Ebel: Rekindle the fire!

October 2003

For the last several months, many rumours have been circulating about Ebel, a brand that had passed into the fold of LVMH. It is said that its results weren't up to par, that the brand was having a hard time finding an identity, even that it might be up for sale…

We will never know precisely the real reasons for this change (officially, it is because of 'strategic differences'), but LVMH has decided to take Ebel's destiny quite to heart. The large luxury group have parted company with Ebel's former CEO, Guillaume Brochard, and named Philippe Pascal to temporarily head up the venerable Swiss brand. Pascal is also the CEO of the Watch and Jewellery division of LVMH.

Officially, too, it is a question of 'rhythm'. The turnaround of the brand based in La Chaux-de-Fonds was not rapid enough. “We must quickly re-conquer the retailers, re-build the strong bond that made Ebel and its partners a real family,” explains Philippe Pascal. Under the flamboyant direction of Pierre-Alain Blum, Ebel made quite an impression during the 1980s, becoming one of the symbols of watchmaking: qualitative but cheerful, classic yet playful, fashionable while remaining reassuring.

Endowed with a cultural aura, a very clever 'baseline' (The Architects of Time), Ebel was perceived as an innovative sage, capable of attracting a Madonna as well as the bourgeoisie, an avant-garde painter as well as an austere CEO. But these easy years are long gone, dead and buried. Blum spent the fortune earned by the brand (which was due in part, we must not forget, to the wonderful contract to assemble watches for Cartier, today discontinued) on risky diversifications, such as skis, television, cinema, real estate, etc. Ebel thus began its downhill slide, its war chest slowly drained by a series of flamboyant and costly advertising campaigns. When LVMH bought the brand from Investcorp, Ebel still had many assets, but everything had to be rebuilt.

Philippe Pascal is holding the reins temporarily while waiting for a new CEO to be named. He is there to give the necessary impetus for the launch of a new and ambitious collection called Tarawa. He is continuing the work started by Guillaume Brochard and his team, but will give the brand a new and more determined orientation.

Born of the ocean

Born out of the surprising fine jewellery watches 'The Jewels of the Ocean' presented this year by Ebel, designed by Ben Chodat (at 73 years old, he was the designer during the 1970s of the Beluga, from which came the Classic Wave), the Tarawa is seen as a sort of rupture. “Ebel must mark its return with a watch that is a form of rupture. This is how Ebel conquered its place in watchmaking. With this rupture, we are renewing our ties with our historical tradition of 'creativity without compromise'. But, of course, we have to make sure that this rupture is the right one!” explains Pascal matter-of-factly.

He and his team are convinced this is the right choice. The piece is beautiful and has character. Agreeable to the touch, smooth as a pebble, perfectly studied, it radiates exquisite sensuality. Its sapphire crystal cut in a triple wave adapts perfectly to the very complex case which has the same 'oceanic' line. In its over-sized chronograph version, it skilfully integrates the pushbuttons and offers great readability (the pride of Ebel, this version is equipped with the COSC-certified house calibre 137).

The Tarawa possesses the necessary qualities to 'rekindle the fire'. It is more like a 'bonfire' that is demanded by Philippe Pascal and the shareholders of LVMH. But to get to this point, the excellence of the Ebel team is not enough. LVMH must persuade the retailers that Ebel is back and here to stay, that it has its place clearly defined in the landscape of global brands, that constancy will guide its actions, that its quality has not faltered, and that the brand's communication will be up to the task. This will require important investments and, of course, LVMH is up to the challenge.