Swatch Group


Breguet, a meeting with Lionel a Marca

INTERVIEW

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June 2022


Breguet, a meeting with Lionel a Marca

The Marine Hora Mundi is Breguet’s first timepiece of 2022 to bear the signature of new CEO Lionel a Marca, who was appointed last year. We took the opportunity to find out more about this trained watchmaker who has been active in the Swatch Group for thirty years, and is a close acquaintance of Marc A. Hayek. He told us his plans for a brand still very much influenced by the milestones set by Nicolas G. Hayek – whom he also knew. It is now up to him to weave the connection between generations, as Breguet, a grand old classic now approaching 250 years of age, adapts to a market obsessed with a certain type of sport-chic.

H

e is part of the inner circle of Marc A. Hayek, who represents the third generation of the powerful family at the head of the Swatch Group, and who will himself eventually preside over its future destiny. Lionel a Marca, 55, with thirty years of loyal service to the group, has moved to a different manufacture in the Vallée de Joux.

After two decades in charge of Blancpain operations, he was appointed last year as head of Breguet, a brand particularly dear to the group’s founder Nicolas G. Hayek, who put all his energy into bringing this illustrious name back and giving it its rightful place in the sector. (His commitment to renovating the Petit Trianon in Versailles, and the faithful reproduction of Marie-Antoinette’s watch with the Grande Complication n°1160, presented at the Basel fair in 2008, are still well remembered.)

A watchmaker by training, Lionel a Marca has been running Breguet since last year. Born in 1967, he joined the Swatch Group in 1992, initially at the Manufacture Frédéric Piguet in the Vallée de Joux. He then worked at ETA and Blancpain for two decades.
A watchmaker by training, Lionel a Marca has been running Breguet since last year. Born in 1967, he joined the Swatch Group in 1992, initially at the Manufacture Frédéric Piguet in the Vallée de Joux. He then worked at ETA and Blancpain for two decades.

“I know that Lionel a Marca will put all of his energy into continuing the work started by my grandfather since the takeover in 1999, while also keeping the pioneering spirit of its founder alive,” commented Marc A. Hayek when the appointment was announced.

The Marine Hora Mundi model, with its instant-change dual-time display with memory function, is the brand's flagship launch of early 2022.
The Marine Hora Mundi model, with its instant-change dual-time display with memory function, is the brand’s flagship launch of early 2022.

The new CEO has worked alongside both the grandfather, known for his outspoken character, and his more reserved grandson, a keen diver. It is now up to him to connect Nicolas G. Hayek’s vision for the brand with the new realities of the watch market in 2022 and beyond. These times are very favourable to a certain type of heritage watchmaking, and also to the sport-chic segment, whereas Breguet is primarily known for its purity and high classicism. Indeed, many brands of the same rank as Breguet have recently emphasised what they interpret as their sport-chic version: we’re thinking of the Overseas by Vacheron Constantin, the Odysseus by A. Lange & Söhne, or the Alpine Eagle of Chopard. We also remember the positive reception that welcomed Blancpain’s Air Command, a re-edition launched in 2019. Will the new CEO be giving Breguet a more sporty dimension? Here are some answers.

It’s up to Lionel a Marca to connect Nicolas G. Hayek’s brand vision with the new realities of the watch market in 2022 and beyond.

Europa Star: What was your career path before taking over the management of Breguet?

Lionel a Marca: This year marks my 30th year with the Swatch Group. I joined in 1992 through the Frédéric Piguet manufacture, where I was in charge of cali- bre development in Le Noirmont. I then moved to ETA, notably for the production of complicated timepieces, and then to the group’s quality management. It was during a stint at Blancpain in 2002 that I first met Marc A. Hayek. I ended up staying at the brand for 20 years! Between Frédéric Piguet, Blancpain and now Breguet, I have found myself working in the Vallée de Joux for the past several decades... And yet I myself am originally from the Jura: I began by training as a watchmaker at the technical school in Porrentruy.

Your major launch for the first half of 2022 is the Marine Hora Mundi. Why focus on this model?

As a movement specialist, I’m always looking for simplicity of use: how to make mechanical complication easy to use and playful. This is what the Hora Mundi function, first launched in 2011, manages to achieve, with its instant-change dual-time display with memory function. By integrating this complication from the Classique line into the Marine line, we are creating a timepiece with a distinctly contemporary look.

