Watchmaker nets Samba stars

Rodolphe Cattin, Ronaldinho and Epitaux (from left to right). Rodolphe

A small Swiss watchmaker has pulled off a major coup, persuading members of the most famous football team in the world, Brazil, to wear his timepieces.

This content was published on June 1, 2006 - 20:36

In these days when nothing is free, Jacky Epitaux has managed to get some of the sport's biggest stars, including Ronaldinho, to promote his brand at virtually no cost.

So how did a small Swiss watchmaker from Les Bois near La Chaux-de-Fonds manage to wrap one of its timepieces around the wrist of arguably the greatest footballer on the planet, without having to pay for the privilege?

In short, thanks to plenty of patience and a rather unorthodox approach.

Rewind back to the summer of 2002, and renowned watch designer Rodolphe Cattin and Epitaux have just seen Brazil win a record fifth world cup.

"Our common passion is football and we decided then and there to create a watch to commemorate Brazil's victory," Epitaux, who is president of Rodolphe Watches, told swissinfo.

The result was the SFr15,000 ($12,500) limited edition Instinct Penta in the colours of the Brazilian flag, yellow, blue and green. One hundred were made and only 15 remain unsold.

Through a friend, Epitaux managed to pass on information about the watch to the Brazilian team. Then when Brazil arrived in Porto to play a friendly against Portugal in March 2003, Epitaux was there at the team hotel armed with his watches.

"I set up a display in the hotel lobby and in the evening hung out with the players at the bar," he recalled. "Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho said they would each take one and insisted on paying half."

Elusive Ronaldinho

Early last year the watchmaker flew out to Brazil to hand over the timepieces to Cafu and Roberto Carlos, but Ronaldinho – as he is on the pitch – proved harder to pin down.

Having signed for Barcelona in 2003, Brazil's number 11 is now the hottest ticket on the football planet. According to France Football magazine, he has outstripped England's David Beckham as the highest paid footballer, raking in a cool SFr36 million a year in salary and endorsements.

After several calls to the player's sister Deisi, a gap in his busy schedule was found in June last year and Epitaux had three days to find a jewellery store in Barcelona and put everything in place for the handover.

"It was quite funny actually. Around 50 journalists turned up and I think they thought Ronaldinho wasn't going to show up. But he arrived on time, dressed like a rapper all in white, and was very friendly and smiling as usual," he said.

"The only problem was that all the journalists wanted to talk about football and we had to keep steering them back to watches all the time."

Ronaldinho also received a SFr6,000 Instinct Semainier from Rodolphe "for daily wear", but other than the watches, nothing else changed hands.

"The success of this was down to our love of football and Brazil, and the way we approached the players," added Epitaux, who has been to Brazil around 20 times. "We always kept a low profile and never behaved like paparazzi."

Watchmaking success

For Epitaux, the fruition of more than two years' work marked yet another successful chapter in the life of the young watchmaking and jewellery company.

Founded ten years ago, Rodolphe employs around 40 people and produces about 200 different watches a year, ranging from a SFr2,000 ladies' quartz to a SFr100,000 tourbillon timepiece.

In March last year Geneva-based luxury watch group Franck Muller bought a controlling stake in Rodolphe, opening up new global opportunities for the firm.

But over the next few days Epitaux has his sights set on shifting a few timepieces rather closer to home.

His firm has established a temporary presence in the small town of Weggis on Lake Lucerne where Brazil are based ahead of next month's World Cup finals in Germany.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Les Bois

Key facts

Watch designer Rodolphe Cattin created Rodolphe Watches in 1996.
The design side of the company is based in La Chaux-de-Fonds and the watchmaking side in Les Bois.
Luxury watchmaker Franck Muller bought a controlling stake in Rodolphe in March last year.
As a result of the deal, the company expects to have around 1,000 sales points around the world by the end of this year – up from 200 a year ago.

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In brief

The Brazilian team will be based in Weggis (population 3,886) until June 4 before moving travelling to Germany for the World Cup.

Brazil have booked out the five-star Park Hotel and will be holding 14 training sessions at the town's newly built stadium. The team are also playing two friendly matches against Lucerne (May 30) and New Zealand (June 4).

Weggis was chosen from more than 40 other places around the world and team representatives have praised the central Swiss town as a calm and beautiful location.

Financial considerations are also said to have played a role: apart from not paying anything to use the new stadium, the Brazilian Football Federation stands to make $1.2 million (SFr1.45 million) from a deal with Swiss sport marketing agency Attaro.

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