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Roger Dubuis - Dare to be rare

Roger Dubuis Dare to be rare

A rare in-depth interview on WorldTempus with the CEO of Roger Dubuis, Jean-Marc Pontroué.

I was commissioned by Shanghai Tatler to write an in-depth article on Roger Dubuis CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué and his work at the brand. The article was published in the October issue of Shanghai Tatler in Chinese in a format geared towards a general readership interested in luxury. Here I reproduce excerpts from the original interview that was used for the article, including more watch-related technical detail for readers of WorldTempus.

How did you become involved in the luxury industry?
I have always worked in the luxury industry, since 1989. I started at LVMH then moved to Montblanc, which is a subsidiary of Richemont and from there I moved to Roger Dubuis. I have been in charge of watches for over 16 years, ever since I started at Montblanc, and it has always been a product category that I have found very interesting, because it has two dimensions: the technical side, which you don’t necessarily have in other luxury accessories categories, and the design story. Roger Dubuis is by essence a brand that gives both of these dimensions the same weight.

What are the major milestones of your time as CEO of Roger Dubuis so far?
In the story of the brand, the beginning came from Mr Roger Dubuis himself, who tested this new approach of a high-end brand which has the capacity to merge an exuberant style with very strong mechanical content. This was the major milestone when he set up the brand and there was a very strong response at the time. Then the takeover by the Richemont Group in 2008 was another important milestone. For the past eight years Richemont has been giving us the power and the intelligence to accelerate the brand development. One area where Richemont is very helpful is the retail side. Without their support we would never have been able to open 25 stores in our own name around the world in key metropolitan cities, for example. Furthermore, we have achieved a high level of competence in research and development thanks to the Richemont Group, which has allowed us to introduce world-firsts and many new mechanical movements.

What drives you when managing the brand?
We have a very clear mission within the portfolio of the Richemont Group and within the watch industry landscape. We are a brand of differentiation and every day we look at product concepts, marketing initiatives and the distribution network and we try to do all of these like nobody else does. For example, each year at the SIHH we change our stand because it has to showcase our creative platform for the next 12 months. My mission and the mission of the 400 people who work here is to nurture and enrich this differentiation asset that we inherited from Roger.
Our mission is to continue to build on our differentiation in the high-end segment. So the notion of service is also very important because we do not just sell watches but we sell the exclusivity and the quality of the Geneva Seal, which again makes us different from many other brands in the industry.
Our benchmark is to see what happens in the watch industry, of course, but we spend around half of our time looking at what is happening in other industries. We are very much influenced by what is happening in other industries, such as the aircraft business, the yacht business and the sports car business. We learn a lot from them and our customers are also interested in these areas and know the type of service that they offer. Since they are also our customers, they expect a similar approach when they come to us. We do have some competitors in the industry, of course, but our main inspiration comes from other industries.

The brand’s new slogan will be “Dare to be rare”. What is the reasoning behind this?
The ‘dare’ in this statement is largely down to Roger Dubuis, because this is what he did. It is very difficult to go against the common understanding, against market studies and against people who are telling you that you shouldn’t do something. In the luxury business it is even more difficult to take the decision to come up with a product that represents a genuine rupture from the status quo. The ‘rare’ part reflects the exclusive nature of the different spectacular limited-edition timepieces that we bring to the market each year.

You have developed a partnership with FFF racing that is unlike most other tie-ups between watchmakers and racing teams. Tell us how it came about?
It is our very first partnership. We did it for two major reasons: Firstly, over the past couple of years we have realised that the world of supercars overlaps almost one-to-one with the world of fine watches. We are going beyond mere sports cars into the realm of supercars and people who race them and therefore have a passion for them. There is the notion of exclusivity of being one of just a handful of people who can enjoy this experience. In the past we have done events such as the “Run to Monaco”, where we invited around 30 customers to travel around Europe and finish in Monaco for the Grand Prix. By doing that we discovered the affinity between these people and our brand. So we knew that this affinity was there but we had to wait before we could do something concrete.

Roger-Dubuis-FFF-Racing-Team_Partnership_1

We never did any market research about the possibilities, we just decided to try it. I was in Japan recently and I was fascinated by the young team and their energy to make things happen. There were some interesting parallels between the people in our company, because both are keen to make things happen, have an entrepreneurial spirit and are passionate about what they do.
I’m sure we will continue to make further inroads in this field because we are now being approached by individuals who are customers and have these supercars and who want to have Roger Dubuis as a sponsor on their cars.

