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“My grandfather planned every aspect of his...
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“My grandfather planned every aspect of his succession”

Tuesday, 21 December 2010
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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8 min read

Already CEO of Blancpain, Marc Hayek, grandson of the Swatch Group’s founder Nicolas G. Hayek, has taken the helm of Breguet and Jaquet Droz. Interview.

He was already at the head of Blancpain. Following the death of his grandfather Nicolas G. Hayek, the man credited with saving the Swiss watch industry, Marc Hayek now presides over the fortunes of Breguet and Jaquet Droz. He shares his analysis of these three brands in the group’s “Prestige and Luxury” range.

How do you reconcile your functions at the head of three brands?

Marc Hayek: The pace has stepped up a notch, I must admit. There are quite a few parallels between Breguet and Blancpain, in particular in distribution. Also, I already sat on the Breguet steering committee, so it wasn’t all new when I took up my functions. Generally speaking, I spend half my time at Breguet and share the remaining half between Jaquet Droz and Blancpain. The teams at Blancpain are stable and well in their stride. I’ve been working with the same management team for a dozen or so years and we bring complementary skills to the table. This is also true for the other brands. Both have experienced teams who are well able to give me the backing I need. So while I can no longer personally take part in every event, I have the right people on-hand to represent the three brands. I do intend staying closely involved in product development though.

Did the death of Nicolas G. Hayek lead to major changes within the group?

Of course my grandfather’s death had an enormous impact on our lives as a family, but there have only been slight changes to the functioning of the group. His death took us all by surprise. At the same time, we realised he had planned every aspect of his succession in terms of filling key positions and organisational structures. We shall carry on his work in the same spirit and respecting the values that mattered to him. Not that this will prevent us from evolving, on the contrary. He was an eminently creative man and our role now is to nurture this creativity.

Manufactures Frédéric Piguet and Nouvelle Lemania were recently integrated into Blancpain and Breguet respectively. Is this an important change within the Swatch Group?

There have always been b links between these two Manufactures and their brands. We simply went one step further as part of a vertical integration strategy and to tackle problems head-on. On an emotional level, this is also a powerful signal.

What about Jaquet Droz?

It’s not the same approach for Jaquet Droz. At Blancpain, to take this example, it took us a long time to reach sufficient critical mass to justify industrial development specifically for the brand. It’s a question of machine capacity. Otherwise we spiral off into production costs that aren’t reasonable in relation to the product. The logic is the same for Breguet, where movements are the crux of the issue. The manufacturing capacities of ETA for the group, Lemania for Breguet and Frédéric Piguet for Blancpain, make perfect sense. As for Jaquet Droz, we’re far more interested in developing the métiers d’art within the new production unit than we are with equipping the brand with its own machines. This wouldn’t fit with its core activity. I’m personally convinced that Jaquet Droz has enormous potential, even if it is still more of a niche brand for the moment. It’s about asserting a difference that was already in evidence when the company was producing magnificent automata, and to build its future step by step with the right distributors and the right products. I’ve already cut the number of points of sale from 200 to around 170 to better target our best markets. There’s nothing to be gained from spreading ourselves thin. At this stage, the best thing we can do is concentrate our forces.

Recent developments, particularly the L-Evolution line, suggest that Blancpain is becoming more of a "sports" brand?

We’re actually bringing out a part of our history. Until the 1970s, Blancpain was more a sports brand than a classic brand, with models such as the Fifty Fathoms, launched in 1953 and which was an instant success. In the early 1980s, when the mechanical watch was undergoing one of the worst crises in its history, the only conceivable way of promoting mechanical watches was with classic models. The Fifty Fathoms, for example, didn’t fit the bill. Now the market has completely changed with interesting opportunities to develop models such as this. The point is to respect their spirit while incorporating the latest technology. While classic ranges will remain important for Blancpain in terms of quantities and complications, we’re also pushing the Fifty Fathoms as a small but no less essential collection for the image of the brand. All the more so as demand exists. Similarly, we are steering the L-Evolution collection towards more “extreme” models. We were right to launch it in 2009 with deliberately limited production quantities. We knew anyway that 2009 would prove a difficult year, so we couldn’t be disappointed. It’s important to always bear in mind that the group’s brands must complement each other, hence we’re cultivating a younger mindset at Blancpain compared with Breguet.

In which case, where do you want to position Breguet?

The company’s archives are absolutely unbelievable. They set the rules and the boundaries that we must obey. Not that this means we must cling to the past, however great, at all cost. On the contrary. Abraham-Louis Breguet was a watchmaking genius who produced many major innovations, but he was also accomplished at marketing his products. It’s our role to keep this spirit alive by allowing developments which may at first seem out of keeping with the brand, such as silicon which is a major breakthrough for the company and for the industry as a whole. Of course, things are much easier with a tradition such as Breguet’s to build on. We firmly intend making full use of the Breguet manuscripts my grandfather bought before his death. And we certainly won’t be contenting ourselves with just a re-edition.

On the subject of Breguet, have you been able to view the original Marie-Antoinette watch since it resurfaced in Jerusalem?

We’re still in negotiations so, no, we haven’t yet held it in our hands. We offered our services to restore this exceptional timepiece, but for that they have to agree for it to leave the country. It makes no sense to send our specialists over there to work on such a task. For the moment though, they don’t seem particularly interested. Money comes into it too.

Watch brands currently only have eyes for China. Are you one of them?

Obviously we can’t afford to miss out on the Chinese market. Blancpain is in fact well-positioned in China whereas Breguet, which came later, warrants stepping up efforts in promotion. Having said that, while the temptation to pin everything on China is b, it would be a mistake to do so. Not only is a global presence of brands such as Blancpain and Breguet justified and desirable, we must also benefit from tourist spending from China, as well as India and Brazil, as they make up an important clientele. The Swatch Group still has huge potential in the United States where it is less widely represented than its competitors. The biggest problem in the US comes from the standard of quality in distribution, where staff distinctly lack knowledge of watches and the staff turnover rate is problematically high. To come back to your question, of course China will represent a consistent and substantial market and even if it cannot sustain its current crazy levels, its importance is clearly destined to grow.

What can we expect to see at Baselworld 2011?

We showed countercyclical models in 2010 and the next Baselworld will be an extension of this, without going all-out on recovery. The climate has been positive since the beginning of the year, which at that time would have been hard to forecast. The result is that we now face delivery problems. November was a record month for Blancpain and 2010 overall will be a record year. But we could have done even better: we gauged production capacity according to our partners’ orders who were far too cautious and underestimated their market’s potential. We’re now finding it hard to take delivery of the number of cases or hands we need. That said, we have some wonderful things in store…

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