Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury?

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August 2010

What does luxury really mean, after all? A few years ago, luxury seemed to be synonymous with really expensive watches, but being expensive isn’t enough anymore. After the crisis, people have re-evaluated what their definition of luxury is and, today, luxury is about high quality, attention to detail and uniqueness. In fact, exclusivity could be the final frontier of luxury.

What is it about exclusivity?
Exclusivity used to be the domain of the ultra rich, but the desire for something unique has trickled down to the ‘regular’ high-end watch customer. “Exclusivity is really important as people need more and more to be and feel different,” says Marc Michel-Amadry, President, Ebel. “Exclusivity doesn’t necessary mean that it is highly expensive. It means that you can get something unique and totally customized.”
In a world where the same stores are on the main streets of every major city in the world, the desire for something out of the ordinary is a natural reaction. Think Ed Hardy T-shirts, once unique and ahead of the trend, now ubiquitous and depassé.
“Over the past years, trends have gone even more global,” explains Manuel Emch, President, Romain Jerome. “To reflect their personality, people tend to differentiate themselves from others by wearing custom made clothes, exclusive jewels and limited editions of different kinds.”
“In today’s world, exclusivity is important and gaining ground,” says Thierry Oulevay, President, Jean Dunand. “Exclusivity seems to be a natural response in a business world that tends to become more standardized, more homogeneous and smaller every day. Exclusivity is lived as some sort of a refuge; the perception is to stop time, to think and be different, to indulge oneself with what others have no access to, and to make a statement.
“Progress is fascinating but technology is moving in waves that make new products available to everyone everywhere simultaneously,” he continues. “There are no more borders, no more barriers - this growing inclusive world is generating the need for exclusivity. For some it is time to escape, time to leave the madding crowds for a more exclus-ive world with a strong sense of belonging to other values. In a world of emotions where perceived value is king, exclusivity is exciting.”
It used to be that conformity, fitting in, was the ideal, but not anymore. “Exclusivity appeals to people,” says Philippe Merk, President of Audemars Piguet. “Our society is all about image, differentiation and that is what some consumers seek: exclusive products, brands, cars, hotels. First, limited editions are a strong way to show the values of the brand, its ambassadors, its technical innovations. Secondly, they are highly exclusive pieces, aesthetically or technically interesting. Exclusivity maintains the value of the brand."
More and more, customers are moving away from mass market companies and towards brands that offer something different. “Vacheron Constantin is a niche player in the luxury industry, and we are therefore very exclusive as our products are hand-finished and handcrafted,” says Christian Selmoni - Marketing Products Director of Vacheron Constantin. “This craftsmanship is in all our products and this represents an important statement for our authentic watchmaking art. Our clients are certainly looking for this kind of exclusivity.
“I think we love to cultivate our differences,” he continues. “Our world is more and more globalized and an incredible amount of information is available with one click on a web browser. Maybe exclusivity excites us because, by doing so, we can differentiate from others.”

Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury? 1911 TEKTON by Ebel, TITANIC-DNA DAY&NIGHT SPIRAL by Romain Jerome, SHABAKA by Jean Dunand

Protecting exclusivity
It’s important that brands protect the idea of limited editions by keeping them truly limited. In many cases, brands use limited editions for timepieces that utilize rare skills, unique materials or sought after combinations of complications – watches that can’t feasibly fit into a brand’s normal collection.
Some companies like Van Cleef & Arpels, DeLaneau, Piaget and others are committed to keeping certain arts alive, like miniature painting, enamel, lacquer, engraving and more. Because of the difficulty of this work, by nature they are limited editions, and thus, highly coveted.
“When we launched the Collection Excellence Platine in 2006, we intended to use platinum - the purest, rarest and noblest metal - as part of the product’s design and content (platinum case, dial, buckle, then hands etc.),” says Vacheron Constantin’s Selmoni. “This collection, always limited, has been created to showcase important novelties - such as in 2010 our new High Complication cal. 2253 produced in only 10 numbered pieces (which features complications such as a tourbillon, the perpetual calendar, the times of sunrise and sunset and the equation of time) - and to emphasize it with the symbolism of platinum: rare, pure, eternal.”
Some brands have, in the past, created limited editions that weren’t really unique — limited editions of 5,000 pieces aren’t really limited. For limited editions to survive and thrive, this can’t happen.
“You don’t introduce a limited edition just for the sake of it,” says Ebel’s Michel-Amadry. “You introduce a limited edition if you have something relevant to say, and when you want your story to be owned only by a small group of people. Most importantly, the limited edition should be associated with a story which nourishes your brand DNA and is consistent with it.”

Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury? MILLENARY QUINCY JONES by Audemars Piguet , QUAI DE L’ILE by Vacheron Constantin, LE CHEVAL by DeLaneau

