Friday, September 21, 2018

Biver Leave's the Party - Maybe this Time for Sure...

So you've read it everywhere else, the last emperor is perhaps now finally, really, actually leaving the party.  Well, this time seems more likely than previous retirements.  


Shamelessly borrowed from the world-wide info-web
But to quote that other great commentator on the watch industry, Lieutenant Columbo - 
"Something's still bothering me..."

So I'm going straight up on the "Columbo-tip", and ask a few questions that are, perhaps, not being asked elsewhere.

I held off putting anything out there yesterday because, frankly, I felt that there was more to this than an ill executive stepping aside to focus on his health. Moreover, it was the guy's birthday. A little respect was in order. But remember, we've been down this road before, when he announced that he was stepping down, and returned with an even broader mandate a few months later.

And the fact that there were two names being "mooted" as possible replacements was not accidental. And today's press release from LVMH HQ confirms what I suspected -

After an extraordinary career spanning over 40 years in watchmaking, Jean-Claude Biver, together with LVMH, has decided to relinquish his operational responsibilities and assume the role of non-executive Chairman of the LVMH watchmaking division.

Stéphane Bianchi has been appointed CEO of the Watchmaking Division, with effect from 1st November 2018. He will directly lead TAG Heuer, with the CEOs of Hublot and Zenith reporting to him.

Frédéric Arnault has been appointed Strategy and Digital Director of TAG Heuer.


Okay, let's consider this from LVMH's perspective - You've got a strong, dynamic leader in charge of 1 of your most important brands, and "overseeing" 2 others. But what you also have is a wee bit of a cult of personality. And I want to say something very clearly - that is not a dig at Mr. Biver, it actually underscores his charisma, popularity and ability to lead. But what also happens in this situation is that you then find yourself without a real contingency plan, and more than just a small power vacuum just waiting to happen.

Hublot, while having a CEO not named Biver, constantly finds Mr. Biver front and center at a LOT of its operations. Tag Heuer? Mr. Biver has been the defacto CEO for several years, and there still does not seem to be anyone lined up and ready to take the helm, even though he has said frequently that it would be a priority to develop a replacement. And Zenith? Sure, lots of interesting new models, but if the conversation I recently heard two US retailers having about sales is anything to go on? Not exactly punching their weight. Now I also want to clearly state that these points are merely anecdotal. But when taken as a whole, they are worth considering.

Mr. Biver admittedly has been having health troubles, but as one person who knows about these things confided, Mr. Biver has had, and worked through several rather serious health issues for the past several years and has still remained at the helm. Moreover, we are talking about a guy who LOVES what he does, and has worked through similar challenges. And the last point about the health concerns, he has stated in his brief comments that he is now starting to do better health-wise. If so, why leave now?

And more pertinent, if it was really about health, why would the replacement not be starting until November? My sense is that someone at LVMH who has a last name that might begin with the letter "A" has a case of the fidgets.

It bears considering the language used in the release:
Jean-Claude Biver, together with LVMH, has decided to relinquish his operational responsibilities and assume the role of non-executive Chairman of the LVMH watchmaking division.

So at least insofar as LVMH goes, this is the end of a truly dynamic career. And if I am being honest? I think that there will be some changes coming within the brands as well, because when there is someone with that much personal involvement, who commands the type of loyalty that Mr. Biver has? Let's just say that for some, there might be some uncomfortable questions that cannot be ignored any longer.

