CEO Speak – Michael Orfeo

CEO Speak – Michael Orfeo

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With their focus on women’s watches, Balmain stands apart from others, says Michael Orfeo, Head of Marketing, in a candid interview with Mitrajit Bhattacharya

What are the new products this year?
This year we are concentrating strongly on arabesque dial. Our focus is on luxury that is affordable. All our watches are targeted now between CHF 290 to CHF 2,000.

Do the Balmain watches use sapphire crystals?
We try to mix a bit. We work with mineral crystal as well as sapphire crystal. Depending on the shape of the case and the glass, we adapt the quality of the glass. So, we really try to get always the best price for the best quality but we still are careful to be attractive to the public.


Did you feel the effect of the downturn the way other brands felt?
Yes, we did. For instance, in Switzerland, we were in progression compared to 2008. So, 2009 was a good year for us, and internationally it was not so bad either. This is because the price range of our core group is very good, targeted between CHF 400 and CHF 600. In this kind of price range, we can fit many markets. Not only the European markets but also Middle Eastern markets, India, and now China.

Who do you see as your main competitors in the price range of 400 to 600 Swiss Francs?
I don’t see many competitors. We are Swiss-made, while in this price range most watches are not Swissmade. Also, Balmain is a part of the Swatch Group, so it is a warranty of quality and distribution. The quality we provide, many brands can’t guarantee. If you look at Balmain, we have watches with diamonds priced between CHF 500 and CHF 700, which are extremely competitive. I don’t see many brands that can do the same.

Even within the Swatch Group, how do you see your brand being different from brands like Tissot, Hamilton, and Mido?
Balmain is targeted at women while Tissot, Hamilton, and Mido are aimed at men. We understand what women want and produce watches especially for them. Most of the other brands produce men’s watches and then they reduce it to women’s. We create watches especially for women, and this makes a big difference in our approach.

What is your percentage for men and women in terms of overall brand?
75 per cent is for women and 25 per cent for men.

In terms of global markets, how do you split the world?
Middle East accounts for around 40 per cent. Now we have Europe coming very strongly, like Switzerland, Belgium, and Russia. Russia is a very important market for Balmain. And the newcomer is China. We entered China at the end of 2008, and last year we had our first anniversary. We celebrated it with Miss Swiss 2009, Whitney Toyloy, in Shanghai and Hangzhou. It was a great success.

How do you see India as an emerging market for Balmain?
It is a fantastic market with 1.2 billion people. You have elegance and refinement in your culture, and Balmain would gel completely with that. However, we face some economical and customs-related issues that have made our life a bit difficult in the past. But that is changing slowly.

Do you see any trends in product lines across the world?
There is one collection, Miss Balmain, which is doing very well since 2004. Miss Balmain is a ladies’ watch with 630 diamonds, starting at 290 Swiss Francs. It is a very affordable watch and by far the bestseller worldwide.

Is it the number one, universally?
The difference is in the arabesque pattern. For Balmain, the arabesque pattern has achieved the best sales. It is the DNA of Balmain and is recognisable everywhere.

Tell us about your association with the Miss Swiss title.
We have been associated since 2005. We promote our products with the image of Miss Swiss. Worldwide, she is our ambassador of Swiss culture and elegance. Our wholesale business around the world was up by about six per cent, while the retail business was up by about 16 per cent. I think Gc got the benefit vis-à-vis some higher-priced luxury brands, because we are known for smart luxury or attainable luxury products.