 Breguet has adapted its Hora Mundi complication for the Marine collection. With a diameter of 43.9 mm, the model incorporates an instant-change dual-time display with memory function. This technical feat is accomplished via the pusher and crown. Having selected the first city's time and date, the owner of the watch need only set the second city. The watch mechanism then calculates the time and date by means of a clever system of cams, hammers and an integrated differential. At that point, simply pressing the pusher is enough to travel from one end of the planet to the other, without disturbing the accurate running of the watch.
Breguet has adapted its Hora Mundi complication for the Marine collection. With a diameter of 43.9 mm, the model incorporates an instant-change dual-time display with memory function. This technical feat is accomplished via the pusher and crown. Having selected the first city’s time and date, the owner of the watch need only set the second city. The watch mechanism then calculates the time and date by means of a clever system of cams, hammers and an integrated differential. At that point, simply pressing the pusher is enough to travel from one end of the planet to the other, without disturbing the accurate running of the watch.

Will we ever see a model closer to the sport-steel style with integrated bracelet that seems to dominate almost everything today in the watch world, and that other Haute Horlogerie brands have recently been pushing, in their own way, to reach new customers?

We are Breguet. We already have six collections and we are not going to launch any new ones: I prefer to deepen the existing lines. The Marine line was re-launched in 2018 as a contemporary and sporty collection. Integrating our Hora Mundi, a complication incorporating a GMT with memory function, into this collection makes perfect sense. The multi-dimensional work carried out on its dial is very accomplished, requiring the superimposition of three plates. On the first, the hand-engraved motif takes up the theme of the waves. We play with the transparency between the two sides of the second plate – a 0.4mm metallised sapphire crystal – with the meridians on top and the continents underneath, which generates an effect of depth. Finally, we added an outer flange that secures the whole structure in place. Getting there was not easy!

“The Marine line was re-launched in 2018 as a contemporary and sporty collection. Integrating our Hora Mundi into this collection makes perfect sense.”

To better understand your vision for the brand, what keywords would you associate with the identity of each of the six collections?

The Classique line is the essence of Breguet, it’s about sobriety, purity and a form of timelessness. A Classique produced 25 years ago must remain relevant today. We will not compromise on this. You will always recognise a Classique, it is immutable.

The Marine is a tribute to Abraham-Louis Breguet as the “Horloger de la Marine”, but it’s not limited to the world of the oceans. It is a collection for exploration, travel and mountaineering. The Hora Mundi is the latest iteration.

For the air, there is the Type XX, our iconic pilot’s watch. We are thinking about ways to develop this essential line of our brand.

The Reine de Naples, introduced in 2002, represents absolute femininity. Nothing less. It is also associated with innovation: the flexible hand technique of the Saint Valentine’s model released last year required several months of work (read our article here). This patented hand demonstrates our desire to innovate in all our collections. I would also like to stress that we are a very balanced brand in terms of sales, between men’s and women’s models.

Continuing with shaped watches, the Heritage line can be recognised by its tonneau case. It is the line with the fewest references. We will be able to express its identity more fully in the future.

Finally, the Tradition, launched in 2005 and inspired by ancient ‘montres à tact’ and subscription watches, is – paradoxically perhaps – the most contemporary of all. That’s because all the pieces in the collection offer a view of the movement.

Abraham-Louis Breguet linked his destiny to that of the French Navy as early as 1814 when he became a member of the “Bureau des longitudes” by royal decree, alongside figures such as Delambre, Biot and Laplace. One of the roles of the members was to solve the problems linked to the measurement of longitude at sea using astronomy. A year later, King Louis XVIII awarded him one of the most prestigious titles: that of “Horloger de la Marine Royale”. From then on, the fleets of the greatest French explorers sailed equipped with a chronometry system designed by Breguet.
Abraham-Louis Breguet linked his destiny to that of the French Navy as early as 1814 when he became a member of the “Bureau des longitudes” by royal decree, alongside figures such as Delambre, Biot and Laplace. One of the roles of the members was to solve the problems linked to the measurement of longitude at sea using astronomy. A year later, King Louis XVIII awarded him one of the most prestigious titles: that of “Horloger de la Marine Royale”. From then on, the fleets of the greatest French explorers sailed equipped with a chronometry system designed by Breguet.
©Europa Star 1954

Most of these lines were introduced under the presidency of Nicolas G. Hayek. More than a decade later, isn’t it time to revisit this heritage?

