Ask Marc A. Hayek about business at the three brands of which he is President and CEO, and he is a happy man. Blancpain, Breguet and Jaquet Droz will definitely post growth this year. How much growth? Gains recorded by the trio over the first quarter 2014 range from a few percent to more than ten percent, although a fluctuating context, beginning with the negative currency effect due to the strong Swiss franc, rules out any greater precision. Nor is this something Marc A. Hayek wishes to dwell on when discussing his brands, which inhabit the upper echelon of Swatch Group’s Prestige and Luxury Range, to borrow the multinational’s terminology. Best stick to the watches then…
Marc A. Hayek: Globally speaking, the three brands are functioning well and each has clearly established where it is positioned in the horological spectrum. I see this as a strength to build on; a direction to follow thanks to which we can communicate more between teams. Let me explain. Not that long ago, staff preferred to keep their particular brand’s developments within their four walls, lest they divulge some secret. This can seem hard to believe, coming from companies that are part of one and the same group, yet the sense of identification with the brand is that powerful, hence why the positioning I mentioned earlier is so very important. The more the brands are able to cultivate their differences, the less of a problem sharing expertise becomes. There has definitely been a eureka moment this year.
Let me give you an example. Breguet came to Baselworld with its Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377, while Blancpain unveiled its Villeret 12 Day One-Minute Flying Tourbillon. Two brands with two tourbillon movements, respectively 3mm and 6mm high, and very much the same questions regarding the oscillating weight, as we wanted both these to be extra-thin automatic calibres. You don’t need me to remind you of Breguet’s expertise, particularly regarding the tourbillon. Anyway, Breguet completed its prototype before Blancpain, meaning we could then pool our ideas and go one step further to produce a self-winding “unit”. Each brand then went off in its own direction, with Blancpain developing a skeletonised oscillating weight compared with Breguet’s circular design.
Breguet has made considerable advances in high frequencies, particularly for the Type XXII 3880 and the Classique Chronométrie 7727, both of which have 10 Hz movements. High frequencies are all we ever hear about these days, so it was only natural that Blancpain should benefit from its stablemate’s research, but without lifting ideas wholesale. Hence this year Blancpain has unveiled the Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph in its Fifty Fathoms range, driven by a 5 Hz movement. There was never any question of using the same mould for two different brands, but to build from the same foundations to develop a creative and constructive approach. What more could you want!
Jaquet Droz finds its niche
It’s a different equation for Jaquet Droz, as it sources its movements from Frédéric Piguet. With annual production of between four and five thousand watches, there would be no justification for it to manufacture its own calibres. Its interests lie elsewhere, although this doesn’t prevent the brand from producing technically complex products such as last year’s Charming Bird or this year’s Signing Machine. This exactly corresponds to the heritage of Jaquet Droz, which made its name thanks to its android automata. Our role is to carry on this tradition alongside the métiers d’art of sculpting, engraving, paillonnage and enamel miniature painting. This is Jaquet Droz’s market niche.
Blancpain, chiefly classic
From a historical perspective, Blancpain was a sports watch brand between 1950 and 1980, then a very classic brand until 2000. I wanted to return to these early incursions into the world of sport, hence the new lease on life given to the Fifty Fathoms, which has clearly found its place as the dive watch. We also had the Léman collection in a classic sport-chic vein for a clientele which, ultimately, isn’t that different from one that might choose, say, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Personally, I wasn’t completely convinced by the Léman. We had an audience, we had a legitimate sports watch pedigree, so why not aim for something more offbeat? With hindsight, possibly we were a little too far out in the designs, but they have benefited the brand nonetheless, in China for example, underpinned by the partnership between Blancpain and Lamborghini. Even so, Villeret is clearly Blancpain’s most important collection so while we will be keeping this mix, the emphasis definitely won’t be on the more “extreme” designs.
Breguet, technology first
We do want Breguet to be seen as a traditional watchmaker, but more so as a brand at the forefront of technology. This explains the significant efforts made in research and development, in particular into high frequencies, magnetism, new materials such as silicon, and extra-thin calibres, as well as the number of patents filed in the brand’s name. Not that Breguet has any intention of being a niche brand. We need to think in terms of volume production, in the region of 30,000 watches a year. Technological breakthroughs have come thick and fast these past few years, so it’s good that we can catch our breath this year, when Breguet is presenting fewer novelties. There are still certain aspects of production that need to be put into place.