MID-RANGE - FREDERIQUE CONSTANT - Manufacture for the masses

March 2014

The first thing you notice on entering the Frédérique Constant factory is something that goes against most watch brands’ philosophy of keeping any kind of figures a closely guarded secret. A computer screen trained directly towards the entrance door cannot be missed by anyone who enters the building and it displays for the factory’s 120 employees and any visitors the daily and year-to-date production figures. In this climate of openness Europa Star sat down with Aletta Stas, co-founder of the brand, to discuss the company’s health and its objectives for the coming year.

Aletta Stas, Co-Founder of Frédérique Constant
Aletta Stas, Co-Founder of Frédérique Constant

Europa Star: What can you tell us about business in 2013?
Aletta Stas: In general it was very good. Growth was a little less than previous years but I think we will close the year up 8 per cent. We are present in 200 countries and I think it is very important to be spread evenly across the world. We do 30 per cent of our business in Europe, 30 per cent in Asia, 14 per cent in the USA and 9 per cent in eastern Europe and Russia. So we are not too dependent on any particular region. Everyone knows that China is considered to be the Mecca at the moment and this will not stop but it only represents around 5 per cent of our sales, so if things slow down there it doesn’t have much of an impact on us.

The Frédérique Constant factory in Plan-les-Ouates in Geneva
The Frédérique Constant factory in Plan-les-Ouates in Geneva

Is this geographical spread the same for the Frédérique Constant and Alpina brands?
AS: It’s not exactly the same. Alpina sells well in Europe, the USA and the Caribbean and this is no doubt because we have some sportier watches, including diver’s watches, in the collection.

And what about the proportion of ladies’ and gents watches in the collection?
AS: Ladies’ watches account for around 35 per cent of sales. This may vary slightly from country to country. It used to be around 10 per cent and we decided this was not enough so we decided to create dedicated ladies’ models which increased the share. But at the same time we have developed our own manufacture calibres that are geared more towards men, and we would like to keep this proportion.

“Over the past two years with the introduction of the Manufacture Classic, Manufacture Worldtimer and the Manufacture Moonphase at BaselWorld last year we have seen a considerable increase in production that has, of course, had an impact on the average price.”

Has the average price of your timepieces increased as a result?
AS: Yes, because we have been working on our manufacture movements for ten years now. In the first years we only sold a few thousand but over the past two years with the introduction of the Manufacture Classic, Manufacture Worldtimer and the Manufacture Moonphase at BaselWorld last year we have seen a considerable increase in production that has, of course, had an impact on the average price.

Classic Manufacture Worldtimer by Frédérique Constant
Classic Manufacture Worldtimer by Frédérique Constant
One of the brand’s best-selling models, the Classic Manufacture Worldtimer is powered by the FC-718 in-house self-winding movement (42-hour power reserve) with date and world time function both adjustable from the time-setting crown.

Do you still use other non-manufacture movements?
AS: Absolutely. Our mission is still to offer accessible luxury. The manufacture models are accessible, too, of course, but we want to stay in our price segment of between 800-3,000 Swiss francs. Our manufacture pieces start at around 2,500 Swiss francs but we do not want only this. We also have some pieces with quartz movements. We use Selitta movements and we are good at adding our own modules to these movements.

A watch with a manufacture movement for 2,500 Swiss francs is almost unbeatable. How do you do it? And do your customers understand the significance?
AS: We have invested a lot in production and we also achieve certain economies of scale thanks to the volumes we produce. Over the past couple of years we have done a lot of work to improve the efficiency of our production in order to allow us to offer such prices. As far as the customers are concerned, I think there is a growing number of younger people who are fascinated by watches and who are well informed about them thanks to blogs and the Internet. This is our target customer and we hope that we can attract other younger customers through them.

Slimline Moonphase Manufacture by Frédérique Constant
Slimline Moonphase Manufacture by Frédérique Constant
This elegant 42mm piece in stainless steel comes with a dial in silver or navy blue and a stainless-steel bracelet consisting of seven links. The hours, minutes, date and moonphase indications are powered by the FC-705 in-house self-winding movement, which has Côtes de Genève and circular graining decoration and offers a power reserve of 42 hours.

What are your objectives for 2014?
AS: Obviously we want to keep growing, of course. We are targeting growth of between 15 and 20 per cent and we want to continue developing our manufacture lines. In 2014 we will have the capacity to produce 24,000 manufacture movements. For comparison we produced 128,000 watches in total last year. We can’t afford to have delays of up to a year before we deliver to our distributors and retailers like some of our neighbours here [editor’s note: The Frédérique Constant manufacture is located on the industrial estate in Plan-les-Ouates that is also home to the likes of Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex and other luxury brands].

Is this because stock rotation is more important in your price segment?
AS: Definitely. We can’t afford to open all these points of sale and have the products just sitting on the shelves. This would be a ticking time bomb!

Source: Europa Star April - May 2014 Magazine Issue