At Baselworld, Marc Hayek gave the lowdown on Blancpain, Breguet and Jaquet Droz, three of the six brands in Swatch Group’s Prestige and Luxury Range under his responsibility.
Marc Alexander Hayek: No, and nor will there be. Breguet is about history. When I was a younger man, Breguet invariably put me in mind of Napoleon, who was one of the watchmaker’s greatest admirers. I fully intend to respect these historical roots which are reflected, for example, in the finely executed guillochage on a Breguet watch. Of course, Abraham-Louis Breguet possessed a genius for mechanical watchmaking which greatly benefited from his inventions, and we are determined to carry on this spirit of innovation, as evidenced by the watches we presented at this year’s Baselworld.
“Sport-chic” suits Blancpain well. The brand was, for some considerable time, sport-oriented, then entirely classic. A combination of the two, something one might call “mechanical elegance”, is an apt description. As for Jaquet Droz, the brand is indeed destined to distinguish itself in automata and the métiers d’art. The quail eggshell mosaic that we showed this year is an excellent example, as is the Charming Bird, which is the first ever singing bird automaton in a wristwatch. Since unveiling the initial prototype two years ago, we have worked hard to improve the sound of the bird’s chirping, as a result of which the watch is now fully ready and will be made as two limited editions of 28 pieces.
Blancpain and Breguet retain their individual identities and therefore their own technical developments.
Blancpain and Breguet retain their individual identities and therefore their own technical developments. To give one example, the magnetic regulator belongs to Breguet and no other brand within the group. Of course, any progress we make in an area such as materials, and I’m thinking specifically of silicon, will be shared. Similarly, while ceramic is characteristic of Blancpain, we wouldn’t rule out using it in Breguet’s Type XX collection, a model originally designed for France’s naval airforce. Blancpain supplies movements to Jaquet Droz and develops specific mechanisms for it, such as this year’s Grande Seconde Deadbeat. They are designed, you could say, exclusively for the brand. It’s a logical approach; setting up Jaquet Droz to manufacture its own movements would make no sense.
Obviously we’re seeing the impact of earlier strategic decisions. For example, we pushed Breguet in Russia where it is feeling the consequences of the falling rouble. Blancpain, on the other hand, is more exposed to the slowdown in China, given its stronger presence in the region. Blancpain has never had the same success as Breguet in India, to name a third market, although sales there revolve almost entirely around the Reine de Naples. The point being that it’s impossible to make any kind of sweeping statement, given the often substantial differences between markets. What we are witnessing, from a more general perspective, is a drop in average price as customers are turning to less expensive products. Does this mean no more Breguet watches with gold dials for certain markets? Definitely not. It’s at times like this that we need to show what we’re made of!
Yes, which doesn’t mean investing for the sake of investing. At Swatch Group we take a strictly pragmatic approach governed by stringent cost management. We wouldn’t have expanded the workforce or maintained investment at such a high level these past years if this hadn’t been exactly what was needed. In this respect, then, nothing’s changed. There are vacancies at the three brands I manage, for example. At Swatch Group, we expect sales for the year to grow in line with 2014, when for the first time gross sales exceeded CHF 9 billion, gaining almost 5%. So even if average prices fall, as I mentioned earlier, we aren’t expecting any drop in the quantity of watches sold. On the contrary. Group-wide figures for the first months of the current year show a rise in sales.
It’s a difficult market at the present time. Apple is throwing millions at its product for the launch, which is fine by me. It has more marketing dollars than the entire Swiss watch industry put together, and as long as it’s using them to talk about watches, who are we to complain. But as far as I’m concerned, the smartwatch belongs in the consumer electronics category and offers more drawbacks than advantages, particularly compared to the smartphone on which it depends. I think this explains the rather lukewarm reception it’s had so far.