Nicolas Baretzki, CEO Montblanc on its new collection, the rich legacy of Minerva and the new design of its boutique worldwide in a wide-ranging chat with Mitrajit Bhattacharya
The 1858 Collection is the big thing this year. Do take us through it.
Being the 160th anniversary of Minerva it was important for us to really dig further and enhance those amazing calibres and timepieces that we have had in our past. The whole concept of 1858 was really inspired by the 1920s and 1930s military watches and the mountain exploration watches that we have in those collections. The military watches were watches where the visibility and the legibility were so essential. The robustness of these watches was extremely important too. The first piece in the limited edition of the 1858 collection- the chronograph monopusher has a very vintage look in green colour with beautiful execution; quite an emblematic piece.
The Geosphere that we launched a few years ago is a very high complication watch. We wanted to use the specific Geosphere concept of giving world time, with a direct reading of time all over the world, northern and southern hemisphere, which is really complex in terms of fine watchmaking.
With people increasing their travel between the hemispheres and continents, I think it makes a lot of sense…
The link with the exploration theme is obvious but we went into a lot of details. First is the functionality of these two globes, from the northern and southern hemisphere, anti-clockwise for the northern part and clockwise for the southern part, where you really see them rotating and having a direct reading of these time zones. Then there are a lot of small things like the day and night indication. So if you want to call people in the US, you know whether its night or its day. And then some subtle reference to mountain exploration: seven red dots that represent the highest peaks in the seven continents spread over the two hemispheres. Seven peaks that every mountaineer would dream to achieve. There have been less than 500 people in the world who have done it.
But this one is also limited to 1858…
We have two pieces. The steel version is not limited, and the bronze version is limited to 1858. And then, we have the legible Arabic numerals on the dial, with a Super-LumiNova treatment, so that one can see well at night. You have the black ceramic bezel, and the leather strap is done by a manufacturer in Florence.
There is so much happening yet it’s so clean. Not difficult to read, in spite of telling a long story.
But at the end of the day, I think the most striking point of this 1858 Collection is the price. As a customer, I want to buy something that has added value. With a price of €5000 or €5200 for the complexities and the fine watchmaking, its Montblanc strategy to have a very intelligent pricing.
So within the 1858 family this year Montblanc, which ones are your favourites?
The Minerva chrono monopusher is one of my favourites in the high-end segment, because of its execution, its craftsmanship. The mix of bronze and steel for the case is interesting, especially where we use an alloy of copper and aluminium, a special alloy that not only gives a lot of hardness to the material but is softer, and so more resistant.
How important is Minerva in the entire ecosphere of watchmaking, beyond Montblanc?
Number 1. I should say that we are really blessed that we could acquire Minevra around 10 years ago. The more we dig into the history and its archives we come across more movements. It has such a rich history. And that’s why; we launched at the SIHH 2018, the 1858 Collection to celebrate 160 years of Minerva. We realised that if we wanted to tell everything people might not understand. That’s why we had to classify the spirit of classical, the spirit of racing and of the mountain exploration. In short, we really tried to give a glimpse of Minerva. It’s difficult to differentiate between Minerva and Montblanc today as they are quite integrated. It’s like Minerva is Montblanc and Montblanc is Minerva, even though obviously Minerva is a bit older than Montblanc.
What is the essence of Minerva, the Manufacture?
Even today we make very few watches here, so it’s really super exclusive. We continue to work like we used to work in the watch industry 200 years ago, which means that you have one watchmaker that follows the whole actualisation of the movement from A to Z. From an economic point of view it doesn’t make sense, but from a purely traditional way of doing watches in Switzerland, it’s really how everything started here. And that’s why I think when experts come to Villeret after having seen the major Manufactures in Switzerland, they always tell us, it is so authentic and yet so different. And that’s why Minerva is a big, big story for us.
You also have something interesting in the Star Legacy and the Timewalker, so if you could just take us through the key pieces?
In Star Legacy, we have the same consistent approach. Again the inspiration is from Minerva, an even earlier age of Minerva, from the end of the 19th century, going back to those pocket watches. If 1858 is about vintage, Star Legacy is definitely about modernity. It’s how we are using that heritage from the movement point of view, from some design elements, but bring a lot of modernity to the watch.
How important is Timewalker in your collection for commercial reasons?
We are really building this segment of sports and professional in our watchmaking collection. Montblanc is, maybe, more known for classical and fine watchmaking. Timewalker was a big launch of 2017, and obviously, this is a very important pillar for us. As we all know, the sports segment in the watch industry is the largest. Here we have a lot to compare with, and we have a lot to grow.
What’s happening on the distribution front of Montblanc worldwide and how are you shaping it up in the next few years?
Montblanc has a very large reach already. We have nearly 275 directly operated retail stores in the world. I am not looking at expanding. We have a new boutique concept which has been extremely successful. From a priority perspective I want to renovate all the key stores and before trying to expand network I want our international customers, from Delhi to Mumbai, from New York to Paris to Tokyo, to have the same impression of the Maison. We do spend a lot of money in renovating all the flagship stores in the world. I think, within the next 18 months we will be done with the flagship stores. India is a very good example; we have, in the past two years opened 10 boutiques. And as you know, it’s a joint venture with Titan. That helps.
Apart from the 275 odd own boutiques how many multi-brand outlets do you retail from?
Roughly we have about 4000 doors in the world.
What is split of sales between direct and rest?
Be it retail or wholesale, both networks are important. We need wholesalers but we rely a lot on our own boutiques. So it’s a very good mix for us. I believe having a strong retail network allows you to have a strong and direct link with the customer.