Mont­blanc CEO NI­CO­LAS BARET­ZKI tells STEPHANIE IP why the worlds of me­chan­i­cal watches and tech­nol­ogy need no rec­on­cil­i­a­tion – and how the two seg­ments can work hand in hand

#Legend - - TIME KEEPER -

THE LAUNCH OF the Ap­ple Watch in 2015 caused a lit­tle com­mo­tion in the Swiss watch in­dus­try, but the past few years have as­sured brands that there was noth­ing to worry about. The sales of lux­ury me­chan­i­cal time­pieces are stronger than ever, but this hasn’t stopped tra­di­tional watch­mak­ers from ex­plor­ing the smart­watch cat­e­gory, ei­ther. The fu­ture was still rel­a­tively un­cer­tain when Mont­blanc dipped its toes into the dig­i­tal wa­ters with the e-Strap in 2015, but fast-for­ward to SIHH in 2017 and the brand dived head-first into con­nec­tiv­ity by bring­ing us the Sum­mit.

Why is smart tech­nol­ogy so im­por­tant to this Richemont-owned watch and pen com­pany? CEO Ni­co­las Baret­zki breaks it down.

There have been two schools of thought on smart­watches. Some brands, like Mont­blanc, have em­braced them, while some in­sist they’re a very dif­fer­ent prod­uct. Why is tak­ing part in the con­nected-de­vice in­dus­try im­por­tant to you?

I don’t think that there is a right an­swer. It’s not ei­ther A or B, but it’s more a ques­tion of brand con­sis­tency and strat­egy. In this world of con­nected de­vices, I think it’s a very fast evo­lu­tion and is be­com­ing huge for a good rea­son. It’s go­ing to be very much linked to peo­ple hav­ing se­cu­rity, be­sides it be­ing a cool ob­ject. I think all th­ese de­vices will be­come es­sen­tial – to­mor­row we will go from a cu­ra­tive to a pre­ven­ta­tive health ap­proach, and if that seg­ment be­comes as big as I be­lieve it will be, I can­not imag­ine that there won’t be a lux­ury mar­ket within that seg­ment.

That’s why I be­lieve that Mont­blanc, be­ing a very in­no­va­tive brand and in terms of price po­si­tion­ing – quite ag­gres­sive price po­si­tion­ing in lux­ury – be­longs com­pletely in that seg­ment, pro­vided that it’s done in a way con­sis­tent with the rest of the mai­son. If there’s a seg­ment to con­quer or to cre­ate, Mont­blanc should be there; that’s very much in the spirit of the com­pany. I think when we did the smart­watch, it was very much us­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of fine watch­mak­ing, such as the sap­phire glass cas­ing, and all the var­i­ous el­e­ments – but with a dig­i­tal heart.

When I talk to cus­tomers around the world, that smart­watch is a huge suc­cess. But I’ve never heard them ask­ing me, “How do you do me­chan­i­cal watches and how le­git­i­mate is it?” At the end of the day, we are also very recog­nised in the fine watch­mak­ing seg­ment be­cause our man­u­fac­ture is in Switzer­land. So, it’s just a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. We aren’t new to the tech­nol­ogy world; we have things other than watches. For me, it’s al­most a cat­e­gory within the Mont­blanc uni­verse. We have a dig­i­tal of­fer­ing in watches, we have had a dig­i­tal of­fer­ing in leather at some point – and that makes it com­pletely con­sis­tent across cat­e­gories. The speci­ficity of the cat­e­gory does not com­pro­mise the po­si­tion­ing or the qual­ity of the prod­uct.

Mont­blanc ini­tially came out with the e-Strap, which wasn’t put on the dial, and now we have the Sum­mit watch. How did it all evolve?

I think it comes back again to that con­cept of be­ing in­no­va­tive. We were the very first watch mai­son to en­ter the world of tech­nol­ogy with the e-Strap. Hav­ing said that, at that time, the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t great, so the qual­ity of the screen suf­fered and the app linked to the e-Strap wasn’t that in­ter­est­ing. It was just the first at­tempt. A bit of a test-and-learn, as you will also see at Ap­ple and other ma­jor com­pa­nies. And then we said, “Okay, now we want to make it se­ri­ously.” Be­cause the tech­nol­ogy was evolv­ing, we went into smart­watches. But that’s just the be­gin­ning. The tech­nol­ogy is de­vel­op­ing very fast – and I think be­ing one of the first to en­ter will be

a big ad­van­tage in the fu­ture, be­cause we will learn and im­prove. I def­i­nitely see Mont­blanc has po­ten­tial in that seg­ment as be­ing one of the lead­ers in smart lux­ury prod­ucts.

Who do you work with to­day on the tech­nol­ogy front?

We are work­ing with one of the best there is: An­droid Wear [now called Wear OS]. Ba­si­cally, it’s Google. When we do some­thing, we want the best tech­nol­ogy. If you’re a lux­ury mai­son, you need to of­fer the best.

How closely do you look at what other lux­ury brands are do­ing?

