Just before Christmas 2014, I attended the first press conference given by Jean-Claude Biver as head of the watch division of LVMH, the man who recently took control of TAG Heuer. It was an opportunity to get a glimpse of the new strategic lines of the brand for the coming months. The main trends appear to refocus on the iconic products of the brand, with emphasis on those in the 1500 to 4500 Swiss franc range. Given the success of the brand in this category and the strong market growth potential of Swiss luxury watches, these options are totally logical.
Innovate and conquer
During the meeting with Jean-Claude Biver, we also learned about the new brand marketing strategy: it is disruptive, as expected, and is connected to young people by offering an ideal profile to attract a young clientele - a market segment where TAG Heuerhas lost some ground. Plus, it responds to the big challenge posed by the smartwatch. It has been known for months that the La Chaux-de-Fonds watch brand was focusing on projects to produce connected watches. But the manner in which the new management envisages the development of these projects is in itself truly revolutionary.
Unlike the traditionally self-absorbed watch industry, fearful of, or oblivious to, change, the TAG Heuer management team has decided not to close its eyes to reality. “Will people continue to buy a quartz watch costing 1,000 or 1,500 Swiss francs if for less than 1,000 Swiss francs they can have a watch connecting them to the world and to multiple services?" asks Guy Sémon, the new vice president at TAG Heuer. "Since we don’t know the answer, we are preparing for that possible paradigm shift." That clearly indicates the rationale and direction of TAG Heuer management: prepare for what may be the biggest revolution in watchmaking history since the quartz.
Jean-Claude Biver: "I have changed my mind"
Jean-Claude Biver goes even further. He candidly explains his changed position on the subject: "I've changed my mind regarding the connected watch in recent months because it is a reality. I was opposed to it by cultural heritage, so to speak ... " He then adds: "But does the connected watch offer exclusivity? I can't say for sure that the Apple watch does, because after six months millions of units have flooded the market ... As for us, we have the experience of the dream that comes with watchmaking, while computer manufacturers have everything to learn in that regard."
This willingness to face reality is reflected first in the reorganization of the Haute Horlogerie department which is split into two sections: On the one hand, there is Haute Horlogerie (essentially, luxury watchmaking) and Haute Technologie(best translated as high-technology). In recent years, Guy Sémon has accustomed us to major timekeeping innovations such as the Pendulum or the Mikrogirder. These key developments were mainly the result of the free spirit of a man who knew how to pass on his skills and pure scientific analysis to watchmakers often imprisoned by their traditions.
The revolution has been under way for several years at TAG Heuer. Important work has been conducted to make traditional watchmaking attitudes more geared towards innovation.
Towards non-horological high technology
In the final analysis, the development of the High Technology department appears to be a logical step towards creating bridges between the fields of innovation and watchmaking. With the advent of the connected watch, this specific entity created by TAG Heuer is especially justified as the technologies needed for this type of product have nothing in common with traditional watchmaking engineering.
TAG Heuer does not at this stage wish to reveal the names of the companies it has established contacts and partnerships with, but makes no secret of the fact that in the realm of connectivity, the technology and suitable partners are mostly to be found in California and Asia rather than in Switzerland
Who will they be? In the final analysis, that hardly matters provided they are the best and are among those who invest tens of billions in research and development every year? The position of TAG Heuer is clear on this subject: watchmaking skills are required to produce a watch incorporating computer technology, but they are not sufficient. Furthermore, it is not the vocation of a watchmaker, either in terms of knowhow or investment logic, to ignore that fact.
Aside from the work of these new technological actors, the brand is continuing to develop a broad program of applied research. More than twenty university researchers are currently working on innovation projects.
Heuer Carrera Calibre 6 price: 3200 CHF / 2750 Euros / 3500 USD