Another way to look at it is what a person inside the industry has referred to as the "Biververse" or "Biversphere". Meaning that at the center of it all, you have Jean-Claude Biver, and orbiting around him are the satellites, such as Ricardo Guadalupe. There have been others, who have seen their career trajectories greatly altered once they have been uncoupled from the mother ship. The rare exception to this perhaps being Jean-Frederic Dufour, who landed perhaps one of the safest and most secure gigs out there when he landed on the Green Planet, Rolex. Aldo Magada is laboring on an obscure and dark planet with Anonimo and Vulcain. Stéphane Linder who resigned unexpectedly from Tag Heuer (which led to Mr Biver taking over at Tag) stopped for a glass of Tang at Gucci (less than 2 years) a brief stint as a consultant, then off to Breitling-World where he is now piloting the LEM with Georges Kern, potentially arguing about who will be the first to walk on the moon. What has not happened in recent years, which had happened in previous Biver regimes was the development of new talent. Many people felt (and rightly so) that a stint at Biver U could help develop someone to lead a brand of their own one day. This explains the 2 appointments announced by LVMH today. I do not claim to be a great friend or confidant to Mr. Biver, but I feel confident is saying that I think he would have looked for someone with actual industry experience, and probably would not have looked to promote based on family connections.

I think to sum it up, in many ways, Mr. Biver was the patron of the watch making peloton, and while you couldn't really argue with the overall results, it eventually led to a set-up that was entirely too dependent upon him to oversee, and as such it was inevitable that it would end. Sooner or later time is called on all of us, we just don't always know when it will be, or how it will come about.

Now on to the two New-Jacks. Per the LVMH announcement -

Stéphane Bianchi has been appointed CEO of the Watchmaking Division, with effect from 1st November 2018. He will directly lead TAG Heuer, with the CEOs of Hublot and Zenith reporting to him.

This breaks the Biver model, because while Mr. Bianchi might have been a titan in the cosmetics/perfume industry? This is quite a different thing and goes contrary to what Mr. Biver has said in more than one interview, and I quote particularly from an interview he had with Wired, essentially? You have to learn the ropes before you try to take command of the ship. He often reflects back to his beginnings and his stint at Audemars Piguet where he was put through an internship at half-salary for one year to learn the inner workings of the business. Something tells me that Mr. Bianchi is not taking a similar path. You could argue that at his age that would be unreasonable, but then again we do need to consider the title that he has been given. Time will tell, but from an outside perspective, I suspect that this appointment was driven more by the LVMH folks and was probably not taking into account too much feedback from the folks who actually work in this particular sector within the group.

And as for Arnault the "even younger"? Firstly, age is not necessarily a requirement for ability. Having said that? Well, it is interesting that Arnault the "slightly older" was invested with a luggage company, and now another family member is being inserted into a fairly high level position within the group in a company that he has spent some time with, but in an industry that he has very little actual experience in. So again, we will see what develops and how things go, but it doesn't hurt that he shares the same last name as the owners.

But if anything is abundantly clear given today's announcement, it is that LVMH is making a fairly serious change in how the watch brands will be managed, and I suspect that while this is a very big shift, there are more to come. And in this instance, I do not think that we will see Atlas shrug.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The KLOK-01 Midnight Blue

This is a long-awaited release for kloker's fans, the KLOK-01 in Midnight Blue -

Courtesy of klokers
This is the latest addition to the klokers family and I think it's safe to say that it will be a crowd pleaser.

Here are the pertinents -

Courtesy of klokers


KLOK-01 MIDNIGHT BLUE DIAL WATCH-HEAD

  • Dimensions: Ø 44 mm, 11.5 mm deep
  • Casing: 316L stainless steel
  • Glass: transparent polymer with built-in magnifying lens
  • Water tightness: Water Resistant
  • Swiss Made
  • Driven by a high-tech Ronda movement (high precision Quartz movement)
  • 1,5 V battery
  • Two-year warranty against all production defects
  • The klokers key: a pushbutton at 8 o'clock to unlock the watch head from its base
  • Color: midnight blue dial



Lemming!

