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West End Watch Co.: Swiss made promoted by British soldiers in the Far East

Whereas Switzerland is widely perceived for its high quality standards, you will probably have to go as far as the Tibet to discover the timepieces from this company, once leader of the Swiss watch industry.

By Audrey Humbert

West End Watch Co. was initially established in 1886. The Bombay representative of a Swiss manufacturer had then the idea to borrow the name of a trendy district of London, The West End, in order to render the production from Switzerland more attractive. The brand thus renamed soon established a strong reputation of resistance and reliability, largely expanded by the British soldiers who carried West End across the Far East on their wrists. After India who had become the largest market for West End in the first half of the 20th Century, it was the company Behbehani who further secured the output of the Swiss manufacturer. The resistance and reliability of these quality watches was indeed extremely relevant for the use in the Middle East. In 1961, Behbehani sold nearly 100'000 watches for its sole market which at that time represented about half of the total production of the Swiss company. 

The management of the company has proved agile from its very early years, surviving major market shifts, as a forerunner to the current trend that is set for more flexibility in order to face rapid changes occuring on the market.

West End Watch Co. is currently held by the family Monnat who is active in the watchmaking industry since 1970. Their main activity since has been assembling movements following the same philosophy of efficiency and reliability over years.

While it is the Swiss values and standards of quality that, in the first place, retained the attention of foreign distributors who were looking for the best quality to offer their clients, it is probably those same Swiss values who prevented the company to communicate extensively on its successes. Even today, the communication plan is smartly targeted. Indeed, in 1977 the company overcame the threshold of a million watches delivered, setting it in pole position in terms of its level of production. However, the brand remains literally unknown on the Swiss territory.

It is during Baselworld that a close friend of mine who maintains a long term relationship with the brand introduced me to its current owner from the 2nd generation of the family Monnat. This gave me the perfect opportunity to settle an appointment for a factory visit. On the journey to Martigny, I still didn’t know what to expect from this Swiss company that I entered in connection with through my acquaintance from the Middle East.

Well. After a warm welcome from the owner himself, family business « oblige », I was invited to discover the workshops. Most naturally, everything was up to the level that one would expect from a Swiss manufacturing company. With a neat and streamlined process flow, the capacity of the production line seems unlimited. During the visit, I had the opportunity to admire machines dating from the 80’s, that prove to be 5 to 10 times faster than later iteration, still looking up-to-date and showing no signs of aging as a witness to the utmost care given to the material. Well, if the material is carefully maintained, so must be the watches. Some of the machines are even older than the one I first noticed. Handling these types of machines requires not only the best preserved know how but also perseverance under the market pressure to always own the latest of everything. But in Switzerland, tradition is everything.

The best was obviously kept for the end of the visit. It was finally time to plunge even more deeply into the patrimony of the brand. Archives was saved from destruction by the owner’s family right after they took over the company. From the brochures to the watch boxes, including accessories and obviously a large selection of past models, I would have loved to spend a couple more hours examining the material in front of me. Unfortunately, the afternoon was already turning to the evening and I had to leave the premises accompanied with some wine from the surrounding vineyards.

I was truly impressed with the know how broadcast and the optimisation at every level ensuring that only the best quality arrives to the end consumer. And I feel very privileged that some of the secrets of West End Watch Co was shared with me. From my point of view, the brand deserves more attention than what it gets nowadays.

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