Walter von Känel, President of Longines, talks to MW about the brand’s future plans, its brand ambassadors and the emergence of smartwatches
You are among the most experienced watch industry professionals in the world. The obvious question is how have you seen the watch industry change? Particularly with Longines with whom you’ve spent nearly five decades. Also, could you have predicted some of the major changes that have come about – the quartz watch dominance in the 1970s and ‘80s, and the comeback of the Swiss watch industry in the 1990s?
I wouldn’t speak too much about changes; I have to say that there are three principles that have guided us on the way to success: continuity, consistency and focus. This means you have to follow your strategy, stay in your price segment and be true to the brand DNA. As a result, Longines is the leader in its price segment, that is to say from 1000 to 3000 Swiss francs.
Longines Heritage 1918
Smartwatches are the big new thing in the watch industry, and recently for the first time the total number of smartwatches shipped exceeded the number of watches made in Switzerland. How do you see this phenomenon?
I don’t see smartwatches as a threat for Longines. I fully understand and accept that brands like Apple or Samsung come into our space to get additional business. These companies have a great advantage over us: they are flexible and are able to come up with new technologies several times a year. From my point of view, the time function on a traditional watch is losing importance and the status symbol function is getting more and more important. A watch is an emotionally branded consumer good and that is my territory.
2015 was a year when you launched a large number of women’s watches. What does 2016 hold for men, and what is your product strategy for male watches?
Longines is very proud to have about 50 per cent of ladies models and 50 per cent of gents models, so we have always been focussing on ladies watches as much as on timepieces for men. This year, on the men’s side, we will keep putting forward our bestseller, namely the Longines Master Collection, which offers a wide range of pieces for both men and women. In addition, we will launch new pieces in the Heritage collection.
Many of the watches in the Longines 2016 collection are a throwback to the past. You have at least three models – the Longines Heritage 1918, the Longines Equestrian Pocket Watch Jockey 1878 and the Longines RailRoad – all of which not only take their inspiration from the past, but have also been made to look like heritage watches. Do you see this as an increasing trend among watch makers who have a long heritage to talk about?
We started our Heritage collection in 1987; it has been almost 30 years. At the time, we were among the first watch brands to go in this direction. Today, the Heritage segment is one of the five pillars of our collection, the others being Elegance, Watchmaking Tradition, Sport and the Equestrian Universe. These reflect Longines’ values. We are lucky to have such a long history of watchmaking to rely on. For the Heritage models, we draw our inspiration from historical pieces, some of them being on display at the Longines Museum in Saint-Imier, to reissue models using modern technologies.
Longines Equestrian Pocket Watch Jockey 1878
How is the sale distribution between male and ladies watches in Longines?
Longines has a well-balanced female and male customer base. As I said, we have about 50 per cent of ladies models and 50 per cent of gents models, and I am very proud of that.
How is Simon Baker working out for Longines, and is there any plan to add any other male ambassador?
All our Ambassadors of Elegance are chosen carefully. They have to embody our identity, our image around the world, so they have to live up to our motto “Elegance is an attitude”. The true and precious elegance comes from within, and their actions have to reflect this elegance of the heart. It is important to us to build a strong and lasting collaboration with our family of Ambassadors of Elegance. Simon Baker, as well as the other Longines Ambassadors, helps us to communicate our message to different target groups. At the moment, adding another male Ambassador is not part of our plan, but if it were the case, we would communicate it worldwide.