CEO Speak – Lutz Bethge

CEO Speak – Lutz Bethge

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Lutz Bethge, CEO, Montblanc, talks to Mitrajit Bhattacharya about the evolution of the brand as a complete Manufacturer

I have seen the evolution of Montblanc over the past decade as a true Manufacturer’s brand with the launch of Star Nicolas Rieussec, Metamorphosis and the entire range from Villeret. How would you view the journey?
Montblanc, as a brand stands for not just a successful and cultured lifestyle, but for the highest quality and craftsmanship. This has certainly helped us in the last 15 years since we entered the watch business. Our writing instrument customers considered buying Montblanc watches because they believed that if we started something new, we would ensure the same quality and craftsmanship.
When we got into watches, we had to start from scratch. We bought the heritage building at Le Locle and started the factory. Right from the word go, we worked on manufacturing movements. The first mechanical movement manufactured in Montblanc’s own workshops in Le Locle took its inspiration from Nicolas Rieussec’s 1821 invention of the world’s first chronograph. Montblanc is recognised for its chronographs. We have always sold more chronographs than anything else.

Most of the watches that you manufacture are also chronographs.
That’s today. I’m talking about the early days. Even then we used to sell chronographs more than other watches. Then we found Nicolas Rieussec. When we first launched this watch (Star Nicolas Rieussec), which has a different look and history, it immediately became an iconic watch. The journey started in 2008. This year we will have another Manufacture movement from the TimeWalker. We prefer limited editions. We want to design our watches the way we do pens, spending a lot of time on each of them. The acquisition of the Villeret manufacture propelled us to the top position. Now people recognise us as a brand that is a real Manufacturer brand.

The Pulsographe which you launched this year is a one-of-itskind watch. Tell us a little more about the same.
We wanted to create a watch which carries the history of the Minerva (Villeret) factory. We did not have many watches. So we had to buy a number of old watches. But, we had best of enamel dials which Minerva had been creating. When we did the museum, we created a big box where we put up 50 to 60 different dials just to showcase the wealth of creativity. These are old; from the 1920s and 1930s. We started wondering, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we recreate something like that? So, we created an enamel dial with a solid gold plate and enamel on top. The Vintage Pulsographe takes off from the ‘Doctor’s Watch’ of eighty years ago that helped a physician to estimate the pulse scale corresponding to the patient’s pulse rate per minute. As a monopusher construction, this movement relies on a three-phase control: the chronograph function starts the first time the button is pressed; the chronograph’s hands stop the next time it is pressed; and these hands return to their zero positions the third time it is pressed. The sequence begins anew the next time the button is activated.
The only issue with this one is that like all the other Minerva Villeret watches, this too is pretty big in size.

How big is the chronograph?
It is 39.5 mm unlike our other watches which are 47 and 44 millimeters in diameter. Though the movement is beautiful, people struggle with the size. So we have scaled it down for this, making it the first chronograph in the Montblanc Collection Villeret 1858 with a diameter under 40 mm. The size is inspired by the chronographs of the 1930s, when ‘small was beautiful’ and will appeal to real vintage aficionados.

Coming to another mega launch of the year, what sets the TwinFly apart?
This TimeWalker product has central chronographic minute, which gives it a different look, compared to other chronographs. Pressing the button at 4 o’clock while the chronograph is running causes both the central chronograph seconds hand and the red sixty-minute totalizer to ‘fly back’ to their zero positions and, without further action by the wearer, immediately begin measuring a new interval. That is why we call it a TwinFly. It’s a competitive product and increases the manufacture base of the brand.

How is Montblanc doing post downturn?
We are faring very well in all the markets.

Your business is pretty balanced across the globe. How do you see the world market changing?
Well, certainly the Asian market will grow larger. China of course is the number one market for us. We are present in 47 cities across China. Even though we already have a very strong base in Europe and the United States, we’ll work towards consolidating it further. Our focus is on the Middle East and India. We are very happy with the way we are positioned in India. We are prepared to invest further in this market. For the first time ever, we have done a television commercial in India with Anil Kapoor and his daughter. India will continue to stay as one of our top priorities in the future.