Frederic Gasser sold his first watch in the parking lot of a Texas prison. Gasser had come to the U.S. a few months earlier from his native Paris, after losing all his money in the antiques business. He had four watches in a briefcase, a few dollars in his pocket, and a dream of bringing BRM to America.
“I arrived two hours away from Dallas in the middle of nowhere in the parking lot of a jail,” Gasser says. “You look at ‘Pulp Fiction’ — that kind of feel — that is what it was.”
Gasser got into the potential buyer’s car, showed him the goods, and within minutes made a $9,000 sale. The next day, the buyer — who turned out to be a criminal attorney — wired the money to Gasser’s bank account. It became the seed money with which the Frenchman started BRM North America.
Today, BRM (an acronym for Bernard Richards Manufacture, named after its creator) has a loyal following in the United States. Its watches, which are closely associated with motorsports, have a unique, modular look. The company sells 300 or so timepieces a year, with prices ranging from $3,500 to $150,000.
Before BRM, Gasser didn’t know anything about watches, but he was no stranger to style. His mother was a fashion designer in Paris who created prints for fabrics. When Gasser was growing up, his house was veritable who’s who of haute couture.
“I had pretty much everyone in my house, from Karl Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Moschino, all these people,” Gasser recalls.
The first time Gasser saw a BRM watch, he was instantly struck by it. “The lugs were designed separately from the case … all those parts were made separately and screwed together. It was just the little touches.”
After meeting with BRM’s owner, Bernard Richards, Gasser persuaded Richards to let him take those first four watches to America, which led to the big sale in the prison parking lot. Gasser’s tenacity eventually landed him accounts at upscale department stores including Neiman Marcus — a deal cultivated in part thanks to a chance meeting with the head of the retailer’s wife at a Thanksgiving dinner party.
Gasser was also the driving force behind one of BRM’s trademark services — customization — inspired by a Harley-Davidson parts catalog Gasser used to create his own customized Fat Boy.
“I called Bernard and said, ‘This book is pretty cool; we should do that with watches,’” Gasser recalls. Not long after, BRM launched its online configurator, where customers can choose their own case, dial, and hands.
With BRM on the verge of collapse during 2008’s economic meltdown, Gasser turned his attention to motorsports to help turn the tide. He believed BRM’s design and philosophy of customization would fit perfectly with racing culture.
“Drivers like to have something that’s very connected to [their] car,” Gasser tells us. “If he has a watch with his number on it, and it’s the color of his car, it’s like his car on his wrist.”
He forged a partnership with the Atlantic racing series (which was in its last season) and driver Simona de Silvestro. When de Silvestro moved to Indy Car, Gasser prowled the paddocks at every race trying to drum up business.
“For a year I was going pretty much every weekend, meeting people and wondering what the hell I am doing here,” Gasser recalls. “But you build your network step by step, and afterward all the pieces came together.”
After weathering the financial storm, BRM has continued to expand. A recent partnership with Corvette Racing has spawned a series of watches that use the team’s logo and colors on versions of BRM’s V6 and V12 men’s models. The company also just unveiled its Hunziker-BRM collection, a line of bespoke watches featuring a dial designed by automotive fine artist Nicolas Hunziker.
Gasser, now 50, says he hopes the BRM brand will keep growing. To that end, the company has begun to focus more on women’s watches. He realizes he’s competing with bigger watchmakers that have more resources and a lot more money, but that’s not deterring him.
“We are in a very challenging world, and I started completely from scratch, and the only things that really motivate you are the fashion and the thing you love,” Gasser tells us. “You just keep pushing until you get it