Raynald Aeschlimann took over as president and CEO of Omega when the long-serving Stephen Urquhart stepped down from the post in 2016. An Omega veteran (he has been with the company since 1996), Aeschlimann hit the ground running as the head of one of the most important brands in the watch industry.
Despite the general slowdown in the trade around the time that he took over, Omega has been relentless in the pursuit of its plan to dominate the $5,000-$10,000 price segment. Early in 2018, Omega and the IOC extended their timekeeping partnership for the Olympic Games by an additional 10 years, up to and including the Olympic Games 2032. So Omega’s term as official timekeeper of the Olympic Games will now total 100 years.
Here are excerpts from our brief chat.
WT: We hear that 2017 has been a good year for Omega. What’s cooking in 2018?
RA: We will continue with what we started last year – bringing new movements, bringing new lines into the Master Chronometer certification fold because this move has paid off very well for Omega. There is a lot of buzz around the Master Chronometer certification.
We will also celebrate two important milestones this year - 70 years of the Seamaster and 25 years of Seamaster 300M, one of the most iconic Seamaster models of all time. The latter is a much-loved timepiece and there is a lot of expectation from the consumer, so we have to be careful about what we unveil.
What lessons did Omega learn from the downturn the watch industry experienced in recent years?
RA: Omega’s fortunes turned around much earlier than the rest of the industry. We had a very good year in 2017. So one of the lessons the industry could have learnt from us is, METAS – this incredible investment in technology that we made is paying off. If I look at the figures today and I compare this to some of our competitors, we are gaining market share in terms of exports because during the downturn we didn’t slow down. On the contrary, we invested more in trying to bring the best to our customers.
The first METAS-certified watch was launched in 2015 during the downturn. We opened a new factory in Bienne last year at a time when people were not sure about holding on to their employees. Thirdly, one of the best lessons we gave to the whole industry was the Speedy Tuesday watch that was sold online last January. The Speedmaster limited edition (only 2,012 pieces) to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the SpeedyTuesday community was sold out within four hours of appearing online.
The Speedy Tuesday limited edition was a milestone movement in the watch industry, wasn’t it?
RA: We created a watch from the community for the community. We went close to the customer because we are not scared of getting close unlike some other watch brands. I now have 10,000 potential customers who missed out on the Speedy Tuesday last year but want in on the next one, I get mails everyday asking if there will be another Speed Tuesday edition. This was not just about creating a watch and putting it up on Instagram. Anybody could have done that. We created this demand for the watch from our work with the Speedy community. We have never been arrogant, we have never concentrated on one country or market like some brands have.
I now have 10,000 potential customers who missed out on the Speedy Tuesday last year but want in on the next one, I get mails everyday asking if there will be another Speed Tuesday edition.
Given the success of Speedy Tuesday limited edition which was sold exclusively online, are you not tempted to go down the ecommerce route as part of your distribution network?
RA: I like the word temptation because it also suggests danger and that’s exactly what I don’t want with ecommerce. If ecommerce helps us increase sales because we are not happy with what we have, then it’s a real temptation. However, it’s dangerous to go down the ecommerce route just because people think it’s a trend. If ecommerce is part of a coherent business model – like with the Speedy Tuesday edition or the US market, where we just launched online sales platform – then it makes sense.
With Speedy Tuesday, I learnt how people who lived so far from our distribution network accessed the watch online. For me an online sales platform has to go hand-in-hand with a clear brick-and-mortar distribution strategy. In the US, we were only available through our distribution network in five states. So in a huge market like that, going online makes total sense.
The Speedmaster is such a talismanic model for Omega, one that has such a following. How do you safeguard this legacy?
RA: Historically, the Speedmaster was one watch, the Moon Watch before we made it into a collection. . Compared to the Seamaster, it is still small family. Historically, the Seamaster is our top-selling line, but last year the biggest growth was for the Speedmaster. That was because we had the Speedy Tuesday, Speedmaster Racing Master Chronometer and the 60th Anniversary Limited Edition which was part of the 1957 Trilogy.
In fact, in some markets the Speedmaster is more important than the Seamaster despite being the smallest of the four men’s lines. It has become a watch that developed such a passionate following that it sometimes represents Omega. If you look at sales, the Seamaster is tops but the two models are very close now. They have some common history as well.
Do you not think launching too many limited editions will dilute the Speedmaster legacy? There is a limited edition every year.
RA: We will never do anything that harms the legacy of the Speedmaster. It has such an important history and it is our duty to ensure that this legacy continues. For instance, we will never come out with a quartz-powered Speedmaster in the interest of sales.
The Speedmaster can see an evolution – like a Master Chronometer or a Speedy Tuesday limited edition or a 38 mm model with a cappuccino dial and diamond bezel aimed at women. It still has the DNA of the Speedmaster. It doesn’t all have to be black dial and three counters but any evolution of the brand should respect the Speedmaster’s brand DNA. With any evolution in the Speedmaster story – “failure is not an option”. Just like it says on the dial of the Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award Limited Edition.
This is an abridged version of the full interview that was published in our Spring 2018 print edition out now on newsstands.