Baume & Mercier’s new CEO talks to Revolution about the Clifton Baumatic, the importance of archives and “cool” collaborations.
You have officially been CEO at Baume & Mercier for six months. How are you finding it?
It’s going fast. The first thing I did when I joined was to finalise the product list for SHIH 2019. And, we’ve also had two important launches – the Clifton Baumatic and the Indian. Both were global launches so there was a lot of travelling, a lot of promotion and activation.
And have you made any changes yet?
You know every new CEO has to make his own way, but any change has to be for a reason. I’m French, and the French have a very particular connection to Baume & Mercier so it is one of the names that I grew up with. But, obviously, working with other watch brands for the past few years I needed to get a feel for Baume & Mercier. I locked myself up in a room with a hundred vintage watches to understand what was going on here. It was incredible, looking at models from 1892 and the amazing styles and technologies of the 1950s through the 1970s. There’s a huge heritage and I think it needs to be put back on the stage.
The Clifton Baumatic with its proprietary movement went into stores in October. What has the market reaction been so far?
It went into stores in China, Japan and Hong Kong at the end of April. Japan, in particular, is a very demanding market where the customer is very informed and very specific about details. He’s a lover of shapes and styles and understands what’s inside the watch, so Japan was a natural place for us to start. Also, the Asian market is fast and vocal with feedback.
It’s been selling pretty well. And that’s a reassuring sign to add to the great acclaim from the press. Our team also did a great job in training retailers. When a customer walks into a boutique and sees a selection of beautiful watches at an affordable price, what will make the difference is the benefits that you can’t see and our retailers need to be able to explain this.
And what are the benefits?
This is a watch designed with the end client in mind and we have addressed the four main issues associated with a standard automatic watch. First, autonomy. The norm is for 48 hours of power reserve but the Baumatic has 120 hours (five days). We have achieved this through three developments: the silicon hairspring, which consists of two wafers of silicon bound together, the top layer turned by 45 degrees to compensate for the natural orientation of the material; the escapement, which has an improved geometry for the anchor and escape wheel involving months of calculations and reworking; and the main spring, where the size and use of material was adapted. The three together provide the extra power reserve.
Secondly, anti-magnetism, which is an issue that is usually overlooked. OK, we don’t generally live in particle accelerators, but people are exposed to magnetism in their daily lives – the magnets in a wallet, a handbag or iPad cover, even hi-fi speakers. More than 30 per cent of requests we get from customer service are to demagnetise watches, so we are really reacting to our customers’ needs.
Thirdly, precision, which is something that is expected from a watch. We are never going to achieve atomic precision with an automatic timepiece, but if you leave your watch on the bedside table over a weekend, when you pick it up on Monday, it shouldn’t be running fast or slow.
And then there is maintenance. With a 4Hz watch, every second it is running, a component hits another component inside the watch four times. This over 60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours a day is like having a car running at 2,000rpm for six hours every day. If you drove your car like this, you would have to bring it to the garage every year to get your engine serviced. People don’t expect watches to undergo that same kind of stress, but they do. With a regular watch, we recommend it is serviced every three years, but with Baumatic, we wanted to extend the service interval to every five to seven years.
All of the Baumatic watches are made to the same mechanical specifications, all are assembled and regulated in the same way but one model is COSC-certified. The COSC-certified watch costs £2,500 compared to £2,300 for the non-certified version.
Are we going to see more from the Baumatic calibre?
Yes. It will remain incredible value for money, but we have to remember that most people buy a watch because of its design – if we put the best movement in a bad-looking case, it will not sell. This is a very competitive segment so we need to maintain a differentiation. People’s expectations of us are reliability and versatility and in our price range we hold our own against any other brand.
Going forward, the Baumatic has to become the reference for Baume & Mercier movements. We are not going to put it in all of our watches as that would create a price point issue, but we want to position it as our calibre and going forward we will modify it – in fact, at SIHH 2019, we will demonstrate this potential.
Beyond Baumatic, recent collaborations with Shelby Cobra and Indian Motorcycle seem to have given the brand a “cool” edge. Are you going to continue on these lines?
Yes, they seem to work really well for us. They allow us to tell stories that are consistent with our products and we are definitely going to continue with them. The trick is finding people with rare and interesting stories. Indian is very much a lifestyle product which appeals to the free spirit in people – you can imagine yourself on Route 66, riding into the unknown. We combine this with the basics of watchmaking innovation and come up with the right balance between design and mechanics. These are watches that you just love to wear.
And they are cool.
Yes. And there is so much “cool” to bring out at Baume & Mercier. Every now and again, I post one of our vintage pieces on my Instagram and the reaction is always phenomenal. We have a great archive of more than 500 pieces and we do revisit and reinterpret these, but it has to be done with common sense.
I have already seen some models which have great potential and are spot on in terms of Baume & Mercier DNA, so watch this space.