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Frederique Constant - Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

Frederique Constant Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

It’s been nearly four years since the founding CEO of the Frédérique Constant Group handed over the reins of his business. We talk about his ambitions for Frédérique Constant and Alpina, medical projects and the watch market. Peter Stas is clear-eyed, forward-looking and hopeful.

Today you’re opening a new extension to your manufacture, which will almost double the total surface area. Can we take that as a sign of good health? 
We’re preparing for the future. We made 160,000 pieces in 2018. It’s a good result, but we had single-digit growth in 2018 and 2017, unlike in previous years.

Peter Stas : « Le potentiel de l’horlogerie Swiss Made est encore largement sous-estimé »

Manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates © Frédérique Constant

Was that expected? 
Not really. We had been warned by some structural indicators, such as the performance of in-store sales in some parts of the globe. There’s also the fact that the mechanical watch market has still not fully recovered. On the other hand, the market for connected watches is still greatly undervalued in my opinion. And yet it represents 15% of our sales at Frédérique Constant, and over 30% at Alpina. Clearly, it’s our connected watches that helped us to keep growing this year.

Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

Horological Smartwatch Gents Classics © Frederique Constant

Are they still a reservoir for growth?
Yes, I think we can go further. However, what matters is not so much the gross volume of connected watches, but the balance within the brand. For Frédérique Constant, it’s important to keep a dominant proportion, and therefore an image, of fine mechanical watchmaking. For Alpina, the combination of hands plus digital, the success of the AlpinerX, and also the relatively young age of our clients, are all factors that point to a potential for growth in the connected segment. Alpina should be able to double or even treble its sales in the next three to five years. I’m confident. The brand has very strong potential. Frédérique Constant, which is more mature, will grow more gradually from now on.

Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

AlpinerX La Grande Odyssée Savoie Mont Blanc Limited Edition © Alpina

Is there still potential for online sales? 
Like everyone else, less than 5% of our sales are online. It will never be an El Dorado. We have to live with that. Clients, particularly mechanical watch clients, will always prefer to visit a shop. They can try the watch on. It’s reassuring in terms of after-sales service. The only real trigger for online sales is deep discount, and that’s something we don’t do.

Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

Aletta and Peter Stas © Frederique Constant

You relinquished the post of CEO of your group to Citizen, but you have retained ownership and control of MMT, your “manufacture” for connected modules. How do you manage these two hats? 
Aletta and I spend at least two days a week at Frédérique Constant, mainly to maintain the link with the Citizen group and to supervise all the creations, which we still do directly. As far as operations are concerned, since last year Frédérique Constant and Alpina have been run by Managing Director Niels Eggerding and their own brand managers.

Peter Stas: “The potential of Swiss Made watchmaking is still greatly underestimated”

Niels Eggerding and Peter Stas © Frederique Constant

When Citizen came in you agreed to a minimum transition period of five years. You’re now in your fourth. What does the future hold for you?
Nothing has been decided yet. I might continue in my current functions for a little while longer...

What are you researching with MMT? 
Biomedical functions in a watch. First, detection of cardiac arrhythmia (AFib). People who have it, and perhaps don’t realise, have an 18% chance of suffering an attack in the next four years. Over four million people in Europe are affected without knowing it. Then there’s blood glucose. Hypodermis tests are proper medical procedures, and we still need more years of development, patents and certifications, but we’ve already come quite a long way. We have patents, and we’ve formed partnerships with universities. Finally, geriatric care: fall detection, emergency calls, location tracking, etc., all contained in a simple watch that doesn’t need a mobile phone connection, because we know that not all older people have them. We therefore need to create Narrowband-IoT and LTE-type communication protocols that have a greater range than Bluetooth, while remaining independent of a mobile phone. We hope to be able to unveil this in the second half of 2020.

That doesn’t have much to do with watchmaking...
Quite the opposite! Switzerland completely underestimates its abilities in this regard. We know how to make objects that are small, functional, waterproof, robust, autonomous and elegant. No one wants to be strapped up with ungainly sensors to measure their blood sugar, or to advertise their dependence. Portability and discretion are the keys to success.

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