website to help choose the perfect Marvin for their personality. The brand made use of the emergence of social media online to create awareness and promote the watches. Facebook and various blogs became avenues of advertising. It was clear from the beginning that Marvin was not going to be a stodgy, traditional brand. It was going to be a young, hip and distinctive brand that would take advantage of the internet to spread awareness of the products.
The new Marvin lineup is geared towards affordable luxury. The Marvin philosophy has always been to provide quality and fine finishing for reasonable prices. There was a concise summary posted on the brand’s blog : “…the ‘democratization’ of fine Swiss watch ownership was always a value dear to Marvin since 1850. Our founders embraced a non-elitist vision of watchmaking. To them, artful design, unquestionable quality, and obsession with detail were not incompatible with affordability. Quite the contrary. Why? Because the message behind Marvin ownership is one of trust and dependability. The exclusivity is in being part of the Marvin family. And the price of belonging should never be prohibitive, or it would defeat the brand’s original values.” (original post here)
Since 2007 Marvin has developed into an interesting brand that is offering exceptional watches for very fair prices. In 2010 they released the Malton 160 and Sebastien Loeb collections to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the company; in keeping with the brand philosophy, these new timepieces offer very good quality, design and finishing for very reasonable prices. As always Marvin has stayed true to its roots as a provider of a good product that is accessible to all, a refreshing alternative perspective in the Swiss luxury watch market.