Independent Swiss watchmaker Hautlence celebrated its tenth anniversary in the industry late last year.
The brand, known for its unique concept watches, launched a new range of products, which are simpler in design at more accessible prices, signalling the beginning of a new era.
Aficionado caught up with Guillaume Tetu, the cofounder and CEO of the brand, to talk about the challenges facing the young brand, the strategic reasoning behind the new product range and to take a look at the past ten years.
Let’s talk about the beginnings. How did you come to form an independent brand at a time when the watchmaking industry is almost saturated with household names that belong to big luxury groups?
Starting a new brand in the watchmaking industry is quite the challenge but, when I started with my former partners, the goal was to create something different. As a product designer, I wanted to display the time in new ways and have a new approach with mechanical parts and other components coming from other industries.
For the movements, we first collaborated with suppliers before bringing this part in-house to have a better control and knowledge over what we do.
Sales had been an incredible success between 2005 and 2008. After 2009, it was really challenging, but that was a global crisis. It pushed us to ask good questions about the future of the brand. My former partner had decided to leave at that time, so I continued alone and discovered the world of marketing, sales and distribution.
But didn’t having to deal with these aspects of the business distract you from your core task of designing the watches?
I discovered this world with pleasure, since it is linked to human relationships and to dealing with the products that we have invented. I discovered that to create a strong brand name, you couldn’t just have great products. You need these, but you also need the history and the trust of the market.
How did you work on earning that trust from the market?
In 2012, we joined the Mellon family. It was an important milestone for us. One day after the announcement, we had a new high on the brand and we started being taken seriously.
We now call ourselves the ‘Gentleman Rebels Club’: a gentleman would understand that kind of complicated products we make while a rebel does not follow others and trusts his own taste instead.
Most, if not all, of your watches are limited productions…
All the watches with in-house complications are limited edition – specifically when it has a gold case. For the more common watches at the entry level, it is ; we can produce 200 of them one year and then continue with different in the coming years. This year we are producing only around 400 watches, so it is a small production.
Introducing an affordable range provides more exposure in the market but don’t you think it may dilute the brand identity?
Travelling around the world, I discovered from retailers that when it comes to buying watches, customers choose the brand name, the image they want to give and the love they will have for the products.
My product was historically good in terms of design, but the price point was sometimes too high, except for top collectors.
Now, we can put the new, more affordable collections on the tray at the store and introduce clients – beyond the niche collectors – to the brand and give them a feel for it.
From a business perspective, this was a really good decision – we can now see the results. Some points of sale were selling three to five pieces a year; now there are more sales and retailers are happier.
What is one business-related decision from the past ten years that you would reverse if you had the chance?
That’s a really good question. I think it is about a few details, but the big picture should be the same: creating interesting products and promoting them face to face with the customers. I think I probably should have travelled more often in the beginning, because it is really a question of relationships.
But, of course, we have created a really strong product in the new range and no one was prepared for that, but we can say that we are still alive today – it means the base was quite good.