“Iconic status should never be misused”
With the Beijing Olympics set to begin this Friday 4th of February, Raynald Aeschlimann, CEO and President of the Omega brand, looks back on the positive results of the past year and the strategies deployed to enhance its icons.
By Cristina D’Agostino03 février 2022
Beijing is preparing, in silence, under an aseptic bell and with the utmost control of sports competitions, to open the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Omega, the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932, has sent its technical delegation to Beijing. But Raynald Aeschlimann, CEO of Omega, will not be attending. In an exclusive interview, he talks about his strategies for the coming year, how he intends to capture the attention of the younger generation and reviews the brand's financial performance, while the Swatch Group's 2021 figures were recently released.
Today you are celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Speedmaster with the launch of a re-issue of the historic Speedmaster Calibre 321 in Canopus Gold, an exclusive material developed by Omega. What is your strategy today for the collector market?
This model, crafted in this exclusive material that we developed, is a way of celebrating the history of our iconic Speedmaster model in a vintage spirit. This model represents the essence of the collection, with all the historical details of its design that we wanted to honour, while incorporating the most advanced technologies. The price is high (editor's note: 80,800 francs) but the watch has been designed to inspire brand enthusiasts. It is also important to support the historical legitimacy of the collection when iconic models are offered at auction. This is what we recently did with the Speedmaster model of the iconic American writer RalphEllison, acquired by the Omega Museum.
Are your collectors getting younger or older with each Speedmaster anniversary?
My collectors are getting much younger, and I'm proud of that! Why that? Because we've capitalised on the spirit of the Speedmaster, while modernising the style, offering Nato bracelets, #SpeedyTuesday events for collectors. We have been able to encourage a new generation of enthusiasts, very young, very motivated to wear vintage Omega watches. Selling new models is of course crucial, but honouring those who buy a second hand Omega model is important. We want to say to them: "You bought your watch at an auction, at a very affordable price, it may be forty years old, but be proud to wear it". It is this pride that we want to pass on to young people. They are our tomorrow’s customers. We are experiencing this with the Speedmaster 321 in steel. The people who buy it are Omega enthusiasts who started their relationship with the brand by buying vintage first, by diving into the history of the model.
The heritage value of a brand, of an iconic model is an issue for all brands. If desirability increases, the average price often rises too. Is there not a danger? This Speedmaster model in Canopus Gold at 80,800 francs may be an example....
There would be a danger if we were to break our rule of always offering more value for the price. We clearly want to stay within a price range of between 5,000 and 10,000 Swiss francs and an average price of 7,000 Swiss francs. This vision is fundamental and must remain so. And I can clearly say that in this price range, Omega is the leader. To achieve this, we have invested enormously in Research & Development, movements, quality, Master Chronometer certification, and this is Omega's DNA. To leave this rule would be a danger for the brand. The Speedmaster anniversary model is made of Canopus Gold, a gold that integrates a lot of palladium and rhodium. Of course, its price is high, even if some people saw it even higher. But I refuse to go along with that. It is an inspirational model. Iconic status should never be abused. It certainly attracts a smaller number of customers, but it is a customer base that is growing at Omega. But it is clear that the strategy of segmentation and complementarity of the Swatch Group's brands is a success that must remain so.
You recently announced that you wanted to equip all your models with the Master Chronometer certification, except the 321. Where do you stand on this?
This is an evolution that is linked to the industrial production of the Omega factory. This year, 95% of all our mechanical watches will be Master Chronometer certified. This has always been our vision. It's a technology we've believed in for 10 years. It is an external, independent certification, superior to the chronometer, available on hundreds of thousands of models. And available to the watchmaking industry.
Indeed, another brand (Tudor) is also integrating it today. You are no longer alone in claiming this asset...
I have always stated very clearly that this proves the intrinsic value of this certification. I am delighted about it. It is in the interest of the end consumer. We offer it in 95% of our models, after years of development and industrialisation. If another major competing watchmaking group does exactly the same thing, but for certain timepieces, that's fine. Our industrial development strength remains intact.
But how do you regain the lead?
Hundreds of thousands of Omega customers now wear this technology on their wrists. Omega's DNA is to continue to innovate, not only in this field, but also in the development of new materials. And the co-axial movement initiated by Mr Hayek over twenty years ago (1999) is also a great asset. Being a pioneer means offering the best to our customers.
Omega has also broken new ground with the opening of The Circle shop at Zurich airport. Will you be expanding these new concepts internationally?
I am very proud of this boutique, because we opened it in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when others would have decided to close boutiques. And it shows our desire to develop proximity with our customers. We have gained quite a bit of market share with local customers in the last two years, in the US, in Asia, in Europe, and of course in Zurich. It is a 2.0 meeting place turned towards the future, designed to deliver a maximum of information, to develop a relationship with customers in a comfortable and very qualitative approach. It has been a great success and the conversion rate is very good. The time spent with the customer is longer, the commitment is higher. We detect a very high level of interest on the part of our customers in discussing the history of our watches. And we have already transformed more than half of our shops worldwide with this concept, this new furniture. Local customers need a more intimate approach, a longer shopping experience than a tourist.
You said you hoped to return to the 2019 figures soon. Was that the case in 2021? The Swatch Group figures were recently released and show a net profit of 774 million francs.
As you know, I can't comment on the group's figures. But what I can tell you is that Omega has had a very good year. We recorded our best year ever in retail! This is quite symptomatic, even though we have not opened any new boutiques in 2021. It shows that we have gained market share locally. Of course, the United States and China, our two historical countries, have driven this growth.
So the Beijing Olympics are the perfect time to start 2022?
Yes, and it is important to point out that we are timekeepers and not sponsors of the Olympics. This is an important point to make. Our role is in the performance of time measurement, as demonstrated again at the last Games in Tokyo. We will deliver a result based on chronometric perfection. More than 300 people are on site to ensure this. Even if the public will not be present in the stadiums, the television viewers will be there. It is an important showcase for the brand. The Olympic Games are still the biggest sporting event in the world. For the athletes, it is the dream of a lifetime. Of course, the general conditions are not usual, they are even difficult, including because of Covid-19.
And sport also conveys political conditions. Does that make it difficult for you?
Our mandate from the IOC is very clear. It is to deliver perfect timing for the athletes. And we want to innovate on the platforms to relay the emotions of the athletes, since we will not be able to activate the event on site.
What is your strategy for the years to come?
Omega's vision is to continue to work on its four pillars, its four emblematic collections and to strengthen them. We are fortunate to have an exceptional industrial force, put in place by the Swatch Group. Remaining a pioneer means being able to innovate in terms of movements and materials, but also to innovate in the pursuit of our history linked to space and the Olympic Games. This is unique in watchmaking if you think about it. And it reassures our customers. It's an important value that will become even more significant in the 21st century, especially in the post-Covid-19 era. Historical legitimacy is a key brand value.
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