You are also looking to develop similar partnerships in other areas, like superyachts. Can you tell us more?
We are in discussions with other companies but we also know that if you want do something right then it requires a lot of time, resources and people to do things well. And we cannot always manage this kind of thing from Geneva. We will, however, announce some major partnerships early next year but we don’t want too many of them. We want partnerships that will drive the brand over the medium term, under the slogan “when visionary engineers meet incredible watchmakers”. What do they say to each other? What do they experience?

The (architectural) skeleton movement is one of the main signatures at Roger Dubuis - how important are these watches in terms of image but also sales?
We will have a lot of new skeleton variations next year. The skeleton and the tourbillon are the two key aspects of our technical differentiation. If you look at the Lamborghini engine of the FFF racing team, for example, you can see the similarities. You have something that is very lightweight yet highly resistant. Both want to ensure that the energy can be deployed most effectively. The skeleton, whether in its automatic version, as a tourbillon, a double tourbillon or even a tourbillon for ladies, will remain a very strong area of development for the brand.

The Velvet collection is the big highlight this year for Roger Dubuis. Tell us more about the inspiration behind this new collection.
The idea came about two years ago. The Velvet was launched in 2011 but it didn’t really get much exposure, because the Pulsion collection, which was launched the same year, stole the limelight. So Velvet reached a level where we had a good response and good sales, so we decided in around 2014 to make it one of the highlights of the SIHH. The more we progressed, the more we were torn, because it was an important collection but it only represented 20% of our business. So we didn’t think we could have a dedicated story for the collection. But the further we moved forward and the more we looked at possible scenarios, the more the differentiation “hat” that we had led us in a certain direction and we decided to make it the sole focus for the SIHH this year. It also made things easier from a creative point of view, because we were able to focus specifically on differentiating the Velvet collection. This is why we had a special mechanical movement for this collection, a fashion collaboration with Massaro, the artistic crafts pieces and some high-end jewellery models.

roger_dubuis_velvet_massaro_rita

You are actively developing your entry-level products (15,000-25,000 CHF). Why? Is this with a particular market in mind?
The issue is how you can grow the brand relevance with products that are still associated with the brand DNA. If we were to copy what other brands are doing, add the Roger Dubuis logo and halve the price, it would never work. When you see Porsche today, for example, with models from 50,000 euros, compared with the 911 models from 150,000 euros, the business model is changing a little. Porsche earns more now from its lower-range models and SUVs but these models are still in the premium segment. It is the same for our self-winding watches with the Geneva Seal – at 15,000 euros and above we are in the premium segment for self-winding watches. So our approach is to be in the market with relevant products compared to other brands.

Can we still expect to see some crazy pieces like the Quatuor in the future?
Wait five months! Next SIHH. We will have a record number of world premières in terms of materials and new movements. We hear that the situation in the industry is very challenging but I think that the next SIHH will be the closest to what Roger Dubuis really stands for.

Where do you see opportunities, where do you see risks for the brand?
The brand results for us don’t reflect what is happening in the industry as a whole. Our results are so different and they are influenced by our capacity to create and develop striking products. For example the Knights of the Round Table watch, which we developed four years ago and which sells for 240,000 Swiss francs, is one of the most successful products that we have at Roger Dubuis and we supply only two pieces per month. We finished two limited series of 28 pieces each and we have now started a third. You would never have bet any money on this concept and you have no benchmark when you develop a product like that.
Of course the market in Hong Kong is suffering, and the market in Paris has been impacted. But we are in great shape in London because of the devaluation and we still have room to grow in areas where other brands have been for many years. You also have a multiplication of events occurring around the world. To take Brexit as just one example, that creates a lot of uncertainty in the business, which can mean big ups and big downs.
We have for the past two years a department called “rarities”, which is also available in China. When you have a vertically integrated company such as ours, your capacity to integrate this sort of thing is much easier. We decided that because our customers, who are used to buying cars like Rolls Royces (which incidentally are now almost all bespoke models), need this service. The more challenging the business environment is, the more chance brands like Roger Dubuis have of gaining market share, because people can get tired of the brands they are used to seeing and by the overexposure of certain brands. This leaves the brands that are very specialised and very different. Furthermore, we have the facilities here that we can show to people to prove that we can do something. The only thing we don’t have here are alligators for the straps!

 

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The Roger Dubuis Manufacture was founded on the desire for independence and watchmaking excellence. With remarkable dynamism, Roger Dubuis quickly ignited the world of Haute Horlogerie and has developed over thirty completely original in-house movements. Striking a fine balance between traditional watchmaking expertise and avant‑garde design, the Manufacture became a specialist in architectural skeletonised movements.

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