Keeping It Fresh Part I: Bell & Ross, Zenith
Giants of Swiss watchmaking discuss the necessity of line extensions.
Each year, as watch companies release their latest offerings, collectors and pundits alike would sharpen both their eyes and claws to scrutinise which brands have put in the work to try their darndest to melt our brains with a groundbreaking this or that that defies human effort and imagination. Like lords of our manor, we sit back and expect to be entertained. Every. Single. Time.
Truth is, brand new watches, while exciting, are just a part of the picture. Equally important to every brand’s annual showcase are what industry folks call ‘line extensions’ – new variations of watches that have already been introduced. These watches may feature different case sizes, materials, new dial executions, bracelets, straps or any manner of (usually) cosmetic tweaks that bring greater variety to a line-up.
In this four-part series, we tap the brains of the honchos behind some of luxury watchmaking’s most well-known brands to find how each manages the challenges of keeping things fresh, while ensuring each watch collection achieves its fullest potential.
Bruno Belamich, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Bell & Ross
Can you give us a sense of how far Bell & Ross plans ahead with each new collection?
When we are launching a completely new model, such as the BR 05, it takes about two years to plan it. When it is a line extension, it is planned a year in advance. For the BR 05, it is a project that has been growing since 2014 in my mind. After three years of reflection, we started working on this collection. It took two years in total. Between the moment when we started drawing the first sketch of the watch and the moment when we approved its design.
Is there a specific process to determine the add-on features or changes that you always have in line for new references?
There are two different approaches. It can be either technical, functional or material specifications suggested by the sales team. They include reducing the proportions of a watch, or the use of a new material or colour. And then, it can also come from the creative team, purely with a creative impetus to progress a vision. For both cases, it is a question of sharing ideas and selecting what’s best. To ensure that a watch perfectly meets the expectations of its user, we use a combination of expertise, gathering experts with complementary know-hows from professional users, designers, engineers, and master watchmakers.
Bell & Ross BR 01 Instrument from 2005
What happens when a collection is about to reach the end of its product cycle?
The challenge is always to determine the evolution and direction of the collections would be over the next five or 10 years. At the same time, we also need to serve a market that seeks novelty. We must innovate constantly, and create a dynamic to maintain the dream. When you realise that the collection is selling less than before or that it has reached the sales ceiling, it is necessary to seek renewal. You must revitalise it, and then put the focus back on this collection.
A lot of times when a brand releases a new reference with cosmetic changes like a new material or dial colour, some collectors are quick to deride that the brand isn’t doing “anything new”. Is it a fair criticism?
There is no a miracle recipe to please everyone. Our first criteria is to achieve creative pleasure, the desire to do things, whether through executing new material or creating a new function. Then it is up to the market to tell us the answer.
Bell & Ross BR 03-51 GMT Carbon from 2013
Specific to your brand, can you give us a few examples of successful collections with good line extensions?
I would say the BR 03, which is inspired by instrument panels in cockpits, has itself gone on to influence many other creations. With the collection, we managed to move watches from the professional aviation world to urban landscapes. Even then, we always keep to its core design codes, such as the iconic case shape with a circle within a square, the graphic dial with its ‘12’, ‘6’, ‘9’ numerals and the four screws. It is what we consider an evolution of this icon.
Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton Blue for 2020
With this you can see how it has influenced the BR 05. We wanted to create a synthesis for the new collection, to find the blend that would combine our codes and DNA with a touch of sport-chic touch that evokes the spirit of urban cities. We did not want to create a ‘city’ watch per se, but a Bell & Ross watch made for the city. The BR 05 is the suitable square watch for the city. So far, the collection has been a huge success since we launched it in September 2019. Of course, we are pursuing the development of this line this year with new references.
Romain Marietta, product development and heritage director, Zenith
Can you give us a sense of how important and necessary line extensions are to your brand?
At Zenith, we also call line extensions ‘animations’. Line extensions or animations give legitimacy to a collection and help it to penetrate the market and people’s minds. On the other hand however, this has to be done strategically, in order to not overwhelm the client. Line extensions help you to offer variety in your global offer but can also be problematic if taken to an extreme.
Zenith Defy El Primero from 2017
We understand that each time a brand introduces a new collection, the brand has always planned for a number of years ahead. Can you give us a sense of how far you plan ahead with each new collection?
It is definitely a long term vision. Hard to give a time frame but, of course, you would like a collection to ‘live’ as long as possible. We are always on the quest of creating and defining the next great watch icon. When you launch a new collection you need at least three to five years to plan ahead in terms of design propositions. In the end, it is the clients who decide if they want a collection live or not.
Zenith Defy Zero G from 2018
A lot of times when a brand releases a new reference with cosmetic changes, some collectors are quick to deride that the brand isn’t doing “anything new”. Is it a fair criticism?
I can totally relate and I do understand that impression a client may have. Clients like looking at novelties and innovations. So, if you propose an animation, this might not be exciting for them. Nevertheless, most of the time, brands are able to surprise their clients with only a dial animation or material change. Sometimes, small details make a very big difference. Perfection stands in the details and perfection is not a detail.
Zenith Defy 21 Carbon from 2019
At the same time, we have seen many examples of watches that don’t change a great deal with each new reference, and yet are hugely popular.
The key is consistency! The less you change of a product, the easier it is to enter in minds of the people and become an icon. This is absolutely key in the process of trying to creating an iconic and desirable product.
Zenith Defy 21 Ultraviolet from 2020
Can you give us a few examples of successful collections with good line extensions?
For Zenith, the best recent example is Defy. We brought this collection back in 2017 with three references. Today, we have around 50 variations of these watches with four different lines. The turnover was initially very low. Today, Defy represents more than 35 per cent of our turnover. This is a good example of recent success that we are living with this Defy collection. And this is only the beginning.
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