Among the classic styles on show at this year’s Baselworld, one that stood out from the crowd would be the H. Moser & Cie. Venturer Small Seconds, a lesson in restrained elegance driven by a new calibre in the grand Moser tradition. Fans of a brand that thrives on understatement, as shown by the Perpetual Calendar which this year comes in DLC-coated titanium, might justifiably have been surprised to see Eric Cantona touring the booth. The former international footballer turned actor and painter is the new ambassador for Hautlence, the second brand alongside H. Moser & Cie. to have been acquired by MELB Holding, a group led by Georges-Henri Meylan, ex-CEO of Audemars Piguet, who is confident he can turn his new protégés around. Interview.
Georges-Henri Meylan: Whereas H. Moser & Cie. is very much a classic brand, with Hautlence we can let our hair down, so to speak. We thought about who would fit the bill and contacted Eric Cantona through his brother, who is also his manager. Eric told us he didn’t want to be just the face of the brand. He paints, and made it clear that he would be involved in the project. We were delighted with the idea and of course said yes. I’m convinced we made the right choice. For one year we worked hard on Hautlence in terms of repositioning the brand and its products. We have moved from the CHF 60,000 to 70,000 bracket, which was too high, to the CHF 30,000 segment. The least expensive models even come in at under CHF 20,000. Feedback since Baselworld has been extremely positive. The important thing now is communication, which we’ll be kick-starting in September for the brand’s tenth anniversary with our new Cross the Line and Rebel’s Club concept. Love Hautlence or hate it, just as long as people are talking about the brand.
Baselworld was the moment of truth. We wanted to give the brands a second wind, and I think people felt this, both within the brands and in the contact we had with clients. When we arrived on the scene, H. Moser & Cie. was making watches but no margin. There had to be a top-to-bottom rethink. We’re not yet turning a profit but we have high hopes. It is a huge amount of work though. For example, certain products pose a real problem in terms of quality, and everyone knows that time spent on repairs is time lost for production. But let’s not paint too bleak a picture. We have inherited such gems as the Perpetual Calendar, not to mention industrial resources. Which, incidentally, was another area that needed a complete rethink. Precision Engineering, to give one example, is now making escapements which are among the very best in the industry today. We’ll be able to supply them to other independent watchmakers and, why not, open up the company’s capital to third parties. We have no interest in keeping everything for ourselves.
To extend both brands’ collections, bearing in mind that a real product strategy takes time. Judging by the reception given to the Moser watches we’ve presented so far, namely an extra-thin small seconds and our first tourbillon, I think we’re on the right track. We’re also building back-office synergies. We need to develop a movement which the two brands can share as a way to increase margin. We can’t go on producing movements that are clearly too expensive and not diversified enough. Moser didn’t have an automatic calibre, for example. We need to focus upstream and most of all avoid getting back into a situation where the engineers are working away without a thought for how the product will be positioned or marketed. We brought competencies in finance, industrial processes, logistics and sales networks. It was time to put the house in order. Now the system is functioning, the right checks are in place, and the potential for growth is intact.