On the contrary, Breguet draws its strength from its history. In his time, Abraham-Louis Breguet laid the foundations of watchmaking. What Nicolas G. Hayek did was to reinforce these fundamentals for our time by resurrecting rare crafts, with the aim of doing everything in-house, in a “manufacture” in the purest sense of the term. Who still does in-house guilloché today?

Nicolas G. Hayek presents the re-issue of the Marie-Antoinette watch in 2008.
Nicolas G. Hayek presents the re-issue of the Marie-Antoinette watch in 2008.
©Europa Star 2008

Twenty years ago, this distinguished you, but this notion of manufacture is losing its meaning because it’s used ad nauseam in the industry. In a world of over-sharing, aren’t you perhaps being excessively humble?

What sets us apart is the sincerity of our approach. In our relationship with our clients, we always remind them exactly who we are and where we come from. Our roots are strong. We are not in it for the hype, but for the very long term. If he were to return to our time, a genius like Abraham-Louis Breguet would be fascinated to see his work is respected, while at the same time incorporating major technological advances. In his time, with his ledgers, he invented the “CRM” before anyone else. Today, it is quite moving for customers to be able to trace the timepieces that belonged to their ancestors in the brand’s archives in Paris. Moreover, any first purchaser of a Breguet timepiece can insert his or her name in a register that includes names such as Winston Churchill. We are an integral part of this long heritage. And one of the next important stages for the brand will be the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the House of Breguet in 2025.

“We are an integral part of a long heritage. Who still does in-house guilloché today?”

What are your priorities for the global development of Breguet in 2022 and beyond?

A key market to develop is the United States. We will increase our reputation there. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we are fortunate to have excellent global visibility, which is a real asset.

How do you manage your heritage?

We hold a significant number of key pieces from our history, which we will tour around the world, post-Covid, as Marc A. Hayek wishes. And for the 250th anniversary, expect great things at our museum in Paris. But you’ll have to wait a little longer...

Breguet, a meeting with Lionel a Marca
©Europa Star 2002

You no longer take part in the major trade fairs, preferring instead to organise your own local events. What impact does this have on the time-to-market of new launches?

As soon as a new timepiece is unveiled, it is immediately available in boutiques all over the world.

Does that include online?

We’re working on it. But there are still a lot of questions about this development.

The Marine Hora Mundi is equipped with the 77F1 calibre, with a balance oscillating at a frequency of 4 Hz. This mechanical self-winding movement is fitted with an escapement made of silicon. With its 55-hour power reserve, Calibre 77F1 features a unique asset in the form of patented additional modules for the dual time zone mechanism, the second time zone display, the programmable and reprogrammable mechanical memory wheel and the pointer-type day/night display.
The Marine Hora Mundi is equipped with the 77F1 calibre, with a balance oscillating at a frequency of 4 Hz. This mechanical self-winding movement is fitted with an escapement made of silicon. With its 55-hour power reserve, Calibre 77F1 features a unique asset in the form of patented additional modules for the dual time zone mechanism, the second time zone display, the programmable and reprogrammable mechanical memory wheel and the pointer-type day/night display.

What is your strategic split between boutiques and multi-brand retailers?

We respect our retailers and want to deepen our relationship with our historical representatives. But the “Breguet experience” in our boutiques is crucial. Today, we directly operate 36 boutiques, we have franchisees and we are present in a network of 335 points of sale. Following Covid, there are many discussions on the table to ensure we can offer the best possible experience in the future.

One of Nicolas G. Hayek's other decisive actions after taking over Breguet was to reproduce the No. 5 pocket watch from 1794 that he himself had acquired at auction.
One of Nicolas G. Hayek’s other decisive actions after taking over Breguet was to reproduce the No. 5 pocket watch from 1794 that he himself had acquired at auction.
©Europa Star 2005

How are you coming out of the pandemic? Polarisation in the industry seems to be increasing.

2021 was a very good year. One of the things that stands out is that there is real potential with local customers, which may have been forgotten with the boom of shopping tourism. The markets were waiting for a complication in the Marine collection – this is what we are delivering with the Hora Mundi. Everything is being put in place around a real reflection on our future, a vision of the products, clearer timing, boutiques with advanced customer experiences... Image counts, but you have to be able to keep your promises. And in 25 years, you’ll see that your Breguet has not aged a bit!

“One of the next important stages for the brand will be the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the House of Breguet in 2025.”

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