An exciting new watch brand has been announced!  I received this release from a special correspondent (RG) -

Introducing a revolutionary new watch brand. Are you the kind of person that doesn't want to stand out in the crowd? When you go to a restaurant do you wait to order last and then ask, "what is everybody else getting?" Then do we have the watch for you! Introducing - Lemming watches and our first release, the "Bandwagon"

Courtesy of Lemming
Some watch companies brag about their low production numbers and exclusivity, how silly! The Lemming Bandwagon is a limited edition of 7.6 billion pieces (for our A series that is) that way every human on earth can have one! We've taken a lot of time to consider our pricing too. We were going to price it at $10,000 but we know how desperately you'll want to look like your neighbor so your price will be $20,000.

Now let's get to the movement. We experimented with multiple barrels to get the longest power reserve but it wasn't enough. We tried various batteries but it still wasn't enough. The Lemming Bandwagon runs off the power of your desperate need to be accepted which is endless!!

Now, what about our watchmaking credentials? Who gives a shit! Celebrities wear our watches and our name is on boats and planes. Doesn't that tell you enough? We thought so.

See you soon at the Lemming convention! Well, only if you're going!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The New Team at Fortis

In the interest of full-disclosure, I have worked for and with one of the subjects of this announcement before, and am therefore a wee-bit biased ; )

Word reached Tempus Fugit HQ that Fortis has new ownership and a new CEO.  And while I am very happy on a personal level as Mr. Aebischer, the new CEO is a friend, I am happier still because he is someone who actually "gets it" and can help put Fortis back on the right track.

Now I am not here to paint a false, rosy picture.  Fortis has been pretty grossly mismanaged for quite some time prior to the new ownership coming in.  Moreover, it has been peddled like some cheap, throw away product by the company that previously represented it in the US.  A lot of damage was done.  Having said that, I honestly believe that this is a much deserved second chance for a brand that has so much to offer, and I for one am anxious to see how things progress.

Here is the press announcement, as it was received -

Jupp Philipp - Courtesy of Fortis

FORTIS WATCHES AG is pleased to announce that, from 1 September 2018, the traditional brand‘s continuing operation under a new leadership is secured and will also be expanded: Jupp Philipp, entrepreneur and passionate wearer of FORTIS watches, will take the reins.  

Lorenz Aebischer - Courtesy of Fortis
In order to put this vision into practice, Mr. Philipp will bring in experienced support from the industry: Mr. Lorenz Aebischer (previously working for renowned brands such as Auguste Reymond, Mido and Tissot) will manage FORTIS WATCHES AG.

The direction is clear. The first and foremost vision: "Every customer is entitled to value preservation and it is our duty to ensure this." (Jupp Philipp) This guiding principle describes succinctly – almost philosophically – the cornerstones of the future focus and shall forever constitute the creed for all strategic and operational decisions.

Initially a precise analysis and strategy development with all of its components will be in the foreground. "Of course, it should be clear to everyone that such a process will take its time. Nevertheless we will immediately get together on 1 September and start to work on the individual topics over the coming months as a team.  It will take some time to create the foundations, organize the FORTIS network and make everyone believe in the guiding principle.“ (Lorenz Aebischer)  



Casio Visit Day 1 - Part 2

Day one continued with visits to several specialized Casio G-Shock retail outlets. 

I live in the Metro Boston area and work in Boston proper.  And if I am being honest and objective?  The G-Shock is a very popular item on area wrists, but not quite so easy to track down in it's retail environment.  To be very clear, we (media types) were joined by three very successful retailers on this visit to Japan, and these guys sell a LOT of G-Shocks, but Boston-proper, for whatever reason, is a little bit limited in terms of outlets.  But having seen and experienced both the G-Shock boutique and a few "shop-within-shop" concepts I have to say that maybe Boston could benefit from a wee, little G-Shock pop-up to test the waters.   
note to Casio, I know the perfect location on Newbury street ; ) 

We have all seen shop within shop concepts, particularly with the big dogs from SWATCH, LVMH and Richemont.  But very seldom do we see a more affordable brand hop on the board and paddle out to these deep waters.  But to Casio's credit, they have done something very special with their concepts.

