By Thomas Shambler
CEO Middle East sat down with Omega's new President, Raynald Aeschlimann, at the Dubai Desert Classic to talk golf, the luxury industry and the success of smart watches
Omega has done well to become synonymous with Golf. Why is that?
Some brands have always been in sport and Omega is one of them. We were the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games in 1932. Look at our chronograph, which is nothing more than a stopwatch. It was made to keep time. It's getting harder and harder to talk to our consumers in a coherent way.
There is Instagram, there is Snapchat, and tomorrow there will be something else. That's why we decided to promote our brand in a way that is easy for people to understand. Besides watchmaking sport is in our DNA. We decided to concentrate on sports that represent our values. Ultimately, we are a brand of achievers and golf is about achieving something.
Coming back to what you said about Snapchat. Yes, communication has changed over the years, but so has technology. The chronograph was built as a stopwatch, but now we have precise technology for timekeeping in sports. In that world, where do watches fit in?
Watches are valuable. That's my biggest argument, it's important to talk about a watch by explaining its value, which is calculated by the relationship you have to it. This is what makes watches relevant, regardless of technology. I mean, let's look at the Apple Watch. Or let's call it an electronic accessories. Because you have something digital on your wrist, you might not wear a watch. However most people still do, because they like the look of it. Remember James Bond's watch? It's a Seamaster 300 chronograph, and next year is its 60th anniversary. And you know what? Even though there are now digital accessories everyone is still very interested in that watch. That keeps it relevant.
But how often do you think they push the button to use that chronograph function?
Not so much, but that's because they like the look of it. Look at the moon watch, we built that to specific standards that were needed at the time. Look at the tachymeter function, or our recent magnetic-proofing certifications. Most people don't even know what these things are, but they want the function because it dictates the look of the watch.
That is the paradox of our industry. Look at Ferrari. Someone will go out and buy the latest, the fastest car. They want to drive in an Italian supercar. However sometimes they will be stuck in traffic, going less than five kilometres an hour. Ultimately, it's about the relationship you have to this object. Same goes for watches.
Many people in the luxury industry are predicting that 2016 will be a year of doom and gloom. Everyone seems to be planning for the worst. Do you agree?
Luxury accessories have two sides to them. When everyone is happy, they celebrate and buy nice things. When people assume the worst, they don't want to buy anything new. Is 2016 going to be a terrible year? I don't know, no one does. Unfortunately people read headlines, and sometimes nothing else. Why? Because there are so much more of them, with free magazines and newspapers, email, websites and even social media. If the media says something, everyone is forced to listen. All I can say from our point of view is that I see the sales figures every day. Sometimes one market is down but another is up. Hong Kong is no longer the luxury destination it once was.
Yes, I was in Hong Kong at the end of last year. That’s where much of the negativity about the market was coming from.
True, but now we are doing very well in Macau. Ultimately, it's the same customers. But now they have stopped going one place, and instead travel to another. The world is not going down, it is simply changing. You have got to be ready to adapt to that change, and not concentrate only on one country or one place. Japan is an excellent example for us. Last year we saw an incredibly rise in popularity for Omega in Japan, and there are pictures of people queuing up outside our boutiques.
Tag Heuer. Montblanc. IWC. These are all watch brands that have moved in to the 'smart wearable' space. But they are not doing it in the same was as Apple, they are doing it in their own way. If I were to visit Omega's R&D department, would I find a similar prototype?
Look at Swatch as a brand. It started dabbling in technology over ten years ago but not much became of it. Now, however, there is a market for such things. Let's be honest, no one at Omega is saying that it's not something we should look at. But the most important thing is to maintain your brand values. For Omega, that is the many people looking to buy their first real watch. It goes back to building a connecting to the watch.
But people are increasingly connected to digital devices. People lose wallets and don't care. Sure, it's a pain having to cancel your credit cards but that's about it. Lose your phone on the other hand…
That is a good point. The phone is becoming a very important part of everyone's life. But one, they are mass market and so must all look the same – who decided that all phones need to be black these days? And two, you're not going to hand your phone down to your kids.