ce-Watch, known for its affordable timepieces designed for everyday wear, is directly affected by the rising power of the smartwatch. The founder of the Belgian brand, Jean-Pierre Lutgen, is conscious that the golden age of colourful plastic watches may be over. He’s multiplying initiatives to adapt, such as launching steel models and establishing a strategic partnership with Citizen. And next year, he will be unveiling a complete brand overhaul. We met him.
- Jean-Pierre Lutgen
Europa Star: We see the Apple Watch on an increasing number of wrists. What measures are you taking to keep up with the situation?
Jean-Pierre Lutgen: Ice-Watch never wanted to get into the smartwatch, for several reasons. On the one hand, our price range does not allow us to do so: we operate in the segment up to 169 euros, while connected watches are more expensive. In addition, the operating margin would be too low without direct distribution. Finally, we do not have the technology or know-how. Citizen proposed a joint project with Fossil, but the issue of the rapid technological obsolescence of connected watches led us to abandon it.
In this new context, what market positioning is left for Ice-Watch?
My point of view is that behind every brand, there is a message and a function. If you don’t have a message, you’re dead. On the functional side, the connected watch leaves us behind, because it is autonomous and multifunctional. Tomorrow we’ll use our smartwatches to do everything. It’s a great tool! The message behind it is to show that you are technologically up to date, active and athletic. However, there are still other messages that can be conveyed. Whether at the very high-end or in the fashion segment, the watch remains one of the only objects that can reveal part of one’s personality and convey messages. It is up to us to create new or different messages.
So what will be your new message?
Our message next year will not focus on technological performance, but on ecology. In the beginning, Ice-Watch’s message was colour, affordability, family, openness to the world, music... We will add a new ecological message to meet tomorrow’s challenges. Our strength in the face of competition and new players is that we already have a strong brand and well-established distribution networks, compared to brands that rely solely on social networks. We will also be rethinking our supply chain to incorporate more ecological elements. We’re moving into another segment, where the competition is different.
Aside from the new connected category, the lifestyle watch segment seems more crowded than ever, as the ’price of entry’ to the industry has dramatically fallen. Who are your main competitors today?
There are three categories of brands in our market segment. First, new actors like Cluse or Daniel Wellington, whose success is dependent on social networks. Then there are the licensed fashion brands such as Michael Kors, Guess, Diesel, Hugo Boss or Tommy Hilfiger, whose destiny depends on the situation of their ‘mother brand’. Finally, there are the pure watch brands, such as Casio, Seiko, Swatch, Festina, Pierre Lannier, Tissot, Fossil and Ice-Watch. We are the most stable brands, even in the entry-level segment, because we are not dependent on social networks or the fluctuations of a parent company.