Recently, Vacheron Constantin selected the United States for its worldwide launch of the new Overseas World Timer and other watches – marking the first time a worldwide launch for the brand took place in America. During an exciting multi-day event, we had the distinct opportunity to spend quite a bit of time talking with brand CEO, Juan-Carlos Torres. It was a very candid interview, during which Torres stated that our industry may be in a crisis and described ways brands and retailers may want to re-think business to attract today’s consumers.
In addition to sharing his thoughts on the difficult economic climate facing the watch industry today, he also discussed the American market for watches, the exciting re-launch of the Overseas Collection, and the brand’s partnership with world-famous photograph Steve McCurry for the launch.
HT: What are the issues facing the watch industry today?
JCT: “We are facing difficult times; all of the brands are witnessing the problem, the crisis is here; we can’t ignore it. It stems from several things. When things were good retailers were happy, they were fighting for more inventory and faster delivery. There were a lot of novelties and new products unveiled and even a lot of new brands were born. Everybody thought that luxury watchmaking and jewelry was the new wave, and everyone jumped on it. The problem was that [we] did not change our method of contacting the customers and impressing them. Nobody changed the systems, and it is during the good times that you need to prepare for the next [bad] times. You need to begin thinking about what changes should be made, and start making them. Now, we are all thinking about the changes too late, because the customers are moving faster than us thanks to the Internet, facebook, and all types of tools that are making us move faster and faster.”
HT: So how should we be approaching today’s customers?
JCT: “The new way to sell is to understand that customers and young people today do what they want. They are not as loyal to a brand or a store as the previous generation; many buy an expensive watch like they are buying shoes. We need to cultivate that young customer and this means tossing aside things we said we could never do. Of course we must have a loyalty to our brand and its roots, but in the end, we cannot say ‘We can’t do that because we are a luxury company and it is not our tradition.’ We can never do that. We have to adjust. The new generation doesn’t care about the past, the tradition, because they don’t know what that tradition is. It is our job to cultivate them, to inform them and not say ‘that’s the tradition’ but instead say, ‘let’s together – customer and brand – build a new relationship together, one maybe not based on the old tradition, but based on the relationship.’ This is not easy. For me, with 40 years in the watchmaking, to think that what we have done for 260 years as a brand means nothing to most young customers is difficult, but you can’t sell something today just because you have a past and a certain name on the dial.”
HT: How does this thinking influence what Vacheron Constantin is doing today with the re-launch of Overseas?
JCT: “It has a great influence in our communication, and our product. Vacheron Constantin is feeling the bad times like everyone else, but during this time, people see our watches as a secure investment, and because we offer a large range of products, we can satisfy many tastes. This is why the Overseas collection is important. The line needed some re-working to appeal to today’s customers. You can’t sit still; you have to always be innovating. You need to launch products that the customers need or want in today’s world. Just because we are in a luxury industry, it does not mean that people will want our watch. People want them because they are useful. That’s the case with the Overseas World Timer, for instance; business travelers like to know the time in multiple places around the world. It may be challenging in terms of price, but in the end what we are offering to the customer is an excellent movement made in-house, excellent quality standards and all of the design elements that matter.”
HT: How important is the American market and why did you opt to launch Overseas here?
JCT: “During the last years, we worked with many markets, including China, which is huge. The only country equal with China when it comes to watches and sales in the market, is America. You have to continue to invest in the people who helped build the brand, in the locals, in the people living in the houses of America. These are the spokesmen for the brand. For this reason, we chose America for the launch of Overseas; it is the perfect product for the market. American’s like the larger size, the dial colors and the details. This watch has so many real features yet it strikes a balance between function and elegance and appeals to a new segment of customers for us. During the launch party, we were targeting new, younger customers and we actually pre-sold about 10 pieces, six of which were world timers. Eight of the 10 watches were sold to new customers, only two were to existing customers. This is what we want to achieve moving forward and as we get the watches into stores in September.“
HT: Why did you opt to involve famed photographer Steve McCurry for the launch – having him travel to a dozen destinations around the world and photograph them?
JCT: “The spirit of the Overseas watch is about travel, about rediscovering the world. He brings us a new perspective of the world, of the places he is traveling. When you travel, you have a passport, a bag, your iPhone, maybe your camera and your watch. We told him to take the Overseas watch as his companion on a journey and photograph what you see. He is a mature photographer, not a crazy young guy, and we wanted his perspective of the world. The photographs will go on tour, starting with the launch in New York, where we showed the pictures from the first six destinations. All 12 locations will be disclosed at a big event at the Manufacture early next year. Having this perspective is like an adventure. It appeals to the emotions and makes a connection with the traveler or the customer on a different level. This is what we need to do more of, communicate with customers on a new level that appeals to emotion, too.”
HT: What is the best-selling Vacheron Constantin line?
JCT: “For sure it is the Patrimony line. It has been the best seller for many years. I am not one to use the term ‘icon,’ but Patrimony is really a reference. Nothing will replace it because the design is a perfect fit. We were trendsetters when we launched it in 2004, bringing classicism back in a year when big dials and bold watches were the trend. We started that return back to classicism. It is a complicated product to build and the design is very complex, but it has such a simple, clean look with the curved dial and the curved indexes and crystal. It is all curved, nothing is flat, and that makes the product very special.”
HT: Do you have other new product plans this year?
JCT: “We have some very exciting special editions coming out, including some North American editions. But I can’t talk about that on the record yet.”
A few weeks after this interview, the brand released three new Historiques watches, as well as the North American Limited Edition Traditionnelle Day-Date watch.