Keeping It Fresh Part III: Longines, Maurice Lacroix

Longines HydroConquest Black

“The customer will always have the final say if a collection lives.”

While watch companies are known to monitor shifting trends and tastes, the introduction of new models to an existing watch collection isn’t the reactionary process we imagine it to be. Oftentimes, a ‘new’ dial colour or case material have been planned years in advance – sometimes even at the start of a collection’s launch.

In the third of our four-part series of interviews on line extensions, we speak to Longines' vice-president, Charles Villoz, and Maurice Lacroix’s managing director, Stéphane Waser, to find out how mid-luxury brands perceive the process of creative renewal.

Charles Villoz, Vice-President, Longines

Charles Villoz, Vice-President, Longines

What is Longines’ annual allocation when it comes to line extensions?
Every year is different, but one thing is for sure, our collections are designed to stay for a long time in our catalogue. This means we are not launching new collections each year. While line extensions are very important for the brand’s sales turnover, it is always important to renew our offer with new collections.

Longines Record from 2017Longines Record from 2017

Can you give us a sense of how far you plan ahead with each new collection?
Before launching a completely new collection, we need about three to four years, from the initial idea to the day when the product is available in store. This process could take longer depending on the complexity of the product, especially if we need to develop a new movement.

Longines is a worldwide brand established in more than 150 countries. As such, we have to satisfy a very large panel of tastes. When we launched the Record collection in 2017, for example, we presented two sizes for women and two sizes for men, a leather strap and a stainless steel bracelet, with a large choice of dials. The goal was to seduce consumers from different part of the world, with different ages and various tastes.

Longines Record from 2018Longines Record from 2018

When a collection is about to reach the end of its product cycle, what is the process to renew or revitalise it? 
As said before, our collections are created to last over time. This being said, the life cycle of one collection is very different from another. Take the Longines DolceVita, our iconic woman collection. The collection has existed since 1997. We did a complete refit in 2015 with softer and more feminine lines as we wanted to give new life to this collection. For us, it is unimaginable to remove this collection from our catalogue. If we compare this line with another feminine collection, Longines PrimaLuna, the story is completely different. Recently, we decided to reduce the number of references of this collection and, as a result, the sales boomed.

Longines DolceVita from 2015Longines DolceVita from 2015

A lot of times collectors are quick to deride watches featuring cosmetic changes as examples of a brand not doing anything new. Is it a fair criticism?
We should be careful with what you are calling a “cosmetic change”. Sometimes, a modification, which looks simple at first glance, can be technically challenging. For example, the use of a new material would demand a totally new technical approach.

Longines HydroConquest from 2018Longines HydroConquest from 2018

Can you give us an examples of a successful collections with good line extensions within Longines? 
HydroConquest is a good example. We created this sportive line inspired by the dive watch aesthetic in 2007. Thanks to the improvements we made over the years, this collection is now one of the most important in our catalogue. This product become a real best-seller thanks to its look, its technical features, namely the addition of a ceramic insert on the bezel, and competitive price points.

Longines HydroConquest from 2019Longines HydroConquest from 2019

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Stéphane Waser, Managing Director, Maurice Lacroix

Stéphane Waser, Managing Director, Maurice Lacroix

Approximately what percentage of new releases each year is devoted to line extensions?
Every year, we tend to present 25 to30 new SKUs (stock keeping units), out of which 2/3 are in principle devoted to line extensions. Some years it can be more or less, it all depends what the focus and strategy is in terms of expansion.

In general, line extensions help keep a collection performing in terms of life cycle management, by offering consumers an appreciated collection in alternative colours or materials. Usually, line extensions also increase the consistency and the development force behind specific watches, which are usually the best-selling watches. There is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that establishes itself, at the end of the day resulting in what is referred to as ‘hero products’.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon Chronograph Quartz from 2017Maurice Lacroix Aikon Chronograph Quartz from 2017

We understand that each time a new collection is introduced, the brand has always planned for a number of years ahead. 
We have a process that plans for product developments 18 to 36 months ahead. Usually, before a product is launched, two years have been invested in the design, technical development and prototyping. This is linked to the fact that the component production process is slow and the delivery lead time for movements is over 12 months. Therefore you need to plan ahead.

Some watches, such as the Aikon Automatic, were already roughly designed in 2015 and only launched in 2018. For some key products, we take our time and complement our developments with explorative market research and pre-launch feedback sessions with our wholesale and retail partners. There are so many details and options you can work on with a watch, so it is important that you decide on the ones relevant to your consumers.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon Automatic from 2018
Maurice Lacroix Aikon Automatic from 2018

Is there a specific process to determine the add-on features or changes that you always have in line for new references? 
Depending on the complexity of the watch, some will take more resources and planning, such as our Masterpiece models with movements that are developed and assembled in-house, but it can also be that an Aikon quartz watch has occupied us quite some time if we try out new materials or designs. The latest was the camouflage, which was challenging in terms of the production process.

What happens when a collection is about to reach the end of its product cycle? 
By definition, when a collection or a product has come to the end of the product cycle, we take it out of our catalogue. This process is a long process and takes years. The important thing is to perform the phasing-out early enough, otherwise the collection remains on display at retailers for too long. As a slow-mover, it cannibalises and takes away the retailer’s opportunity to sell better, fast-selling products.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon Chronograph Skeleton from 2020
Maurice Lacroix Aikon Chronograph Skeleton from 2020

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?
It all depends on how the collections are launched and managed over time. If a specific model is already available in a wide assortment of colours, an additional one is not a novelty. However, prestigious brands manage the number of references available for a specific model very tightly and also phase out alternative references fast, managing their collections very strictly. As such, consumers might have the impression that a new material or dial is not quite something new, but they fail to see that it is the result of a well-managed collection. Strict collection management also creates value for the consumer. The watches from one collection are available in a limited quantity and therefore conserve their value over time.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon Venturer from 2020
Maurice Lacroix Aikon Venturer from 2020

Specific to your brand, can you give us a few examples of successful collections with good line extensions? 
The best example we have currently is the Aikon collection. We launched the quartz collection in 2016 followed by the automatic collection two years later. Also in 2018, we launched a manufacture movement, the Aikon Skeleton, on this Aikon base. In 2019, we expanded the product territory in a more active, sporty direction by launching the Aikon Venturer, with a unidirectional turning bezel.

I put the collection’s success to how we have taken our time and listened to our consumers when developing the watches. For each watch, we have translated the product role in each collection into specific product details. The cases, dials and colours evolve with the price positionings. In other words a quartz watch does not have the same design as the automatic, but all are of high value and have well-thought-out details. Furthermore, we have been very strict in terms of the number of executions for each line. It is always a trade-off between launching a high number of watches to make sales fast short-term and properly establishing a new collection in the long run.

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Ex Editor-In Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.


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