It’s not a ques­tion of com­pe­ti­tion – it’s a ques­tion of po­si­tion­ing. If there are more brands en­ter­ing a seg­ment, it just gives it cred­i­bil­ity. Then you’re sure there’s a gen­uine lux­ury seg­ment, a smart lux­ury seg­ment, et cetera… so I’m happy that there are more brands now. Re­cently, I’ve seen that some have al­ready an­nounced a po­si­tion. But then there are the ques­tions: Are you do­ing it for the im­age? To cre­ate some buzz? Or are you do­ing it with a long-term strat­egy and re­ally think­ing, “What is my an­swer, as Mont­blanc, for the smart world?” That’s the ap­proach we have – func­tion­al­ity of good prod­ucts and of lux­ury prod­ucts. That will be for the long term. I have seen other brands come with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach where prices are very high, and I’m sure there are cus­tomers for that, but that’s not the kind of cus­tomers we are tar­get­ing here.

Mont­blanc has a rich watch­mak­ing her­itage, es­pe­cially with Min­erva cel­e­brat­ing its 160th an­niver­sary this year. How do you rec­on­cile this DNA with the tech­nol­ogy com­po­nent?

In fact, I don’t think we have to rec­on­cile, be­cause I don’t op­pose dig­i­tal and the tech­nol­ogy world. Mont­blanc is a global lux­ury mai­son and ev­ery time we en­ter a seg­ment, we do it 100 per cent. To­day, writ­ing is our core ac­tiv­ity – it’s a his­tor­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and we have the full de­vel­op­ment. We have a de­sign team for our writ­ing in­stru­ments and our man­u­fac­ture in Ham­burg. When we en­tered into watches, we had the same ap­proach. We had our first man­u­fac­ture in Le Lo­cle, and we have spe­cific ded­i­cated de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing teams for the watches. And now we have Villeret, which is one of the most amaz­ing man­u­fac­tures in Switzer­land – a very spe­cialised man­u­fac­ture. When we did leather, it was the same ap­proach.

So when we en­ter the dig­i­tal world, we are do­ing it the same way. We have a cat­e­gory. We have real ex­perts who are able to talk to the guys at Google and Ap­ple and un­der­stand each other, and that can def­i­nitely pro­vide the best of­fer­ing for the client. It is a new seg­ment within the mai­son, but that seg­ment of watches, for us – thanks to Villeret, which gave us the ex­per­tise since 1858, mark­ing

160 years of ex­per­tise – proves that we are very le­git­i­mate and cred­i­ble, and have a real watch­mak­ing of­fer.

That’s why I think our cus­tomers re­ally un­der­stand th­ese two dif­fer­ent worlds. I have a lot of Mont­blanc clients who thought the Sum­mit was re­ally cool and bought it even though they’re big me­chan­i­cal watch lovers, and we also have a lot of new clients who weren’t Mont­blanc clients who said, “Oh, it’s a re­ally cool item” and dis­cov­ered the brand through the Sum­mit watch. Th­ese two worlds are com­pletely liv­ing next to each other and I’ve never heard com­ments like, “Oh, now I’m con­fused.” And you see it in the bou­tique; you have the leather en­vi­ron­ment, you have the watch en­vi­ron­ment, it’s all very clear. Even though it’s one con­cept and one bou­tique, peo­ple un­der­stand that ev­ery­thing works in a ver­ti­cal way.

So, it’s down to the le­git­i­macy of the prod­uct. The man­u­fac­tures give Mont­blanc the his­tory and with tech­nol­ogy, you’re choos­ing to work with the best.

The good thing about tech is there’s no his­tory. So, in watch­mak­ing his­tory, we have a huge op­por­tu­nity. Through our man­u­fac­ture, we get all the ex­per­tise of 160 years and we are us­ing this her­itage to com­plete our col­lec­tions. It’s in the Star Legacy, in the spirit of clas­si­cal fine watch­mak­ing, also on the 1858, in the spirit of moun­tain-ex­plor­ing. It can be very sys­tem­atic. And then when it comes to the dig­i­tal prod­uct, it’s more about the fu­ture, the in­no­va­tion and the new ap­proach – and what can we get from the pro­fes­sion­als on that sub­ject to make it a Mont­blanc prod­uct. Then it be­comes a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

What I’m most con­vinced about is that in the next five, six, seven years, they will have ar­rived. I’m quite con­vinced that most of the peo­ple will have a de­vice on their wrist be­cause they will have to mon­i­tor their heart­beat to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion. At some point, the doc­tor will call you and say, “You know, I think you have some is­sues with your heart­beat – maybe you should come and see me, or you should go di­rectly to the hos­pi­tal.” It will be­come like the phone to­day – some­thing that you won’t leave the house with­out. This is why I think it’s so im­por­tant to have a voice in that seg­ment.

Clock­wise from top left: Three views of the Mont­blanc Sum­mit, a smart­watch “for those al­ways on the as­cent”; Mont­blanc CEO Ni­co­las Baret­zki

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