Whatever the source, be it websites, social media or brick-and-mortar stores, data collection is proving extremely useful to watch brands. By extracting the most relevant pieces of data from this mass of information, they can adapt ever more precisely to what customers want, almost in real time, and significantly reduce production and distribution times as a result. It’s no secret that customization is hot in 2018, in particular in the luxury segment. The higher up the price scale we go, the more customers are likely to want a timepiece that is unique to them, while still preserving the prestige that goes with the brand.
Even the most storied names are taking advantage of new technology to deliver made-to-order products without sending costs through the roof. Though still the preserve of luxury brands, customization is gaining ground. Already, a good dozen luxury firms are researching the innovations that will enable them to realise their customers’ dreams. “Industry 4.0 is turning the current business model upside-down,” confirms Philippe Grize, who is head of the Engineering Faculty at Haute Ecole-Arc, one of Switzerland’s top applied science universities. It’s now customer demand that determines the production process and the resources used.
Industry 4.0 opens up the prospect of minimum intermediate stock – a requirement of current production methods that are geared towards high volumes or rely on linear systems. An Industry 4.0 value chain means near zero defects for components and finished products, thereby eliminating repeats and stock. Put simply, digitization gives real-time access to relevant information which can then be used to calibrate production using flexible and adaptative methods.
End customers, and that means first and foremost millennials, are the ultimate beneficiaries of these investments. But for today’s savvy buyer, taking delivery of a product that’s been made to their exact specifications isn’t enough. They expect 360° reassurance. Fast response to a predicted malfunction, maintenance and repairs, round-the-clock customer service… these are just some of the factors now influencing purchasing decisions, and which necessitate complete command of a verticalized value chain that extends from the production line to supplying after-sales service centres with parts. Distribution is also part of the equation. Advanced analytics of big data (sales, geographic zone, tourist exchanges, exchange rates, etc.) enables brands to anticipate demand and ship products accordingly. Tomorrow’s customers will get what they want before they even know they want it.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Atelier Reverso is a first step in this direction. Customers can order their personalized timepiece, using a tablet or a smartphone to select features such as the colour of the strap or dial, or the engraving on the back of the case. Specially developed software guides customers through the process in multiple languages and makes it easy to navigate from point to point. The service currently includes seven Reverso models, 49 dials and colours, and 800 straps for a potential 5,277 permutations. Elsewhere, Vacheron Constantin has chosen the Quai de l’Île collection to perpetuate its longstanding tradition of personalized service. The customer defines the finished aspect of his or her watch. There are several hundred possible combinations, including the case and middle which are assembled from seven individual parts.
More and more high-end brands are offering customization options. Bulgari has developed an application to personalize its Serpenti watch. There are 300 possible combinations of type and colour of metal for the case, plain or diamond-set bezel, dial colour and treatment, and strap. Vaucher Private Label has gone a step further with its offer of a personalizable movement via the oscillating weight, which customers can adapt at will to produce a calibre that is unique to them. These same movements can also be augmented with complications through additional modules.
The opportunities to own a one-of-a-kind timepiece go beyond the possibilities on offer from the industry’s established names. Start-ups entering the market are using digital technologies and additive manufacturing to propose straps, cases, dials, even hands in a huge array of shapes and materials which customers mix and match at leisure, online. Other specialized companies offer customization services for existing models (including the one already on your wrist) by makers as prestigious as Rolex and Patek Philippe. Blackout Concept in Geneva is one of them. Customers should bear in mind that the original warranty will be replaced by Blackout Concept’s own warranty.