The world's first virtual watch factory, which enables customers to create their own timepieces on the Internet, has just celebrated its first birthday in style. Domino Watch has won a major Swiss prize for innovation.
The Swiss Society for Management of Ideas and Innovations in Zurich awarded its Golden Ideas Oscar 2001 to ITS Inter Time Services of Grenchen, the company behind the watch.
The idea is the brainchild of ITS managing director, Eric von Schulthess, who in 1998 was looking for new ways of distributing his company's corporate and promotional watches.
"The problem is that small companies don't have the money to invest on a big expansion strategy, so we thought we'd try something on the Internet," von Schulthess told swissinfo.
After 18 months of building up the software, Domino Watch went on the web in February last year.
Users wanting to create their own watches simply log on to the virtual watch factory site and, using the mouse, clicks on the individual components which make up the watch.
"First you choose a movement, then you pick your case, you select a strap, and then the dial and indexes with company logo or image of your choice. After that you pick out the hands and the packaging. You send off the order and we then start assembling," von Schulthess explains.
The watch is created directly on the screen. If at any particular stage, the user decides the watch is not developing to their satisfaction, they simply go back and choose a different component.
Initially, the software offered users some six million variations, but they can now choose from a staggering 20 million possibilities.
At the moment, the service is only available for orders of 10 watches or more, but customers will be able to order individual watches from June. The timepieces, which bear the label "Swiss Made", come with a 10-year guarantee.
So far the response on the Internet has been encouraging, with 2.5 million visitors during the first year and almost half a million over the past six weeks.
"It's very flattering having all that traffic and a lot of my friends think I'm doing incredible business. But the fact is that we've tracked down only 2,000 watch sales directly through the Internet," von Schulthess told swissinfo.
"We've had lots of requests for catalogues and it's difficult to tell exactly how orders are made. What I can say is that the Internet has had a positive impact on the business," he added.
Factory visitors seem obviously hooked by the idea, with the average user logging-on for some 25 minutes.
With a staff of just 16, ITS looks set to have a rosy future, according to the jury which awarded the Golden Ideas Oscar.
"Despite having no great resources, ITS looks set in the near future to penetrate new markets and, by putting new technology to the best use, will create new jobs at home and abroad. The company will play a pioneer role through its global presence," the jury said in its commendation.
by Robert Brookes