Lionel a Marca, Newly-Appointed CEO of Breguet, On What The Brand Represents and its Future
Talking with the new CEO of a brand with incredible heritage, and things to come too.
Lionel a Marca has been working behind the scene for decades at the Swatch Group. A few months ago, he took over the operational management of Breguet, under the presidency of Marc A. Hayek, with whom he has worked closely for years. On the occasion of the Tourbillon Exhibition organised in the Geneva Boutique, we sat down with him to discuss his career and the future of this brand rich of 246 years of history.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME-WATCHES – What is your background, and how did you become CEO of Breguet?
Lionel a Marca, BREGUET – I am a trained watchmaker and graduated from the watchmaking school in Porrentruy. From there, I went to work at Mercier SA in Les Breuleux, where we were assembling all types of movements and then to Frédéric Piguet in Le Noirmont. I have also worked closely with ETA, specifically on the development of the Omega Central Tourbillon, finishing and assembling this superb movement, and then on different complication movement projects. After a few years, I started to work on quality management inside Swatch Group, auditing internal and external production sites. During one of my missions at Blancpain, Marc A. Hayek invited me to join the brand’s team. I spent over 20 years at Blancpain in charge of product and operations. A few months ago, I was missioned to make a deep dive on the Breguet operation and in July the Hayek family gave me the reins of this beautiful brand.
What surprised you when you discovered Breguet from the inside?
Although I’ve known the brand for years, I was still impressed by the extraordinary know-how, the professionalism and the innovation capacity of the R&D teams. From an internal communication perspective, there were too many silos inside the company. So, it was important to me to empower people, encourage direct communication and bottom-up feedback. Breguet has everything. We have an unparalleled legacy, and we have extraordinary people; what we have to do is improve the way we work. In the end, everybody needs to be focused on what matters most: listening to our clients.
Talking about products, how do you envision the evolution of Breguet’s collections?
We have a long-term product development plan, and we have a dynamic R&D team. We have to work on the different collections and think about their future. Take the example of the Tradition. We need to prepare it for the future. This is a magnificent collection, it has everything, and it is quintessentially Breguet. But it needs to evolve.
What about the Type XX?
2022 will be an important year for the Type XX collection. A re-interpretation of the collection, initiated by Marc A. Hayek, is in progress. Our goal is to propose a collection re-thought in terms of technical performance and aesthetics.
Does your watchmaking background give you a different approach to product development and creation?
Yes and no. There are incredibly skilled people at Breguet and extraordinary projects in development. But maybe with my background, the development teams will find a complementary partner. I always prime the functionality of watches and movements we develop – and always drive people one step further.
What is the main challenge for Breguet today?
Our challenge is to tell everybody who Abraham-Louis Breguet was, to get people to know about our fantastic heritage while innovating for the future. Abraham-Louis Breguet was such an innovator from a technical and aesthetic perspective; he literally invented horological design. We need to tell people who we are.
Breguet never leaves people indifferent. Breguet is Breguet. For us today, the challenge is to honour and nurture this extraordinary legacy.
You have an exceptional production tool. What does it represent for the brand?
We have an extraordinary savoir-faire. Thanks to our exceptional craftsmen, we possess unique technical and aesthetic know-how. Hand-finishing is essential, from the manufacturing of movement parts, movement production, chamfers, engine-turning artisans and enamellers to case production with MBB (Montres Breguet Boîte). That’s the unique Breguet touch. Nearly all components are hand-finished. The people working at the manufacture are the cornerstone of Breguet’s excellence.
Take the example of hand-filed chamfers; I don’t think that there are many manufactures with so many craftsmen practising the craft. We started years ago. The same applies to engine-turning (guillochage). We have a unique team of craftsmen, and we have bought and used traditional machines for years. This is essential, we make it a point of honour to perpetuate this know-how.
How do you deal with heritage?
Breguet is one of the very few brands with comprehensive records of its history. In our archives, in Paris, we have records of every single Breguet piece sold from the beginning of our activity. So we can find precise information and authenticate every single Breguet watch. Breguet restores and services the watches that represent the heritage of the Maison, including those bought at auction sales. Some of these exceptional watches are exhibited in our Paris Museum.
