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Sat 20 Apr 2019 11:13 AM

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The quest to be timeless: Matthais Breschan, Rado CEO

The UAE is arguably Rado's key Gulf market in a business unit that brings in a quarter of its global revenue. But how do you keep attracting customers to an industry where watches aren't used to tell time anymore? We spoke with the CEO of Rado, Matthais Breschan, to find out

The quest to be timeless: Matthais Breschan, Rado CEO
CEO of Rado, Matthais Breschan

You visit Dubai twice a year. Is that your own preference, or does it say something else about the brand?

The Gulf is a very important market for Rado historically. It’s been known in Dubai since the city became a very important shopping centre. Rado was present here in this region, I would say, way before the other mid-range brands, when those were still concentrating on Europe and the USA. We were already present here in the Middle East and in India, and also in other countries in Asia. This region here, including India, is about one quarter of our worldwide business. It is a very big share for us and I think we have always been among the top three brands in our industry in the GCC countries.

Why would you say that’s been the case?

I think this was first of all, because Rado always had a very pioneering spirit, not only for bringing innovative materials and designs to the watch market but also exploring new markets. And then I think because gifting was very important in the Middle Eastern region. Rado concentrated, from the beginning, on materials and here, offering a gift which was made of a material that is scratch resistant, that keeps all its beauty, even after ten, twenty, thirty years, I think that contributed a lot to the success of Rado in this region.

You’ve had a lot of success in the Indian market as well, a demographic that has had a close association with the Middle East for a very long time.

India had very high import duties, so what Rado did is that they installed in India a whole network of customer service points. So the Indian customers, when they were travelling abroad, they knew that if they were to buy a Rado watch and then go back to India, they could get services in India for those watches. That was not the case for most of the other brands and that, of-course, helped Rado to become such a strong and important brand in the market.

Legacy is an important concept to Rado as a brand. But how do you stay relevant in Dubai which has changed quite a bit from its humble beginnings?

Actually, we need to make sure we permanently innovate ourselves. The day we stop innovating, we start killing the brand. For Rado, this is more important than for all the others because our differentiator is materials and design. We also cooperate with young designers who bring us new ideas, often nothing to do with the watch industry. For example, we cooperated last year with a Japanese designer, Mr Morinaga who is very famous for developing fabrics that would show artwork in sunlight that disappears indoors. It’s how we developed phototronic glass, which is very similar to sun glasses when you’re outside the glass darkens and you can only see the hands of the watch, but indoors, the glass becomes transparent and you can see the skeleton movement inside the watch.

How can you bring that kind of practice to the UAE?

In the UAE, you have a large amount of talent because of a number of design schools. So here, until May later this year, we’re looking for young designers to send us proposals from which we will make a selection. We’ll be looking into at least the top five ideas to incorporate into some of our newer designs of 2019. And hopefully, we’ll get with some very innovative ideas from these designers, I’m hoping some that do not even exist at all in the watch industry. We’re looking for a challenge to use technology and bring some really innovative ideas to the watch industry.

So you’ll be looking at works from five designers. Is that how it will work?

Well, it depends really on what type of innovation and technology challenge they are going to present to us. Sometimes we are not able to find a technological solution, so, that is always the risk, when you want to innovate. But you have to take risks, sometimes you fail and sometimes you are successful.

Some of the other brands are looking at the market entirely differently. They’re opening their largest boutiques in the world here, trying to get really close to the customer. What do you think about competing with that? Also is the market large enough here to accommodate everyone?

I think in general, the market, yes, is large. Now in our Watch Group (Swatch Watch Group). We we have 20 brands that cover price segments from $100 to $100,000. Rado is a specialist in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. There is no need to go upscale because there is Omega, and there is no need to go down because there is Tissot.

Our efforts then are to use state-of-the-art technology to attract people in our price segment. Of course, nobody buys today watches to read the time. Watches today are an accessory to say something about yourself. This is probably even more true for men than for women because we are often subjected to a strict and limited dress code. With a dark suit, light shirt and tie, there is very little possibility left to really say something about ourselves.

Given everyone’s penchant for luxury, especially in Dubai, what is Rado’s way of communicating enough about its brand to draw in the crowd?

If I wear a diving watch, it doesn’t meant that I will go scuba diving in the next hour. If I wear a pilot watch, it doesn’t mean that I have to take off in my helicopter. Watches stand for a world of affinity. Affinity is exactly what each brand tries to reflect in a different way. Our affinity is clearly linked to the world of design and unique materials. Those materials that we create are meant to produce an object and accessory that is timeless, agelessness, durable and keeps all its beauty even after many years.

Meanwhile you are opening new boutique’s here as well albeit less dramatically. There’s your boutique in Dubai Design District for instance.

Of course you need qualitative distribution and the right environment. You need a strong presence in places like the Dubai Mall or the Mall of Emirates. Those are two major pillars in the shopping arena in Dubai, to locals as well as to tourists. Strong presence requires the necessary investments. But it is also important, I think, to have stores in the right environment to present your innovations. And we need to allow the possibility of a very large number of people touching our watches.

What would you say is an often overlooked but very important aspect to consider when buying a watch?

I think the thing to realise is that just because there are watches out there for $10,000, $50,000 and $100,000, doesn’t mean that $3,000 isn’t a lot of money. It’s a lot of money for 99.9 percent of the world’s population. And they deserve having something unique, with state-of-the-art technology where there is a real substance behind it. But now imagine buying something worth a lot of thousands of dollars, maybe a Tourbillon, and there’s a problem with the watch and it needs to be serviced and there’s nobody. I think you’d get pretty upset when you’ve paid $100,000 and realise later there’s no way to get it fixed.

So I think a lot of brands want to breach luxury, but the problem is that they often haven’t mastered the technology, or the only thing that characterised their entry into the luxury segment were their prices, as opposed to the substance of the product. I think when you look at the Rado price range, what we offer is unique at an outstanding value price ratio versus probably everything else you would find in the watch industry.