The author, about to get "G-Shocked"
Visit any uni-brand boutique, and it is not going to be able to hold absolutely everything available.  That is just a fact of life.  But to Team Casio's credit, they have created a very welcoming space with a fairly comprehensive selection of what is available both in their boutique, as well as their store within store concepts.


But G-Shock has grown and evolved beyond watches.  It has grown, in many ways, beyond merely a Casio brand to its own identity.  But it is even more than that.  G-Shock has become something of a cultural touchstone for several generations and continues to attract new customers from virtually every demographic.  I am a perfect case study of this.  As I said, the somewhat thin population of G-Shock retail outlets in Boston proper had really not prepared me for the sensory, visceral onslaught that I felt when wandering through these G-Shock specialist locations.  And it became very clear to me that G-Shock is not merely a brand, it has become something of a movement.

Every movement needs an icon, and G-Shock has a few of them.  


G-Shock men, both small...

The author, mid-sentence
and large protect and promote the spirit of the G-Shock.  It is a bit of a whimsical idea, but I can tell you that on our travels, these G-Shock men were probably the most photographed items.  And in many ways that sums up what (for me at least) is the spirit of G-Shock.  Very serious, very durable, but still fun.  You could almost see the G-Shock man staring in his very own action film.  And the spirit of fun is also found in the bright, colorful range of offerings.  


More than a few requests were made to purchase the small G-Shock mascots, all were (politely) declined.

What several of us were on the hunt for was what I have come to refer to as the G-Shock unicorn, the GMW B5000 -

Courtesy of G-Shock

And in answer to this query we were told:
"Yes, it was available.  Yes, it might still be available.  No, we do not have it."  
ごめんなさい (sorry)

And that is one very positive thing to say about getting disappointed in Japan, everyone is really, really polite about it and downright apologetic for your disappointment.  

Fast forward to my last day in Tokyo, I walked to the department stores to check their watch collections on the off-chance that I might get lucky and find one of these digital, steel bijouxs.  And...

I DID!  

In a certain department store, right above Shinjuku station, I found the rare and elusive GMW B5000 in its natural environment - the display case!  I crept up slowly, so as not to startle it, and made my enquiry -

この費用はいくらですか  (How much is this?)

and was somewhat surprised to hear that it was 60,000 Yen (about $535 US, not including the tax).  Now to a collector, who is seriously trying to lay hands to something, a $35 - $45 up-charge is really not such a big deal.  And in hindsight, it might be that this is the established retail price for Japan.  I took a moment to remind myself that I was in Japan, not at home, and things worked differently here.  And after about 15 minutes of back and forth, I had made up my mind to bite the bullet and pull the trigger.  So I said okay, I'll take it!  
And then I heard those dreaded words -

ごめんなさい (sorry)


It seemed that this particular item was simply there for display, and that while I could indeed purchase one, I would not be receiving it for several months.   And then I had to smile, and laugh to myself.  Of course!  This is a highly sought-after, highly desired item.  It made perfect sense for them to keep a display model in the case, and it makes perfect sense that if you really want one, you should be willing to place your order and get in the queue.  Desire, when properly managed, is perhaps one of the strongest marketing tools out there!  So well done G-Shock and very well-done to that department store watch department!  It worked, I now have a (rather intense) desire for that watch.  

And on a larger scale, I think that this is something that Casio and the G-Shock team have figured out better than most brands out there.  For a watch or brand to take hold of the consumer, it is not necessarily about luxury, it is not necessarily about "artisanal" craftsmanship.  It's about desire.  In truth, Casio could pass the word to G-Shock and say that seeing as demand is so great, let's quadruple the production of this one model.  That would be a very Swiss, very American solution.  The result would be a loss of the very thing that has made this particular model so sought-after, its scarcity.  But the folks at G-Shock understand that it is not necessarily such a bad thing to have a limited supply of something that everyone wants.  So I will wait, as patiently as I can.

More to come, stay tuned!