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Longines - Baselworld 2014: Walter von Känel plays the long game

Longines Baselworld 2014: Walter von Känel plays the long game

Under Walter von Känel’s 25-year leadership, Longines has become one of the top five Swiss watch brands and now produces more than one million watches per year, accounting for well over a billion Swiss francs of the Swatch Group’s revenue.

We’ve heard conflicting opinions about the health of the watch industry in general during the show. Is it fair to say that there are no concerns at Longines and that you dominate your price segment?
Totally. We have some competitors, but they are confined to specific countries and regions. I don’t know whether we will maintain this momentum or not, but among the Swiss brands I’m convinced that we still have a couple of good years in front of us.

You have a more or less 50/50 split between gents’ and ladies’ watches and more and more of them are mechanical. Is Longines unbeatable for mechanical ladies’ watches?
We are able to produce ladies’ watches at 25mm with self-winding mechanical movements. This still is the favourite size in our collection but fundamentally we always have pair watches in the collection. We have at least one each of gents and ladies’ models, but usually it is two or three of each and this is a successful policy.

Some 80 percent of your production is now equipped with mechanical movements. Are you looking to increase this percentage even further?
I think we should push quartz a little bit more. We launched one new quartz chronograph here and I was very surprised by the sales figures for it at the show.

The economic situation in China remains an important concern for many watch brands. Although China is a big market for you, are you less affected by these concerns because of the price segment you operate in?
We are lucky that the buyers of our watches are putting them on their wrist rather than in their pockets. We have kept our position and we have made a very good start to the year there. It’s nice to see that many people are becoming interested in classic design, because we have been doing this for years. We will stay in this segment and there will be no changes to this.




The limited-edition Heritage models are a good example of this. But there are only 60 of the gold versions and 600 for the stainless steel. This is just a drop in the ocean for Longines, surely?
I have to admit that I don’t like limited editions myself. I think that if you do a limited edition you have to respect your commitment. The problem is that if I say 600 now, by this evening I could have orders for far more than this and I would have to do a lucky draw.

You have been in the industry for many years and Longines has survived the recent crises. Is that because you have stayed firmly in your price segment?
Yes, that is my mission and I respect my mission. We saw some competitor brands entering our price segment, which proved that the decisions we took were the right ones. It’s a segmentation issue and quantity is in proportion to price. The Swatch Group also has very strong brands from Longines down. I’m very confident because the way I measure my success is the volume I put into production and at the moment I have put about a year’s worth of sales into production.

So this must give you some peace of mind for the year ahead?
No, not peace of mind – responsibility! Because once you put the watches into production they will come. We can afford to have some inventory but there is less risk in having an inventory of classic watches than there is with fashion watches.

What is your general outlook for 2014 then?
Let’s just say I have put enough pieces into production to have a good year and the first three months of 2014 have been positive.




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