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Frederique Constant changes with the times

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June 2015

The Geneva-based watch brand has shown a willingness to adapt, but also to stay true to its philosophy.

In the world of business and markets, it’s usually a question of survival of the fittest. Just like in the wild, a company can either adapt to a changing environment, or it can be eaten by the competition. But it takes a balance between making small adjustments, and changing so much to the point of reinventing the wheel. The second option is problematic particularly because a brand can be perceived as having no real identity if it makes big changes. Instead, it just moves with the tides to keep afloat.

Frederique Constant is a great example of the first option, making small adjustments and staying true to its philosophy. Twenty five years ago, co-founders Aletta and Peter Stas saw an opportunity during the so-called Quartz crisis. Not being able to compete on a level with the expensive Swiss mechanical watches of the day, they started manufacturing beautiful classic watches with quartz movements instead.

In some ways, they followed the Japanese model. Brands like Seiko and Citizen made perfectly working watches that were very affordable. But their main drawback, according to Frederique Constant’s co-founders, was that they did not have a very appealing design.

With the opportunity there, Aletta and Peter Stas jumped in and starting making the classically designed Swiss watches that we are familiar with today. Yes, they employed the new technology of the quartz, but they retained the elegant feel of traditional Swiss horlogerie. Their strategy paid off, and the brand has shown continued growth and development over the last quarter century.

Frederique Constant Moonphase
Frederique Constant Moonphase

A key component of the brand’s success has been its differentiation, being able to provide a wide range of options to consumers. By now, the family owned watch manufacturer - based in the surroundings of Geneva, Switzerland – produces its own in-house calibres. In fact 18 versions of them, all of which are designed, manufactured, and assembled at the Frederique Constant manufacture.

But Frederique Constant’s greatest asset is probably that is offers those beautiful luxury watches at an accessible price, especially for the younger market segment and the value-conscious customers. In industry terms, most of Frederique Constant’s offerings can be found in the “Haut de Gamme” market segment.

Source: Le Temps
Source: Le Temps

In a recent survey by prestigious Swiss newspaper Le Temps, the brand ranked 5th in that category. For reference, Swiss watches are typically classified in the following three segments:

  • “Luxe” for watches priced over CHF 8000
  • “Haut de gamme” for watches priced CHF 1500-8000
  • “Entry level” for watches below CHF 1500

So how has the brand adapted to the demands to today’s market, increasingly orientated towards smart functionality? In response to the announcement of the Apple Watch, among other smartwatch players, Frederique Constant also entered the game at Baselworld this year.

But even the announcement of its new smartwatch was not a departure from the brand’s past philosophy. In fact, it seems like a similar play that the brand made during the Quartz revolution. The brand did not deliver a mini-computer strapped to the wrist, like many other smartwatches. Rather, it retained the classical Swiss watchmaking elements and integrated tech functionality, for example through a Fitbit activity tracker.

Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch
Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch

On the surface, no one would guess that your Frederique Constant was “smart”. But under the dial their new watch sports high-tech electronics and sensors, courtesy of Silicon Valley. Even, the name of the watch demonstrates the message the brand is trying to deliver; they called it the “Horological Smartwatch”.

So while their new watch might not be the “smartest” out there, Frederique Constant has shown market intelligence over the years. The brand has not deviated from the strategy it set out 25 years ago. And as a result, people know what the brand stands for, and what it will continue to stand for (VJ).