fter starting his career at Certina in the 2000s, then spending several years at Omega and Jaquet Droz (still within the Swatch Group), Marc Aellen has returned to the brand of his beginnings through the front door. In the summer of 2020 he became CEO of Certina, replacing Adrian Bosshard who took over as head of Rado. This also means he is now familiar with almost the entire price pyramid of the group, from the inside.
Nevertheless, Certina’s current situation is diametrically opposed to that which prevailed during his first stint in the 2000s. At that time, the Swatch Group’s mid-range brand manufactured almost exclusively quartz models. Now, automatic watches dominate the company’s activity. This reflects the evolution of the Swiss watch industry as a whole, which is increasingly focused on mechanical watch exports, alongside a constantly rising average price.
- The new DS Action Diver 38mm meets the requirements of the ISO 6425 standard for diving watches. It is driven by a Powermatic calibre with an antimagnetic Nivachron balance spring.
For Marc Aellen, however, it’s essential to maintain a “democratic” offer. This means providing an entry point to fine traditional watchmaking, which is Certina’s positioning, while also showcasing technological innovation, thanks to the group’s industrial resources. For Certina, at the moment, this means the NivachronTM antimagnetic balance spring that equips its Powermatic movement.
In line with the strong industry trend towards vintage-inspired sport-chic timepieces, Certina is placing ever greater emphasis on its diving models, a field in which it can claim historical legitimacy. This year, the strategy is illustrated by the launch of the DS Action Diver 38mm and the DS Action Diver Sea Turtle Conservancy. The brand is counting on these models to increase its visibility on the two most important markets in the world for watchmaking, where its presence remains modest: China and the United States. We interviewed Marc Aellen.
Europa Star: What’s on Certina’s agenda for 2021?
Marc Aellen: We have launched a new 38mm DS Action Diver model, water resistant to 300 metres and priced at less than CHF 800. This is our signature diver’s watch, which until now has only been available in 43mm. Another significant launch, still in the world of diving and at less than CHF 800, is the model we have produced in collaboration with the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest association dedicated to the study and conservation of sea turtles.
Yes, the patented NivachronTM system, based on titanium, has proven itself in terms of fighting the effects of magnetism. Silicon remains more expensive and Certina intends to distinguish itself as much as possible by providing high value for money. These are actually two relatively different technologies, but they seek to counter the same phenomenon.
- Certina has dedicated a new edition to its partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). For the first time, the brand is using only recyclable materials for the presentation case, and organic cotton and recycled polyester for the cushion inside.
Will an “accessible” offer of Swiss made models remain viable in the long term, when volumes are decreasing year after year in the industry?
It is absolutely vital for the Swiss industry to maintain attractive entry-level products. The affordable segment represents many jobs and considerable expertise, especially now that the manufacture of some components has been repatriated to Switzerland, thanks to the new Swiss made law. It’s also important to note that the decline in volumes represents mainly quartz models.
- The three new versions of the DS-1 Powermatic 80 – with a domed dial in dark blue, chocolate brown or light grey – come with two straps, one of which is made from a high-end textile manufactured from plastic recovered from the ocean.
How is your production divided between quartz and mechanical?
Historically, Certina was a very strong brand in quartz, but we are undergoing a major transformation. While in the 2000s, 90% of our output was quartz, today 50% is mechanical, and the trend continues to go in that direction. We hope to be able to stabilise our range of quartz watches so that we can continue to offer a starting price of CHF 400, while increasing our mechanical volumes. Today, most of our models are in the CHF 400 to CHF 1,000 price range. With the growth of our mechanical model portfolio, we could go to CHF 1,300-1,400, but we don’t want to go beyond that.
“We are undergoing a major transformation: in the 2000s, 90% of our output was quartz, but today 50% is mechanical, and the trend continues to go in that direction.”
- What should the next Certina watch for women look like? The new DS PH200M Lady, the result of a design competition open to the general public, will be launched in October 2021.
How have you reacted to the interruption of international tourism, which has had a strong impact on the Swiss watch industry’s sales?
At our price level local consumption is key, and we’re seeing more opportunities for growth at the domestic level; there are still many countries where we have little or no presence. Today, our largest market is Switzerland, where turnover is stable. We have just opened up the American market for Certina through a partnership with Hodinkee, and the priority now is to find our place in China. Demand is changing there, to our advantage: until now, Chinese customers have mainly wanted ‘classic’ products, but a new demand is emerging for much more streamlined products, such as our diving watches.
- The Powermatic calibre of the DS Action Diver 38mm provides up to 80 hours of power reserve. It is protected by a case that is water-resistant to 300 metres. Certina’s own double security concept (DS) relies on a screwed case back and a protected screw-down crown.
What about e-commerce?
Globally, online sales are mostly done through our partners and represent 15% of our turnover. But it’s the same situation: e-commerce is not yet fully integrated in the main markets. Given our price segment, I predict that digital could represent up to a third of our sales within three years.
What types of products do you plan to launch in the second half of the year?
One of the releases is our first “Tide” strap made from recycled ocean waste. After a few tests, it holds up as well or even better than a standard strap! It will be available first on the DS-1 Powermatic 80 and DS Super PH500M, and then on the DS PH200M 38mm model. In general, recycled materials will play an increasing role in our production.
“Until now, Chinese customers have mainly wanted ‘classic’ products, but demand is now emerging for much more streamlined products, such as our diving watches.”
- The DS Podium chronograph is a Certina classic. A new model has been launched with a 44mm stainless steel case and a grey satin sunray dial.
Finally, what’s your take on how Certina has weathered the pandemic crisis, one year after taking the helm?
We have suffered, but perhaps a little less than others. Of course, as a traditional brand, when 85% of our retailers were closed, we were hit hard. But as soon as the stores reopened, we saw strong recovery right away. This was particularly the case in Switzerland, our largest market. Our goal this year is to return to the results of 2019. We have a good historical foundation and we are well positioned in our price segment. In the 1950s, we were among the pioneers in diving watches, and this is a segment that is becoming very promising again today.
“We are introducing our first strap made of recycled ocean waste. In general, recycled materials will become increasingly important in our production.”