Thomas Morf, CEO, Favre-Leuba during his visit to India on the brand’s re-launch tells Mitrajit Bhattacharya that the second oldest Swiss watch brand has always been ahead of times and will continue to be so
We are pretty emotional and excited to see Favre-Leuba in India. What do we expect from the brand in its new avatar?
Expect strong products, expect strong brand management and expect continuity. We have to deal with the historically significant brand, not only in India; it is really on a global level, especially in Switzerland. We were among the five founding members of watches in the 18th century in Switzerland.
You happen to be the second oldest brand, right?
Yes, the oldest they say is Blancpain, then it’s Favre-Leuba followed by Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, and Girard-Perregaux. These five brands were the founding members of the Swiss watch industry. We found out that the former owner family was really innovative and were following different ways. We put that together into a claim and it’s called Conquering Frontiers. Not only from the product standpoint but also the way they distributed the brand on a global level. Think of it, travelling to India in the 1800s. It was a major exercise going to South America and all those remote places. Fabre-Leuba was always ahead of its times.
You mentioned about continuity…Are you planning to take the best from your heritage or just continue with the past?
We have created products that are meant to be timeless. The designs and elements we are using were already being used in the old products of Favre-Leuba. See the little bit like, for instance, Range Rover. The Range Rover from 1970 and the Range Rover from 2016, they are using the same design elements. That makes a product timeless and even iconic. So, that is exactly what we have in mind. Like others, we too were affected in the 70s and 80s by the quartz revolution. Decisions taken then to make the brand successful were wrong. Either it was too high in pricing or it was too dressy.
Fabre-Leuba made iconic watches and continues being traded at super high prices in the secondary market. We are going to work even harder and even better. From a communication point of view, what we need to do is create a brand that will instill confidence in the buyer. A brand is like a friend if you see that somewhere on the shelf or something, it makes you feel good. You can buy awareness, you can buy turnover, but the desirability of a brand needs to be built.
Who do you think will right away adopt your brand? Have you done any kind of mapping of customers in terms of your wish list?
For us, it is important that we offer an extremely good price for what you buy. It’s not about being cheap, though. It’s at the end of the day I will be able to gauge the consumer behaviour. Presently, the Raider Harpoon is my favourite watch. We have created something you can easily recognize. Not everybody will like the Harpoon. I believe a brand cannot be everybody’s darling. A strong brand management starts with managing elements like product, price and promotion which you do it over a certain period of time to create confidence.
What does a brand do to create an iconic product?
Rolex is probably the least innovative company in the world. But don’t underestimate it, they do improvements and don’t even mention it. They created the Oyster in the 20s and 30s. Then the Submariner came in 1953. Look at the merits of Mariner in 1953, and look at the current Submariner. You still see the relationship. This is the granddaddy, and this is the son or the nephew. That’s how you create an icon. Look at the Porsche 911 from 1964 and look at the new Porsche. It looks pretty similar in structure, but very modern now.
The design is a very important part of Favre-Leuba. Do you see yourself associating with say a marketing activity or have a program with a leading design school?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t say that we know everything. Sometimes you need inputs from the outside world, and we are absolutely open to work with external designers on certain things. Maybe they could show us the way how a Favre-Leuba would look like in 10 years, without sacrificing our DNA.
We often see that ordinary Swiss people wear the regular watches, not the big brands. The premiumisation of brands pretty much happens outside Switzerland with the big brands playing a bigger role, all thanks to marketing. Do you think that’s a natural progression?
If the Swiss watch industry would have to live on Swiss domestic buying behaviour, there would not be a Swiss watch industry anymore. This is fact. I think, in today’s world, what I can see right now is that the marketing people around the world, in whatever industry, whatsoever, they have overdone it a little bit. There are too much of artificially created stories to sell their products.
Do we see a limited edition of Fabre-Leuba products in the coming years?
Yes, next year when we celebrate 280 years of Favre-Leuba. We created the iconic Bivouac in the 1960s and it will return soon. We are working on the prototype. The connoisseurs are expecting the Bivouac, then the Bathy. They want to see these products come back, and we will honour that, that is part of our legacy.