CULTURE

Keeping time with the times: Baume & Mercier is ready to make a splash in the watchmaking world

Baume & Mercier’s Greek connection goes back to 1964, when the prestigious Swiss watchmaking company registered the Greek PHI symbol as its logo – capturing an idea of proportion and balance. «Baume & Mercier is one of the five oldest watchmakers in the world, but very few people know it,» said Bernard Fornas, chairman and CEO of Baume & Mercier, to Kathimerini English Edition. Many will soon find out, however, as Fornas’s assertive leadership is about to take the established brand to new levels of awareness. From 1830, when Louis Victor and Pierre Joseph Celestin founded «Freres Baume, La Famille Louis Joseph,» to 1893, when a keyless Baume chronograph scored the highest points at the Kew Observatory trials, to 1920, when the brand was established in Geneva, to the creation of landmark designs such as the Marquise, the Riviera – with 12 sides for the 12 numerals, an innovative dodecagonal watch – to the trendsetting Catwalk in 1994, the company enjoys what Fornas refers to as «blind credit.» Previously international marketing director of Cartier International in Paris, Fornas took over Baume & Mercier on January 1, 2002. One of the things he did as soon he came onboard was to unearth boxes containing old watches, which recorded the company’s history. «I spread the 400 pieces in a conference room and invited the three-member design team to observe them for two days, non-stop. I asked them to look for the brand’s DNA, the silhouettes, the leading line,» said Fornas. «The brand was dormant, but the potential was there and it was a nice challenge.» As the team proceeded with the brand diagnosis, Fornas grew increasingly confident. «There is a notion of luxury in the brand, given its age, experience, savoir-faire, heritage and all the products which were created so far,» said Fornas. «What we are going to improve on are two things: first of all give Baume & Mercier some buzz, create some hype; then we are going to give the brand some substance, some content, in order for the brand to make people dream and increase its desirability.» Bought by Cartier in 1988, Baume & Mercier has been a member of the Richemont luxury group since 1993. With a portfolio of powerful luxury brands such as Cartier, IWC, Jaeger Lecoultre, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc, Lancel and Sulka, among others, the group is a prominent global player. Baume & Mercier alone is currently represented in 75 countries around the globe, through subsidiaries as well as agents, leading to 3,200 selected points of sale. At present, the company is recording 200,000 sales per year. Only two weeks ago, the company’s own manufacturing unit began operating at Les Brenets, a Richemont site located in the Swiss Jura watchmaking arc. With a staff of 40, the production site will assure quality and reduce costs. Furthermore, at the Geneva headquarters everything works in precision, with executives from marketing and design working together under the same roof. Operating within the Richemont structure further means that although each company is independent in terms of design, strategy and marketing, all benefit from a series of supporting functions, such as information technology. So far this year, Baume & Mercier has launched Linea Variations, a luxurious duet made of a watch and jewel linked by the same bracelet. Based on an earlier model which was launched in 1987, the upmarket Linea collection includes diamonds, leather and satin and the brand’s precision. Also this year saw the emergence of the Hampton Spirit, which represents a new take on the established Hampton line. But there is much more lying ahead. Fornas is particularly excited about the company’s immediate plans, when at the beginning of 2003, at the Geneva Salon, the company will unveil 30 new pieces, including a brand-new line for men and women. This will be accompanied by a new advertising campaign, targeting the brand’s 25- to 50-year-old clients including bankers, politicians, lawyers, businessmen but also sportsmen, actors, singers and other celebrities – though no famous faces will appear on the ads. What Fornas is essentially working on is the company’s unique position in the global market: On the high end of the scale, Baume & Mercier products (about 20 percent) are sharing the prestigious company of items made by Cartier, Vacheron Constantin or Patek Philippe, for instance, while on the lower end it stands alongside more affordable brands such as Omega and Ebel, for instance. (About 80 percent of Baume & Mercier timepieces are in the 1000- to 3000-euro range.) «We are at the gates of luxury,» said Fornas. Affordable for many, and less affordable to many more, in today’s global market the label has to remain desirable to all. That is the case in Greece, where Baume & Mercier currently have 45 selling points. «Greece is a good market; customers like their watches, they actually prefer them to jewelry these days,» said Fornas. «Given the distribution network, clients will find the same watch in Paris, London and Athens, at the same time, give or take a couple of weeks. In the past, it took months, while prices are also more uniform as well.» Besides relatively small, but still considerable markets such as Greece, the brand is constantly growing in areas such as the Middle East, while the real development is now taking place in the Far East. «China is the next big market,» said Fornas, who also cited India, as both countries are lowering import taxes. «There are a lot of people, a lot of money and the financial development is very important. There is huge potential there, and it might eat up Hong Kong one day.» As Baume & Mercier’s role in world markets expands at a speedy pace, the brand’s focus on proportion and balance will remain intact, with no seasonal trend interrupting the process. «Fashion is ephemeral and we have 172 years of history. We are in the heavy trend sector and that means a watch can last 15 years. The Linea line, for instance, is going strong for 20 years,» said Fornas. «A Baume & Mercier watch is in tune with its time. It is robust, qualitative; not a watch to lock up in a safe, but a piece we wear every day. It is not show-off, it is pretty, nice and creative.»