20. time-business


Frédérique Constant: “Bridging connection and complication”

NIELS EGGERDING, MANAGING DIRECTOR

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February 2019


Frédérique Constant: “Bridging connection and complication”

Frédérique Constant has passed the 30 year mark. With characteristic discretion and a style that is anything but exuberant, the brand recently acquired by the Citizen group has paradoxically broken down many barriers in the industry, whether through affordable complications or connected mechanical watches.

F

rédérique Constant has passed the 30 year mark. With characteristic discretion and a style that is anything but exuberant, the brand recently acquired by the Citizen group has paradoxically broken down many barriers in the industry, whether through affordable complications or connected mechanical watches.

We interviewed its new Managing Director, Niels Eggerding.

Niels Eggerding, Managing Director of Frédérique Constant
Niels Eggerding, Managing Director of Frédérique Constant

Since 2015, we have produced 120,000 connected watches. Without this new niche, we would not have been able to grow.

Europa Star: You have just celebrated your 30th birthday. Would it be possible to start the same adventure today? There are many watch startups on Kickstarter but these often prove to be one-hit wonders, once they’ve raised their funds....

Niels Eggerding: Let’s not kid ourselves: it would be much more difficult. The competition is fierce. We now have 3,000 points of sale. It would be impossible to create this network today. One of our greatest assets today is clearly our network of partners. We have maintained mutual trust at a time when many brands were opening their own stores. This strategy will not change following Citizen’s acquisition.

How do you coordinate your operations with the group?

We operate according to a simple principle: we share nothing in terms of production and everything in terms of distribution and sales. Citizen is not directly involved in the functioning of the brand. On the other hand, they have a huge presence in the United States, a market that is still largely unknown to us. Where we are weak, they are strong. The group provides us with financial and commercial support. Without them, it would be difficult to grow in the current market conditions.

Will you also collaborate with your retailers when it comes to online sales?

Yes, we will also evolve towards e-commerce in partnership with our retailers. In some countries, such as France, we already have a system that includes retailers in the circuit: the customer can choose to receive the watch at home or pick it up at a retailer. The condition for being approved is that sales are made at full price.

However, in the case of Alpina, you sold connected watches directly via Kickstarter.

Operation AlpinerX on Kickstarter was a success. Above all, beyond the sales of around 3,000 watches for a total of 1.5 million francs, it was about data mining: we were able to collect direct feedback from more than 5,000 customers. This is very valuable, as we learned a lot about the profile and expectations of our end customers. However, this operation will not be repeated: it was destined to be a one-shot operation.

Frédérique Constant: “Bridging connection and complication”

What is the share of the connected watch in your total production?

Since 2015, we have produced 120,000 connected watches. Without this new niche, we would not have been able to grow.

And it is also a powerful communication tool. We continue to work simultaneously on smartwatches, quartz and mechanical timepieces. Frédérique Constant sells a total of 160,000 watches annually. In addition to the connected watches, we have entered the world of high-end mechanical complications with a perpetual calendar in 2016 and a flyback chronograph in 2017. In 2018, we introduced a tourbillon with a perpetual calendar, as well as a connected watch with a manufacture mechanical movement. The bridges between all these universes are multiplying.

Frédérique Constant Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar
Frédérique Constant Tourbillon Perpetual Calendar

On the production front, what will your new factory in Plan-les-Ouates bring you?

We have room to grow. Production at the new site will start in June 2019. This project rewards Peter and Aletta Stas’ continuous efforts: without making a great deal of noise, they have patiently built a solid company that has earned its watchmaking credentials. The manufacture movement surprised many, as did the connected watches. Today, we have 75 watchmakers on site, working on basic Sellita movements, modified Sellita movements and now in-house calibres, which represent 20% of our production.

You offer a very classic style of watchmaking, with rather timeless codes. At the same time, there is great interest in the market for models with a very strong personality, often reissues from the 1960s and 1970s.

Heritage is an important subject: without wishing to give too much away, I can already tell you that I am working on our heritage for the preparation of a future new collection. For any watch brand, it is much easier to work on past successes that have already proved their worth. But we are still relatively young compared with the industry as a whole.

Some of your direct competitors, such as Raymond Weil and Maurice Lacroix, have decided to miss the Basel fair in March. What about you?

We need Baselworld, it’s an annual industry meeting and a ritual that is very important to us.