The age of exploration and the art of travel are two key themes running through Montblanc’s 2015 novelties, with the introduction of two Vasco da Gama inspired limited edition watches. His voyage through uncharted territory is encapsulated in these timepiece which bring together pioneering mechanics. Never before had a cylindrical tourbillon and a unique worldtime indication been combined in a commercial piece before. Da Gama’s quest is similarly reflected in the make of the Heritage Chronométrie ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Vasco da Gama Limited Edition 60, which features an innovative tourbillon, whose balance wheel is outside the cage. “These watches abide by Montblanc’s triptych of key elements: quality, value and technical performance,” said Jérôme Lambert over coffee during a brief pause at SIHH 2015. But why is travel and discovery such important components of the Maison’s novelties this year? From likening a watchmaker to a marathon runner, to the importance of precision and beauty in fine watchmaking, Lambert explains it all.
Why is travel such an important theme at Montblanc this year?
Montblanc is about achievement and innovation combined with an active life. One dimension that we emphasize is the fact that we can move from one place to another. In these novelties we have tried to give back the pleasure of traveling to the traveler by offering a little bit of creativity and beauty. We all rush from one place to another, but say you are sitting in a plane, setting your watch from the day to the night, and you observe that it is still night at home, then you can imagine that you are with your family. This provides comfort. The representation of time and travel is also aesthetically very interesting.
What is the link between Montblanc and Vasco da Gama?
We wanted to reflect a time when precision was still lacking. Precision during the age of exploration had a direct impact on one’s life, especially when out bracing stormy seas on a mission to uncover new territories. We created the Geosphère with a visible South and North Hemisphere, both of which Vasco da Gama travelled. At a recent dinner, there were several replicas of Vasco da Gama’s journals lent from the Museum of Lisbon. We will acquire a few that we will be able to give with our limited edition pieces to clients to make the story even more profound.
How would you compare Montblanc’s 2015 offering with what was introduced last year?
If I were to do a comparison between SIHH 2014 and 2015, I would say that 2014 was about underlining the relevance of Montblanc in terms of fine watchmaking, and 2015 is about showing the uniqueness of Montblanc in fine watchmaking.It is very much about this triptych of elements in terms of technical performance, quality and value. When you have a watch like the Orbis Terrarum it is truly unique. So much so that the significance of the function disappears and you just have the emotion of this sky that is still going from day to night, something that you see very well in the Middle East. You can see the night sky on the watch wherever you go. After a while you forget that it is a watch and see it just as a beautiful thing. You see the sunrise and the sunset and that is what it is about. All of the watches this year have a very strong design signature. From wherever you are you can notice the inherent symbolism of an Orbis Terrarum. And this ability to leave a mark that is recognizable is very important to us.
You launched the Perpetual Calendar last year for 10,000€ and this year you’ve mentioned that there will be a watch that will compete with this price at 5,000 €. While prices at other Maisons are increasing, Montblanc’s are decreasing but without losing the value of its watches. How are you able to do this?
The 5,000 € watch is the Orbis Terrarum. First you have to dare and you need to have the courage to do it. You need to realize that it is not that it is not possible, it is that you are not trying. It has been said that clients will not like it, people will not understand it, and it is not feasible. All of these ideas retreat from the feeling of inventiveness and a big part of the challenge is to be capable to say ‘No, we have not tried this before and we need to change that.’ My job is to make the team dream big. I re-use the words of Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion where you cannot dream big,” and the team needs to do this. We need the team to say, ‘Let’s think about it and do it.’
But why is affordable luxury and affordable timepieces important to the market right now?
Affordable luxury was the trend of last year. The triptych of the brand when it comes to watches is value, quality and technical performance. It’s what we said 18 months ago and then we were ahead of market trends. We predicted it. I cannot change my strategy just because things have changed. Presenting value is something that Montblanc is really good at. You don’t define these watches as cheap, but aspirational. And when you equate this thinking to the budget that you had in your mind, this type of thinking makes it possible to buy a good value watch for a fraction of the price you estimate that you need to pay.
So value is not dependent on price fluctuation?
What I say to the team is always, ‘Let’s do more, let’s be confident that our client is happy, that our client is saving. Let’s make them happy.’ If the watch is capable to exude a signature and its own quality then the argument for value will make sense. But maybe you bought an affordable watch like the Perpetual Calendar for 15,000 €. That is not exactly the definition of ‘affordability’ because you can also have a watch for 5,000 €. The right word is value. During this period I believe that clients save more and are more discerning about what they buy.
An uncertain economic situation has been created by the rise of the Swiss Franc. How will Montblanc ride this tumultuous wave?
First, when things are moving and you are in a challenger position it is never completely bad because then you need to push yourself to make the blocks move. There is always something positive to come about from difficulty. Already 18 months ago I was professing how important value was, as a key concept in the triangle of our strategy for fine watchmaking. It’s like running a marathon. In order to run a marathon I train by running a half marathon. When the day comes for me to run, I am ready for the full marathon. When we say value we are already trained for a half marathon and now we need to be ready to run for the full marathon. We know what the exercise is about. Now we need to be even more creative, even more capable to bring value and even more capable to survive. This is my 12th SIHH and I have a good measurement system for stress. When you introduce the collection you have the stress of bringing something new into the market and it takes hours and hours of working with the team before you have the conviction about what you are selling. On the night we introduced the novelties for 2015, the stress of last year disappeared and the stress of next year came. We are always competing against what we last did. I think the exercise is even stronger when you are capable of raising your bar.