“At seven years of age, you could compare Hautlence to a young boy who’s just had his first taste of life. In hindsight, it’s clear that it takes time to build a brand, although we can lay claim to a sound product base with four in-house calibres divided into two movement families, three HL collections, and a new collection this year with the HL2.” Guillaume Tetu, the brand’s eloquent co-founder and executive director who cuts as imposing a figure as his watches, is in no doubt that Hautlence, an anagram of Neuchâtel, is a youngster with a bright future.
Still, it took a parent’s faith in their child. The first steps were more than promising; the debut collection raised the curtain on a world in which form dictates function, materialised by jumping hours and dates, retrograde minutes or the jumping chain with speed regulator in the HL2. Says Guillaume Tetu: “We delivered our first watches in 2005 and met with phenomenal success… until end 2008 when watchmaking was hit full-on by the crisis that continued into 2009. Hautlence took a knock too, an almost fatal blow in fact. Which of course meant a top-to-bottom review of the company.” This led to the departure of Renaud de Retz, the co-founder in charge of distribution. It also prompted Hautlence to reconsider its network and drop retailers with a tendency to go heavy on their margins and buy back their stock.
Sights set on 500 watches a year
“Currently we have 35 outlets selling our products, mainly in the traditional European markets and in Asia,” Guillaume Tetu continues. “We’re now entering new markets, especially in the Americas. We’re aiming for something in the region of 50 retailers. On the manufacturing side, annual production has fallen from 200 to 100 watches. On the other hand, we’ve continued to invest in research and development. The one thing we absolutely want to avoid is being a “one-hit wonder.” The HL2 is a collector’s watch and typical of this approach. The first have already been delivered, which reinforces our conviction that we can count on a loyal customer base. This should, in the none too distant future, take us back to the 200 watches a year mark, then 500 in the mid term.”
In a similar vein, Hautlence has created, via its website, a private club for the owners of its watches. They benefit from a three-year extended warranty on top of the initial three-year warranty in the form of an authentication tag with Bubble TagTM technology. “This initiative, which also allows us to keep track of the pre-owned market, has been well received. Because we have only limited marketing means and a relatively small distribution network, we have to concentrate on direct contact with the customer. What I call guerrilla tactics. After a tough period, we need to reassure the market, consolidate our legitimacy, and stay the course with exclusive, quality timepieces.”