“The smartwatch subject is an excuse,” claims Marc A. Hayek, head of the Swatch Group’s luxury brands Breguet, Blancpain and Jaquet Droz. In this brief interview with WatchTime’s Rüdiger Bucher, Hayek speaks on the watch industry’s future and his brands’ quests for luxury, desirability, and tradition.
RB: Do you envision a change in buying behavior arising because of younger clients with different values, or would it be more due to competition from smartwatches?
MH: Buying behavior basically has not changed. I notice this, amongst other things, in our boutiques. The subject of the smartwatch is, rather, an excuse — since it is easier for someone to hold the smartwatch responsible for current problems than to admit to making mistakes. In the nineties, when mobile phones began to spread, many “doom merchants” also prophesied that no one would need watches anymore because it was possible to read the time on a mobile [phone] and it could also be done more precisely that way. Today, this has intensified even more because we are surrounded by the time on screens and displays. Interestingly, though, the boom years for the mobile phone were by far the strongest years of growth for mechanical watches. Furthermore, we are talking about a luxury brand which manufactures a few tens of thousands of units per year. This is a completely different market from the smartwatch, which has its niche in the consumer electronics sector. To that extent, we do not expect that a change in consumer behavior, with smartwatches for instance, will have consequences on high-quality watches.
RB: A luxury watch lives on its nature as a coveted object. This mostly comes from a brand’s traditions and the craftsmanship with which its movements and watches are made. Will these values still be important in the future?
MH: Yes. These are important values which will continue to play a role. However, we also should not forget to develop technology further. We have to constantly improve the functionality of our watches. The client already has tradition when buying an individual watch, and that could even be a vintage model as well. For clients to buy more of them, the watches have to offer something extra. As a manufacturer, our task is to extend traditional craftsmanship around future-oriented technology and functions, as we are doing with Breguet for example, with the ongoing equation-of-time on the Marine Équation Marchante 5887. On the other hand, we do not have to embrace every new technology.
RB: At the moment there is the impression that many brands are heavily relying on their own history: There are many models that are inspired by the past.
MH: I think that in the current situation, in which there is a degree of uncertainty for many people, it is particularly important for watch buyers that a brand has a rich tradition. A brand distinguished by a long history provides a certain security. [If a brand] makes watches for over 200 years, like Breguet, [it] is also trusted to exist for decades to come. For younger brands it is more difficult, even if they offer luxury watches exclusively. Perhaps that is the reason why many brands are particularly reliant on the “retro” trend at the moment. On the other hand, to some extent, I think that is exactly what it is: a trend, especially [at this level of] intensity — a trend that feeds off a certain aesthetic, similar to how we had oversized watches a few years ago. Retro is cool today, but how long that will last is something we do not know.