The landscape of watch industry fairs has changed a lot over the past few years. How will Breguet present its watches in the near future?
Without fairs. I think our clients expect something more than professional watch fairs. We need to be closer to the end consumer. We need to have direct communication. The days when brands would present all their novelties for the year and then deliver these months later is over. People want to discover the watches and go to a boutique or a retailer to ‘experience’ the watch. I think the relationship with watches is a very tactile and emotional experience. Nothing can replace a ‘hands-on’ experience. Once again, the end client is our focus.
You celebrated the 220th anniversary of the Tourbillon patent with a limited edition. Can you tell us more about the watch?
Well, this is a significant date. The idea was to celebrate this anniversary with a quintessential Breguet savoir-faire, something extremely pure and sober with just hours and minutes. The result was an extra-thin tourbillion with a peripheral oscillating weight. The hand-guilloche dial is extremely fine,
with a pitch of only 0.25 millimetres. From a distance of 50 centimetres, it gives the illusion of a matte finish. Engine-turning was brought to watchmaking by Abraham-Louis Breguet. The technique allows light to be captured in a variety of ways, ranging from the utmost clarity to a more matte finish. Light captured in this way enables the different reading zones on the dial to be clearly marked…
This watch is Breguet through and through and was perfect for this anniversary. Designing a fine, sober watch is not an easy task. As they say, the devil is in the details. It was not easy, but we love challenges.
Are there any other topics you’d like to mention?
It is important to me to give credit to watchmakers. Watchmaking is a rich, complex art. We need to have a holistic vision of watchmaking, encompassing all the different crafts. A watchmaker needs to be able to do everything. This is what Breguet is all about. Abraham-Louis Breguet was a watchmaker, in the purest sense. An exceptional watchmaker.
So we, in Switzerland, need to acknowledge our watchmakers, nurture our unique legacy and nurture the next generation of watchmakers.
For more information, please visit www.breguet.com.
I never even knew Esslinger had left. Happened a year ago, apparently. *shrugs*
I wish you the best, Lionel, but after years of frustration observing Breguet’s stalled trajectory I’d like to give you my opinion, for what little it may be worth.
The most glaring issue that I can see is Breguet has no ‘Hero’ product that can lure the newer customer in with, then charm and fascinate them with the history, where Emmanuel is of course a great asset as a direct link (I presume he is still with you); and Breguet’s PR certainly do a good job of reminding the blogs to regale us with Abraham’s importance every once in a while. I speak about a ‘Hero’ product regarding male customers, of course, as the Reine de Naples is one of the most stunning Ladies’ models around.
Looking at the top brands from Richemont – Vacheron have made all the right moves with the Overseas, and the Lange 1 is bolstered by there now being a limited-production luxury steel sports model to back it up. At Swatch even Blancpain have the Fifty Fathoms. But Breguet? All over the place, leaving me with a feeling that certain model lines are a perfunctory exercise in showing the brand merely offer different ranges for the sake of it.
I’d say that what should be done first-and-foremost is redesigning the entire Marine range, rather than try to fix what isn’t broken with the XX (although by all means make the XX look like that 2021 OnlyWatch version in design 😉 ). The Marine is *awful* and drags the whole prestige of the brand down. Get your teams to go back to the drawing board, make it what it should be (let nothing of its current design remain). Ideally, it should make people pause before thinking about buying any other luxury sports watch, not tilt their head in bemusement.
Also, get rid of the ‘Heritage’, and leave neo-classical Tonneau watches to someone, *anyone* else.
Then, the Classique – the most beautiful models you make. However, nothing much seems to have been attempted in design experimentation since Roth revived the style under the Chaumets. Look towards what Journe has done with his Classique models – obviously neither copy him nor move entirely away from some of the wonderful models currently in the range. Just…get your design people to try something.
The quality of your watches are superb, speaking as an owner, and the F Piguet/Lemania calibres you use show a deep respect for the highest standards of watchmaking. That’s why I care.
Spot-on Gav! For a brand with so much history and equally so much potential Breguet has been a sleeping giant for far too long. The design department should take a lateral view and develop ideas taking a 10-15 year view. There is so much to like and to love on this brand, but so little has materialized the last 2 decades. A huge task for Lionel but what an exiting challenge to have.