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In luxury watch marketing, one strategy never goes away. Topping off a collection with an exceptional piece to demonstrate prowess is a typical tactic in an industry where generating noise is often the difference between success and failure.
Yet for today’s watchmakers, the motivation for adopting a so-called “halo strategy” is not always prosaic.
For TAG Heuer, it masks far larger ambitions. The brand’s Haute Horlogerie collection is spearheaded by pieces such as this year’s Monaco V4, a belt-driven tourbillon that will retail for SFr150,000 ($172,000). Revenue generated by the collection supports the brand’s volume business and, more specifically, its in-house movement programme.
“Haute Horlogerie is a laboratory for making exceptional pieces,” says Stéphane Linder, TAG Heuer’s chief executive. “It creates a very good image of innovation and avant garde-ism, and it means we can be better when we do commercial products.”
Those commercial products mainly retail for between $1,500 and $7,500. According to research company GfK Retail and Technology, TAG Heuer has a UK market share of 29.5 per cent in that segment.
But Mr Linder says the figures drop off rapidly once prices pass that point. TAG Heuer’s solution is Calibre 1969, its second in-house chronograph calibre. Developed at a cost of about SFr20m ($23m), it is intended to stimulate growth at a higher price point.
If it works, Mr Linder believes that by 2016 TAG Heuer will be Switzerland’s leading chronograph brand, producing 100,000 units in-house.
“Calibre 1969 is an important movement because it will enable us to sell products for SFr5,000-SFr7,000, which is our next challenge,” he says. “At that price, it’s important to be able to communicate that we produce in-house. My feeling is that when you go above SFr5,000, you need a movement that’s a bit more special than the others.”
Like TAG Heuer, Cartier has invested heavily in high-end watches. Its Fine Watchmaking collection, introduced in 2008, has radically altered perceptions of the brand.
“People used to think Cartier was a creative watchmaker, but not necessarily a credible one,” says Thierry Lamoroux, the brand’s international marketing director for watches.
“Not any more. The collection has helped raise desirability among people interested in watches, particularly collectors.”
It has given Cartier leverage to develop its own base calibres, the 1904-PS MC automatic launched in 2010 and the 1904-CH MC chronograph, which was launched last year.
For both brands and many others, in-house movement capacity has become the holy grail.
Following the Swiss Competition Commission’s decision last October to allow Swatch Group to withdraw supply of its movements and parts to third parties, sustainable autonomy is now more desirable than ever.
A halo strategy can provide brands with a leg-up as they look to achieve that goal.
For some smaller brands, conversation pieces are not always simply about drawing attention to themselves.
At Baselworld this week, independent watch company Oris will launch Calibre 110, a novel movement with a 10-day power reserve and a non-linear power reserve indicator. As well as having a unique combination of complications, Calibre 110 is Oris’s first in-house movement since 1979.
“Calibre 110 shows our capacity, knowhow and ambition to create our own movement,” says Ulrich Herzog, Oris’s chief executive.
Between 1904 and 1979, Oris made 229 in-house movements. The new calibre marks a return to former glories, and signals – the brand hopes – a bright future.
“We will focus our marketing activities across the globe on this new movement and we strongly believe it will give our brand a significant increase in awareness,” says Mr Herzog.
In Baume & Mercier’s case, the challenge is to establish and perpetuate a position as an affordable watchmaking brand, appealing to a price-conscious consumer while trying to build a reputation as a legitimate Swiss watchmaker.
At this year’s edition of Salon International de l’Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, it unveiled the Clifton 1892 Flying Tourbillon, a high-end watch that will retail for £39,600 – more than four times the next most expensive watch in the brand’s collection, and at least 20 times more than its core pieces. This it believes will play a pivotal role in creating the right profile for the brand.
“If you want to be impactful and sustain the message that you are a Swiss watchmaker, you have to demonstrate your expertise,” says Alain Zimmermann, the brand’s chief executive.
“If an emblematic piece is consistent with the brand, it will be successful, because it will show who you are. If a customer sees and is inspired by a piece, they might not be able to buy it, but they go for a more affordable piece and get the same philosophy.”
Pace setters: The premium models
Baume et Mercier Clifton 1892 Flying Tourbillon
Baume & Mercier has added a flying tourbillon to its Clifton collection, a watch limited to 30 pieces that is the most complicated and expensive model in the brand’s line-up. £39,600
Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire
Cartier’s perpetual calendar displays the day, date and month on a novel three-dimensional dial. At the heart of those concentric circles is a flying tourbillon. Only 100 will be made. £153,000
Oris 110 Years Limited Edition Calibre 110
Oris’s first in-house movement in 35 years, has a unique pairing of complications, namely a 10-day power reserve and a nonlinear power reserve indicator. The watch is also remarkably priced given its specifications. £9,950