Montblanc Interview with Jérôme Lambert
A few hours before the official launch in London, Montblanc’s CEO presented the company’s first smartwatch, the Summit, to WorldTempus.
You’re launching a smartwatch with a touch screen. What happened to the E-Strap, your connected watch strap?
It had reached the end of its life. These products work on the basis of generations. When the time came to decide whether we should go ahead with a second generation, or whether we were going to embrace greater functionality, I decided we should move towards a more global version. The technology is mature enough that we can move it onto the front of the watch. With the Summit, we are playing with the idea of an extension of the watch experience. Talking to our clients, some already have a fine mechanical watch, and they’re open to the idea of a second, complementary watch, to give them access to the full digital experience. Or, it could be the first watch for clients who are tech-savvy but have no prior experience of high-quality fine watchmaking. We can offer a new experience to both these sets of customers.
The dial has the look of a vintage watch.
Yes, it’s the dial from the 1858. We started from the position that we needed quite a big dial to make it easy to read, particularly for older clients. We naturally gravitated to this kind of experience, and we took the relatively open dial of the 1858 as our aesthetic starting point.
How did you deal with the ergonomic aspect?
The watch has a diameter of 46 mm and it’s 13.5 mm deep, with a heart rate monitor. That’s quite a good size. It’s thinner than it would be with a Valjoux. If we made it any thinner it would be too flat for its proportions. 46 mm is the lower limit if the functions are to be genuinely readable. We offer a wide choice of cases, four versions with optional PVD, and interchangeable straps. And there is a range of dial options. You can switch to a TimeWalker dial: we designed a universal time dial especially for the Summit. Prices start at around €890, depending on VAT.
A Summit on the wrist, with a TimeWalker dial © David Chokron/WorldTempus
Is this your lowest-priced watch, across all your ranges?
Yes, by far. We focused on functionality. €890 is the cost of a Meisterstück fountain pen. At this price, it’s an entry point into the Montblanc world.
This watch is something of a chameleon: it can show dials from watches in your other collections, and yet it’s the least expensive of all. Will it make it unnecessary for people to buy another Montblanc watch?
We’re beginning with the 1858 aesthetic, and later on we’ll be offering new dials regularly, one per month. But our aim is to open up new territories to new clients, clients perhaps not familiar with Montblanc’s watches, but who like Montblanc’s business luxury lifestyle image. When you move over to mechanical watches, you have different expectations in terms of aesthetic representation, you are less focused on the functions. So no, I don’t worry about the risk of “cannibalisation”. That isn’t our primary challenge. Our primary challenge is to present and explain the product and its evolutions properly. Tomorrow [the day after the official launch] we have 105 simultaneous product events around the world.
The strength of Montblanc lies in your presence.
In any case, it’s quite a challenge, making sure the watch is available everywhere. It will require a major team effort. And we are pioneers in this kind of approach. It’s a good thing for a luxury company, a design company, to create its own path, rather than following the crowd.
You mention design, but you work under the same limitations as many other smartwatch manufacturers, in that you use an Android Wear platform, which is generic. So, the way you use the product isn’t really different.
That could work to our advantage. For a new product, it’s very important to use a shared interface. Otherwise, the product could remain obscure and unapproachable. But we do have our own functions too, functions we have invented. And where we have kept the integrated Android Wear functions, like Uber, for example, that was our choice too.
Two versions of the Summit, with strap options and charger © David Chokron/WorldTempus
Will you be developing services connected with your other domains, such as luggage, which are accessible specifically via this watch?
Every month we will be rolling out additional dials, but also new services and functions, generating greater interaction between the company and its clients. That’s also the advantage of a smart project, because we remain connected with our customers.
How about a baggage tracking function, using integrated trackers?
We already have a keyring with Bluetooth tracking. And we have RFID blockers to prevent electronic pickpocketing incorporated into our leatherware collections.
Let’s talk about timing. It’s not long since the SIHH, where you had a presence, and we’re coming up to Baselworld, where you don’t have a presence. Why are you launching the product now, and separately from the rest?
It’s a very rich universe which requires a great deal of attention, and we wanted to find a separate space in time to understand it completely, to ensure it was not disrupted by other messages. We decided that the launch should not be just one product among many. Deliveries begin in May, and I want to begin accepting pre-orders a month before. That brings us up to mid-March. The timing is not adjusted to fit with Basel – that’s not an important date in our diaries. The dates were agreed upon some time ago, in cooperation with our partners.
So, the Summit isn’t Swiss Made?
No, our leathers are made in Italy, our pens come from Germany, we have several labels of origin. It’s Made in China, because the electronic parts are assembled in China. Qualcomm produces the insides and the processor, which is the most expensive part. We could have made an effort to have the Summit assembled in Germany, but we would never have been ready in time.
Does the case come from your regular watch production?
The case, the sapphire and the straps are made by our usual partners. But this is a separate issue. That’s not where our focus lies, with this product. The origin is not as relevant as the functions, and the access it provides to Montblanc’s watchmaking heritage.
The black DLC version of the Summit, with its dial inherited from the 1858 collection © Montblanc