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SIHH 2014 - MONTBLANC “To share passion for watchmaking” - An interview with Jérôme Lambert

January 2014


Appointed CEO of Montblanc at the start of the summer in 2013, Jérôme Lambert left the management of Jaeger-LeCoultre and A. Lange & Söhne to move to Hamburg, the historic seat of the brand and the production centre for its main activity, writing instruments. Montblanc’s watchmaking division remains firmly implanted in Switzerland, which obliges its new boss to split his time between the big Hanseatic port and the valleys of the Swiss Jura. Europa Star managed to catch up with this busy yet serene man during one of his trips.

Jérôme Lambert, CEO of Montblanc
Jérôme Lambert, CEO of Montblanc

Europa Star: You recently said that “Montblanc’s catalogue of watches must be as innovative as that of its writing instruments.” Isn’t this already the case?
Jérôme Lambert: Montblanc is based around three activities: writing instruments, which account for 50 per cent of sales, leather goods, at 25 per cent and watchmaking, also at 25 per cent. But watchmaking is growing strongly, showing an increase of 80 per cent over the past five years. With 200 people now involved in watchmaking at the brand (editor’s note: 800 for the writing instruments in Hamburg) at our two sites, Villeret and Le Locle, we have everything we need, in terms of both human and technical capacity, to bring creativity and inventiveness to our watchmaking, which was still perhaps a little too academic. To do this, we need to exploit the links between Villeret and Le Locle to the full, building as many bridges as possible. Villeret is an incredible pole of excellence working with exceptional watchmaking. Just imagine: in Villeret 50 people are working to completely manufacture 50 grand complications per year: bridges, plates, escapements, everything is fully integrated as part of a pre-industrial watch production whose quality of manual finish is unparalleled. As just one example, a tourbillon bridge requires one week of hand finishing! Villeret also has five constructors who plan and design our own movements. It is this genuine passion for watchmaking, this excellence, that I want to share and inject into all our activities. My action is resumed by the slogan: “To share passion for watchmaking”.

Villeret
Villeret
Le Locle
Le Locle

You also mentioned the need for a more striking design…
JL: We need to better express the idea of watchmaking according to Montblanc, certainly with a stronger identity. We also need to consider the question of sizes, since we have so far been focused on just two sizes. These are progressive evolutions that are all concerned with what I call beautiful watchmaking. In parallel we will strengthen our activities in complications: two new lines of complications will be presented at the SIHH and will be ready for delivery during the course of the year.

Isn’t your historical activity, writing instruments, losing ground today in a “virtual” and connected age where people hardly need pens?
JL: Quite the opposite. The pen has undoubtedly lost its utilitarian function, but paradoxically we are seeing a return to handwriting and, contrary to what you might think, it is a growth market. There is a genuine need for objects that last, objects that go against the trend for “programmed obsolescence”. Furthermore, a pen, or a Montblanc fountain pen, is not ostentatious luxury, it is luxury for oneself. This notion of luxury for oneself also applies to the watch.

But why does one buy a Montblanc watch?
JL: Three main groups are interested in our brand for different reasons. First of all, there is the traditional Montblanc clientele, which likes to delve into the brand’s different worlds, into an environment of products – writing instruments, watches, leather goods – that they find in our 250 own name stores or the 200 other franchise outlets. The second type of customer gets to know us through multi-brand retailers in the 2,000 – 5,000 Swiss franc price segment and is won over by the genuine originality of our products. Finally, as far as our Villeret products are concerned, there are collectors and aficionados who appreciate our complicated watches, as is shown by the success of our monopusher chronograph. This clientele, which already spans complementary approaches to horology, is also spread in a perfectly balanced way between Asia (1/3), Europe (1/3) and the rest of the world (1/3).

In terms of communication, Montblanc stands out from many others by using the themes of culture and the arts…
JL: This is only natural. The fountain pen is for writing, for literature and in the wider sense for the world of culture and art. There is no reason to change this, because it is a totally legitimate territory for us. But we will be launching a new advertising campaign from April and this will bring a new dynamism. The world of Montblanc will be the cornerstone of this campaign.

To what extent do the German origins of the brand influence the watchmaking style of Montblanc?
JL: I think that you basically see a certain type of stylistic purity. And also a love for beautiful technicality, a desire to give the product consistency.

What can we expect in terms of products at the SIHH?
JL: Our products will demonstrate our ambitions, in a very distinctive spectrum but one which fits perfectly with our identity. But this is a process we have only just begun. Having said that, as a symbol of the profound know-how of our Villeret workshops I would choose the Exo Tourbillon Rattrapante, a timepiece that brings together a split-seconds chronograph, second time zone and day/night indicator with a gold and grand feu enamel regulator dial. It signals an aesthetic and technical break, with a balance placed outside the tourbillon cage. It is this profoundly horological passion that we want to breathe into all our collections.

Exo Tourbillon Rattrapante
Exo Tourbillon Rattrapante
In the autumn of 2013 Montblanc exhibited at the first edition of the Watches & Wonders exhibition, organised by the FHH in Hong Kong. On this occasion the brand presented a very interesting watch, directly linked to China: the Montblanc TimeWalker World-Time Sinosphere.
Based on the Hemisphere world-time watch, which was launched earlier in the year, the Montblanc TimeWalker World-Time Sinosphere depicts all 24 time zones at a glance for the Northern Hemisphere. But exclusively on the World-Time Sinosphere, the UTC +8 time zone (which is the China Standard Time, in other words the one and only official time zone for 1.3 billion people) is not signified by Beijing or Hong Kong (as on most other world-time watches), but by the word “CHINA” clearly printed in red.
MONTBLANC TimeWalker World-Time Sinosphere
MONTBLANC TimeWalker World-Time Sinosphere

The specialness of this new timepiece is also evident in the design of its dial, the centre of which is occupied by a gleaming red gold appliqué depicting a map of China surrounded by the pale grey contours of its neighbouring land masses. Rotating around the Middle Kingdom is the entire world, or rather the world-time ring with its 24-hour scale which, using red for night-time hours and grey for daytime hours, shows the hour and the time of day or night in whichever zone is oppositely positioned along the dial’s periphery.
A red gold plated sword-shaped hour-hand and minute-hand, each with luminous coating, sweep above this scene, as does a slim counterpoised second-hand.

Source: December - January 2013/14 Magazine Issue