Though ostensibly retired, the more years pass and the more Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the man behind Agenhor, finds himself in the spotlight. His latest exploit to date, the Fabergé Visionnaire DTZ, walked off with the Travel Time prize at this year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Wiederrecht also created the movement for the Lady Compliquée Peacock, again by Fabergé, which took home the Ladies’ High Mech prize at the same GPHG in 2015. Would it be stating the obvious to say that the Russian brand – founded in 1842 and bought by South African Brian Gilbertson in 2007 – and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht are on a wavelength? And that in the current climate, ideas are always welcome, particularly when you’re a new kid on the block? Fortunately, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht has more than one trick up his sleeve.
Even so, it’s not all positive thinking for the Agenhor watchmaker, who was in Dubai for the annual Watch Week. He laments that “watchmakers have industrialised luxury. That’s really the crux of the matter. There are too many goods in too many points of sale, and so many exclusive products as to be meaningless. And because nothing is selling, watches are building up in the backroom and brands are cutting prices in order to slim down inventory, even giving identical warranties on these discounted products. It’s a complete aberration. Why didn’t we see it coming? Why did we keep producing en masse? The consequence is that we’ve lost touch with the product, which has become dehumanised. I can’t say it often enough: we need to start thinking differently, and the first thing we have to do is reduce quantities and cut margins while maintaining the same standard of quality.”
A revolutionary product
A newcomer to the watch market, Fabergé has perfectly understood this principle. “At one point, I was meeting a whole host of people who had got it into their heads to ‘save’ Fabergé by ploughing millions into communication. Some also wanted the brand to become a reference in women’s watches. But why shut yourself in a box when a “small” brand like Fabergé has such vast horizons? As for spending millions to get the products seen, compared to unit cost this would position the watches at such a high price it would be impossible to sell them.” Until the brand is ready to lay down a solid philosophy, communication is therefore low-key. Margins are kept tight to ensure a viable product, with the backing of an after-sales service worthy of the name. Historically, Fabergé products have a considerable “wow factor” and watches being no exception, sales are almost word-of-mouth. The entire production for the Visionnaire DTZ, launched last September, has been sold. “Obviously we’re not talking in thousands; more like several hundred,” notes Jean-Marc Wiederrecht. “But this is still proof that even with limited means, you can achieve what you set out to achieve. I’ve always said there have to be people behind the product. Well the same is true of sales. All of which suggests the Fabergé watch laboratory is doing rather well.”
Nor is there any reason to believe this may change, particularly as Jean-Marc Wiederrecht has one rather large surprise in store, namely a completely new type of chronograph with five central hands, a horizontal clutch and 1/100th second precision. “De Bethune already released a similar concept with all central hands, but without giving too much away I really believe we have a revolutionary product. The basic concept can also be seen in the Visionnaire movement, which has a “hole” in the middle that we can “fill” with different functions. We’re reinventing the chronograph! This, then, is the beginning of a new family of movements. For the moment, this new chronograph is reserved for Fabergé and another brand that should make itself known next year. We’ll talk about increasing volumes after that.” Clearly, retirement can wait!