Nicolas Hayek (1928-2010)

The watch industry, on June 28, 2010, has lost an essential timepiece of its soul. HH Alexandra Orloff pens down a special tribute for Mr Nicolas Hayek, Founder of Swatch Group.

By: HH Alexandra Orloff, CEO, Sacha Orloff Ltd

Posted on: July 10, 2010

nicholas-hayek-swatch-groupNothing had prepared me for the news I received on Monday, June 28, learning about the death of Mr. Nicolas Hayek, the mastermind and steel frame of the Swatch Group and the Swiss watch industry. It is a great loss for his family, to whom I send my deepest condolences. It is equally bereaving for his former colleagues at Swatch Group, the watch industry, and ultimately, for all those who were inspired and empowered by his achievements.

My first memory of Mr. Hayek was reading about his achievements in the media when I was a young girl. Never had I thought that one day I would have the privilege to work along with him during the acquisition of the Groupe Horloger Breguet by Swatch Group. My first impressions, and those that remain with me to this day, are of a robust and giant man, an icon of force and exuberance, of ice and tenure.

Mr Hayek, the ultimate entrepreneur, was knowledgeable in breaking a company to reconstruct stronger by tenfold. His force lay in his charisma - a charisma which could sometimes be perceived as harsh and momentary - but ultimately, always fair.

He was away from politics or power games, unlike so many in this industry. His energy was all for and into his empire, not people politics. The Swiss watch industry has lost an extraordinary reformer, who knew how to take risks, with great ambition and determination. Mr. Hayek refused the logic of failure, withdrawal or defeatism. He refused to see centuries of watchmaking expertise go down the drain.

He restated the Swiss watch industry in 1983 with the launch of Swatch, defeated the Japanese quartz market, and opened the channels of mass production. He reinstated innovation in Swiss watch making which was dying quietly.

nicholas-hayek-pocket-watch-swatch-groupI retain the picture of a man wearing several watches on his wrists - a plastic Swatch together with a Breguet. He would respond to the astonishment, which this peculiar habit received by onlookers, with a look of provocation. Why plastic and gold next to one another, one may ask? His eyes would answer you, that after all, it had been the plastic watch which enabled him to buy the gold ones.

In 1990s, his Swatch empire radically changed the face of the watch industry through the acquisition of Longines, Rado, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Tissot, Omega and Lemania. He was subjected to criticism that a group such as Swatch was acquiring brands that made watch history. Mr. Hayek proved his critics wrong again and again as he demonstrated his belief and commitment that the essence of these brands would be preserved at all costs.

It is due to his innovation and forward-thinking that the all powerful ETA movements were reinstated, as well as the spiral Nivarox-FAR. Due to his acquisition in the 1980s, he held the entire chain of production of watches, giving him a unique position in this industry. Mr Hayek often played to stop delivery of movements to other companies through the subsidiary ETA. As a result, the Swiss watch industry as a whole trembled.

Breguet was founded by an artist in 1775, a man, who in Mr Hayek’s views had similar tastes to his with the same entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm. He had to fight to acquire Breguet.

This Emperor has created the greatest empire in the world of watches and has inspired a generation to further pursue what he commenced. He will be dearly missed, but will remain in our hearts, and for a long time to come, on our wrists.

I wish Ms. Nayla Hayek success in her new role as chairwoman of the company, and have no doubt she will carry the spirit and fire of her late father. My most sincere condolences go to his family, his friends and to his colleagues. As for the watch industry, on June 28, 2010, has lost an essential timepiece of its soul.

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