Interview: Longines CEO Matthias Breschan Talks About The Past, Present, And Future
Watchonista and the CEO discuss how Longines navigates tradition while forging an innovative path ahead.
Since his appointment to CEO of Longines in July 2020, Austrian-born Matthias Breschan has overseen the brand’s navigation of a global health crisis and adapted the staid Swiss brand to be competitive in today’s ever-changing watch market.
Yet despite the numerous challenges, Longines has experienced a resurgence in popularity due to its Heritage, Legend, and Master collections. And as a company founded nearly two centuries ago, the brand has plenty of heritage to fall back on. Still, many wonder: Where is the brand heading next?
Thanks to the kind folks at Longines, I recently had the chance to sit down with Mr. Breschan. What followed was an insightful conversation touching on everything from Formula One to horse racing.
Longines in 2021
To the surprise of many, the watch industry has survived and thrived during the current global health crisis. When I asked how Longines navigated 2020, Breschan replied, “I arrived in July 2020. Most of our points of sale around the world were still closed. But then, starting in August, things started changing a lot. After over a year, we are very, very close to our 2019 results.
“So, I would say Longines is on fantastic footing. I think we can count ourselves among the few privileged brands that really are in such a lucky position.”
Longines’ experience has been similar to the other brands I’ve interviewed. Specifically, lack of travel and an increase in disposable income due to lockdowns have driven collectors and enthusiasts to look for small bits of joy by doubling down on a beloved hobby, which, in this case, is watch collecting. This horological instinct is where Longines has thrived.
“It's true. We saw, for example, in the last year, people couldn’t travel. So, buying a watch was the perfect gift you can give yourself or somebody else. We saw this in many countries after the lockdown, particularly in the first weeks. We had extremely strong traffic and sell out because I think people were waiting for the opening of stores to buy watches again,” said Breschan.
In addition to physical stores, which have been the brand’s principal point of distribution for a century, the iconic watchmaker is also embracing e-commerce. Breschan elaborated on this, saying, “In the last year, we accelerated the rollout of e-commerce. We adapted to it. We started to call our customers, organized meetings to present our watches, either in-store or virtually, we found new ways, while also staying in touch.”
What’s it Like to Be Longines’ CEO?
Climbing the Swatch Group corporate hierarchy to become the CEO of a major brand is no small feat. The achievement is not lost on Breschan, who acknowledged how lucky he was to be running one of the most well-known brands in the world: “I think it is, really, a big, big honor.
“It's one of the biggest watch brands in Switzerland. It's an extremely strong and healthy brand with a fantastic, unique history. I knew so much about Longines, but I didn't know a lot of other things that I discovered after I started. We have a huge base to work on to define the future of launches in the coming years.”
It’s an understatement to say that this author is a motorsports fan, but one of the things I’ve obsessed over in the past years is the history of motorsport partnerships. Longines is no stranger to the world of motorsports, having sponsored Formula One and other series throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.
These days, however, the brand has left motorsports behind in favor of skiing, archery, and, of course, equestrian sports. It begs the question: Will we ever see Longines return to its roots in auto racing?
Breschan presented his vision: “We are definitely going to keep the two major platforms – equestrian and skiing. We’ve just signed with the International Skiing Federation for another five years. So those will be definitely our two major platforms for the coming years.”
When pressed, Breschan admitted that Longines plans to revive more of its aviation heritage with upcoming launches: “The rich history of Longines within the world of aviation dates back to the 1920s with Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and other legends. We’ll bring back products to retell this rich history while also trying to involve contemporary pioneers to retell this story.”
Adapting to Gender
The continued gendering of watches – splitting collections into men’s and women’s watches – is a major discussion topic for the watch industry in 2021. Some argue that gender classifications should be removed entirely from the watch industry.
Longines has been renowned for its clearly defined men’s and women’s timepieces, yet Breschan said he’s open to change: “First of all, Longines is among the very few brands that have a very balanced attraction for men and women, which is a huge strength. But when you think of many of the world's brands, they are either very classic or very sporty, or they are a lot more male or a lot more women.
“But you're totally right. [Longines] does not speak any more about men’s and women’s watches, and we do not speak about watches for young or older people. I think, today, we are only speaking about a universe that stands for watches that people identify with, that people have affinities with. And I think it's this universe that actually leads people to buy a watch because they associate themselves to this universe.”
Lastly, Breschan surmised that in order to adapt to the times, Longines needs to embrace its love of product and passion for watchmaking.
“The most important, I think, for today’s world is that you really have to love your products and provide a link to Longines’ universe,” Breschan said. “I think it's very important that we’re credible and authentic. And of course, when you look back at our history, we have all the history that makes these links authentic, credible, and full of substance. And I think this gives the brand such a strong background and lets us build our future based on the past.”