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Marc Hayek: “We can no longer predict what the future...
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Marc Hayek: “We can no longer predict what the future holds”

Wednesday, 05 April 2017
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Christophe Roulet
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5 min read

Speaking in Baselworld, Marc Hayek, CEO of Breguet, Blancpain and Jaquet Droz, takes stock of “his” brands in what is still a challenging environment for the Swiss watch industry. Interview.

It’s now part of the Baselworld ritual. Each year, Marc Alexander Hayek, a member of the Swatch Group Executive Group Management Board, sits down to discuss Breguet, Blancpain and Jaquet Droz, all under his stewardship. A chance to take the temperature of three of the most prominent names in Swiss watchmaking.

The past twenty months have been hard. What impact have they had?

We’ve made no changes to our underlying strategy but we have been more attuned to the markets and what they want. For example, for the past two years almost, we’ve observed a very positive trend in ladies’ watches, both at Blancpain and at Breguet where sales in this segment have grown by around 35% for that period. This is reflected in the watches we’ve introduced at this year’s Baselworld, with several variants in the Reine de Naples range and a highly technical Tradition Dame 7038 at Breguet, and similarly at Blancpain in the Villeret collection. That said, there is no point burying our head in the sand. The brands under my responsibility are all in the high-end segment, which has been most affected by the crisis. Are we over the worst? Well, we’ve been back on a positive trend since last November, very positive even since January. Not that I’ll be making any forecasts. This is probably what has changed the most of late. We can no longer predict what the future holds. Just one example: after Brexit and the drop in sterling, sales took off in the United Kingdom, but what will happen now, following the attack on Westminster Bridge? The terrorist attacks in Paris are still in the back of everyone’s mind, and we know what repercussions they had on tourism and consequently on our business. All I can say is that globally China is doing well and Hong Kong is back on track. As for Europe and the US, we’re still faced with difficult markets.

In difficult times, customers want security and to buy something that will last, and watches with a history have every chance of satisfying those needs.
Marc Hayek
In this context, you must welcome the strong performance by ladies' watches.

Indeed. Markets that weren’t really receptive to mechanical watches for ladies are now more and more open to this type of product. In fact this is true more generally as far as fine watch brands are concerned, and not only in relation to new products. There’s a growing interest in mechanical watches across the entire catalogue. When the economy is in crisis, women hesitate less than men over purchases, and this leads to better sales just about everywhere.

Is that true of vintage watches too?

In difficult times, customers want security and to buy something that will last, and watches with a history have every chance of satisfying those needs. We’ve seen how this trend has influenced brands’ offering over the past two to three years. We’re also observing a similar craze for 1960s and 1970s styles. All of which means the pre-owned watch market is booming. I personally think it’s pretty cool. We’ve been bang on-trend at Blancpain since 2003 with the relaunch of the Fifty Fathoms, which made its debut in the 1950s, and at Breguet with the Type XX.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms
But you still chose the Marine collection for your flagship model this year, the grand complication Marine 5887.

After the Classique and Tradition lines, it was time for us to review this very important collection for Breguet who was, let’s not forget, appointed Horologist to the Royal Navy by Louis XVIII in 1815. The Marine 5887 features our extra-thin tourbillon, a hallmark of the brand, in addition to a running equation of time and a perpetual calendar with power reserve. This is very much an original set of complications and one I was very keen to see. I believe that the Marine collection, more than any other, must symbolise Breguet’s pioneering spirit and in that respect incorporate the major technical advances by the brand. Back in the day, watchmaking greatly benefited from research into marine chronometers, an essential instrument for plotting longitude at sea.

Breguet Marine Equation Marchante
Breguet Marine Equation Marchante
Yet we've witnessed greater price sensitivity over the past two years…

That is true. But at the same time, ultra-complicated and ultra-costly pieces are once again enjoying a certain success among collectors, and this type of watch remains an important segment for Breguet. Hence we are continuing along that route, though possibly with fewer versions of a same model.

What about Jaquet Droz, which is a niche brand?

We can’t complain in terms of quantity, although average price has fallen. We were too dependent on the “big” pieces such as the automata, which is obviously a very volatile segment. This is why we’re now pushing watches that will keep unit sales high while maintaining margins.

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