The present and future for limited editions
Recently, there have been a few timepieces with really interesting ‘hooks’, like the Black Belt Watch which only black belts in the martial arts can buy, and the Icelandic volcano ash watch from Romain Jerome. These unique qualities help these watches stand out and also enhance their cachet, making them even more desirable.
“Limited editions are very important for us,” says Carlos Rosillo, CEO, Bell & Ross. “Every year we produce several pieces that are limited editions. That means there are only 500 pieces (one per retailer since we have about 500 retailers worldwide). We have produced different types of limited editions - some are exceptional, for instance the tourbillon. These kind of high-end timepieces allow us to go beyond the normal limits in the technical and craftsmanship fields. Others are unique pieces inspired by a specific idea like the BR 01 Airborne or the BR 01 Radar which are inspired by the symbols of the military or dashboard instruments.”
Brands have to safeguard the idea of their limited editions. “I believe it is very important for the customer to have limited editions, as it enables him to be sure that the product is rare,” says Christophe Claret. “But it is difficult to determine the quantity, in order to satisfy the demand. We have to determine the quantity according to the complications and the complexity of the product and also according to the market and the economic situation.
“In my opinion, there are three types of collectors/watch lovers, which have requirements in line with their budget,” he continues. “Firstly, collectors and watch lovers of high complication watches, with a price ranging from 260,000 to 1,000,000 Swiss francs. They are obviously those who want the most unique pieces or editions extremely limited in quantity. They often require their own specificities. These are the most demanding. Secondly, collectors and watch lovers of complicated watches with a price ranging from 50,000 to 260,000 Swiss francs. They are more numerous, and maybe less attached to the fact that watches are unique. However, they want to choose a number in a limited edition. Thirdly, collectors and watch lovers of watches priced less than 50,000 Swiss francs. They buy limited editions and regular line watches.”

Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury? FINGERPRINT by Piaget, BR 03-92 PHANTOM INFINITI by Bell & Ross, NIGHT EAGLE by Christophe Claret

Bespoke timepieces
More and more luxury watch companies are making it possible for customers to make alterations and modifications to existing collection watches to make them unique. Sure, it takes longer and costs more, but for many customers it’s worth the wait and extra money.
“The bespoke business is growing, but it will remain a limited business because of the very complex nature of both the product and the manufacturing processes involved,” explains Jean Dunand’s Oulevay. “By essence, the high-end watchmaking industry is not a linear business. The bespoke approach is expensive, time consuming and a huge challenge in terms of human and manufacturing skills. It seems reserved first to niche brands that focus mainly on this business model and make it a significant part of their USP.”
Companies like Audemars Piguet are happy to satisfy their clients’ wishes. “We do bespoke/ unique pieces based on the personalization of complicated timepieces such as Equation of Time, Grande Complication or diamond-set wristwatches,” details Audemars Piguet’s Merk. “From there, we can add the customers’ initials on the rotor or change the dial or create a special engraving on the caseback. We had a client who wanted an automatic movement in a full baguette-diamonds-set wristwatch, which we only offered with a quartz movement. We had to design a new case, and we did it.”
Vacheron Constantin has established an entire department devoted to highly limited and bespoke products. “Our Cabinotiers workshop in Geneva is able to create any desired be-spoke timepiece from scratch,” says Vacheron Constantin’s Selmoni. “Even a movement can be developed and made especially for a client. This department was created by our CEO Juan-Carlos Torres in 2006 – right after the celebration of our 250th anniversary and to mark our entrance into a new quarter of millennium of history - and it has proven to become a significant and successful part of our activity.
“This bespoke market is growing, and the products are very different one from the other,” he continues. “One reason for this success is most probably the relationship that is created between the clients and Vacheron Constantin, their wishes and the ultimate kind of service that we provide through this Cabinotiers workshop.”

Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury? HL06 by Hautlence, TESLA SQUELETTE Quadri-rotor by Artya, EP120 by Bremont

Selling exclusivity
Exclusivity, if presented correctly by the retailer to the end consumer, can ensure a brand’s future. “Exclusivity for independent brands like Hautlence is the key word, for long term brand building,” says Guillaume Tetu, CEO of Hautlence. “If you are exclusive, you control your deliveries, the quantities on the market, and the desire for your product, trying to be just behind the level of needed (or expected) quantities. In the end you control also the price policy, because there is no competition on the market.
”Selling a Hautlence watch is about sharing our passion for the craftsmanship, the art of making a watch, the contemporary display of time, all the values which make Hautlence a really unique product,” Tetu continues. “Retailers need to know the collectors who are able to appreciate and desire these values."
Retailers have to get behind the limited editions, understanding them, in order to sell them. “Retailers must be perfectly informed and especially trained about what makes the scarcity of a product,” notes Christophe Claret. “They must know what are the specific innovations, features and customizations of the watches in the limited edition.”
“Retailers, which are our first ambassadors, should know as much as they can about the different selling propositions of each model in order to transmit all relevant information to satisfy the needs of the customer,” adds Romain Jerome’s Emch. “The quest for the ultimate collectible is just part of our nature. Everybody collects something. Therefore, having the possibility to obtain something unique and different is highly desirable.”
One of the best things about limited editions is that they are normally sold at full retail, without any need to even talk about discounts. “There is no discount to be given because if a customer is interested, there are few other places on earth where he can find this watch,” says Yvan Arpa from Artya and Black Belt Watch. “Making the sale at full margin is now very difficult for normal watches, so limited editions help retailers hold their prices.”
Exclusive products are not the kind of pieces that can be sold on the Internet. They almost require a relationship between retailer and customers, and can help build one between the end customer and the brand.

Is exclusivity the final frontier of luxury? SCUDERIA FERRARI ONE by Cabestan, 9130A by Armand Nicolet, GRAND ROBUSTO HAUTES VITESSES by Antoine Preziuso

In today’s world, luxury and exclusivity are walking hand in hand. Uniqueness will be valued even higher as the ranks of watch lovers grow. After all, customers don’t want to wear the same watches that everyone else is wearing. True luxury is having something that no one else has, but everyone else values.

Source: Europa Star August - September 2010 Magazine Issue