Before helming sales at Montblanc, you have been associated with brands steeped in watchmaking heritage such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier. How different are the challenges posed by the role at Montblanc from these earlier ones?
JR: Montblanc’s watchmaking legitimacy is earned through the exceptional heritage of its Minerva manufacture, a pioneer in fine Swiss watchmaking with an archive extending over more than 160 years. For Montblanc, we are still at the beginning of unlocking this rich history and harnessing the inspiration, craftsmanship and design expertise for development of our watchmaking category.
Despite being fully integrated with Minerva and inheriting its history on a corporate level, Montblanc as a watch brand is still seen as a relative newcomer. Is this an image perception that you find the need to alter? If so, how do you intend to do that?
We do see Minerva and Montblanc as one of the same, and the importance of communicating this exceptional watchmaking heritage and expertise in our collections. As mentioned, our watchmaking division draws inspiration from Minerva’s archives, exploring its history from its military roots to mountaineering and exploration. This inherently connects Montblanc to Minerva’s DNA, while paying tribute to over 160 years of fine Swiss watchmaking.
The Montblanc timepieces of today continue the journey of Minerva’s legacy. This can be seen the 1858 collection - reinterpreting the legendary Minerva military and mountaineering watches from the 1920s and 1930s, the Star Legacy collection - reminiscent of Minerva’s 19th Century pocket watches, or the Timewalker collection - inspired by the monopusher chronographs used to keep time during Formula 1 races.
You sell fine mechanical watches such as the TimeWalker and the 1858 Geosphere that hark back to olden times, while at the same time pushing smart gadgets like the Summit Lite at the other end of the spectrum. Do you see this diversification possibly diluting the brand image and positioning?
We are talking about two different categories. Montblanc’s timepiece collection is rooted in fine Swiss watchmaking and over 160 years of heritage. Our Summit Lite is not a timepiece – it is, as you so rightly put it, a connected device that is showcased in Montblanc’s growing tech category. The fact that it can be used to tell time, and includes all the codes of fine Swiss watchmaking in its exterior, means that it will also appeal to our existing watch clients, but the Summit Lite is primarily a device that integrates many other aspects of their daily lives in today’s connected world. It does, of course, also introduce a new client who has not been a traditional watch wearer, to the tactile pleasure of a handcrafted timepiece on your wrist.
Montblanc is a Maison for today’s luxury business lifestyle, and that means products that are of the finest quality, craftsmanship, design and functionality. Our clients appreciate style, quality and relevance - whether that’s in a board room or at leisure, on a plane or up a mountain.
Will Montblanc continue to be a brand that offers a mix of in-house movements and those from ETA and Sellita, or do you see it moving entirely in-house in future?
Movements from Montblanc or Sellita both serve an important purpose in our manufacturing process. We have two manufactures in Switzerland - Villeret and Le Locle - and both seamlessly work together to create our collections.
Montblanc’s Movement and Innovation Excellence Centre in Villeret is located in the same building where Minerva was founded in 1858. We incorporate our own movements into our chronographs here, and it is one of the last locations to be home to most of the traditional horological operations, with all their micromechanical refinements still meticulously performed by hand. Villeret creates the finest timepieces and the most innovative calibres that the highest level of Swiss watchmaking can deliver.
We use ETA or Sellita movements for different product ranges that are required to be made scale. These movements are a useful way to create the volume needed for our entry-level watches, which are assembled at our Le Locle location, the home of Montblanc’s Watch and Quality Excellence Centre. It is here that 500 hours is dedicated to testing each piece – testing for the utmost precision and perfection.
The Middle East is a market you have been familiar with for over a decade now. Are you happy with the response to Montblanc timepieces from the region’s discerning watch enthusiasts?
Montblanc has been present in the Middle East for more than 25 years, and we have a good understanding of watch clients in this market. They are knowledgeable and discerning, able to appreciate the finest craftsmanship, and yet are also very open to both traditional and contemporary designs. What has been interesting for Montblanc is the strong collector culture in the region, with interests and passion for both timepieces and writing instruments. We have a dynamic community of collectors here that is often cross-generational.
In the few countries where Montblanc’s presence is relatively new, the watch category is growing fast, and we are enjoying an increasing market share. This is partly because our customers appreciate our expertise and heritage, but also because they recognise the value of the Montblanc emblem and what it represents - an internationally recognised mark of luxury around the world.
Where do you see Montblanc in the next 10 years in terms of luxury watches market share in the Middle East?
Montblanc has an extensive presence in the Middle East and a strong, loyal and fast-growing customer base. Our positioning in the luxury watch industry is quite distinctive - uncompromising fine watchmaking at an accessible price point, and with our collections spanning classic and contemporary designs we are confident of our growing appeal in this market.