Matthias Breschan, CEO of Longines, On Current Challenges and New Collections
In conversation with the newly appointed CEO of one of the major Swiss brands.
One of the oldest names in the Swiss watch industry, Longines is the market leader in the CHF 1,000-4,000 price segment. Matthias Breschan was named CEO of the brand last July, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 digital presentation of the brand’s novelties allowed us to talk to Breschan and find out how Longines has navigated 2020, look at its strategy, and discover some of the new products for 2021.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME – You took the helm at Longines as CEO a few months ago. What surprised you at Longines?
Matthias Breschan, Longines – Even though I have been working for 20 years in the watch industry, there are many things I did not know about the history of Longines. I was surprised to learn that Longines innovated with the flyback chronograph, the GMT, the rotating bezel, the high-frequency movement… I can’t think of many brands in the industry that have such a rich history. This heritage is a fantastic platform to get inspired for future developments.
The second thing that surprised me is that our vintage-inspired watches are highly popular with young people. For instance, the Grande Classique is a highly successful watch with young clients after graduating. Models inspired by past creations are still extremely contemporary, elegant, attractive and relevant… and it will probably still be the case for the next 20-30 years.
What makes Longines stand out?
As I said, there are not many brands that can pride themselves on possessing such a rich heritage. Another distinctive dimension of the brand is the way it is balanced from different perspectives. Longines sells 50% of its watches to women and 50% to men. We are not referring to men’s and women’s watches but rather unisex watches. Our offer is also extremely balanced between men and women in the classic and sports watch categories, which gives us a unique position in the watch industry. This is one of the reasons for the brand’s success over the past 20 years, which explains why we are, by far, the market leader in the CHF 1,000 to 4,000 price segment.
How has the brand navigated 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic?
The first half of 2020 was difficult with the global lockdowns and the closing of stores. Step by step, some countries slowly recovered, and by June/July, the situation improved. From August onward, we achieved a turnover that was superior to 2019. Since then and till today, our accumulated sales have been at the level of the prior year, which is actually very good as January 2020 was still really good.
Despite this performance, during the second part of the year, we were not able to completely catch up with 2019 figures, but we got through this situation extremely well. Our production capacities have been running at 100% since September last year.
The pandemic also accelerated the shift to e-commerce and digital transformation. It grew to represent just under 10% of our global sales in 2020. But for some countries like the USA or the UK, the share of e-commerce has grown to around 25% of our business – especially if you add our own corporate e-store to retail partner platforms. In early 2020, less than 50% of our subsidiaries had set up corporate e-stores. By the end of 2020, we had 75%, and by the end of 2021, we will have a complete implementation of e-commerce in countries where we have subsidiaries.
What has been your strategy regarding the brand’s products?
We decided to make the collection structure evolve. From five major segments, we reduced them to two main categories: classic and sport. Inside these large segments, we have specific sub-categories that will be offered only in leading boutiques. This evolution aims to simplify the offer, streamline the number of SKUs, and optimise the offer. We went from 1,500 references to less than 1,000.
This is also an answer to a trend. Fifteen years ago, there were significant differences between watches sold in different areas. The styles, design and sizes were really different. Today, at least for Longines, we feel that tastes are getting closer.
Any personal favourite you would highlight within the Longines collection?
Lately, I have been wearing the new Longines Spirit watch. The inspiration for this collection comes from the pilot watches that Longines made in the 1930s and pays tribute to our pioneering spirit. Although it is vintage-inspired, it is not a re-edition, and it combines historical references with modern mechanics and contemporary codes.
What will be the brand’s focus concerning marketing?
Our motto’ elegance is an attitude’ will still guide our activities. It perfectly befits Longines, and this is one of the best slogans in the watch industry. It encapsulates all of the brand’s values.
Our ‘sport’ focuses will be equestrian and skiing. But we will concentrate more on the lifestyle aspect associated with these activities. For instance, connecting the sport of skiing to its environment, to the Swiss mountains is essential for us. The lifestyle aspect of the equestrian world will also be developed. We are selling aspirational products that come with a whole world of emotions. Equestrian sports are not only about competition, jumping and racing, but also about the freedom, pleasure and passion relating to horse riding.
Can you tell us how your manufacturing is organised and what your priorities will be, particularly concerning Swatch Group?
One of the advantages of being part of Swatch Group is that our production is totally verticalised with a capacity to produce all our components ourselves.
At Longines, we manufacture nearly all our components here in Switzerland, with the exception of a few bracelets. Regarding movements, we are developing and will introduce exclusive movements to celebrate some of the brand’s most iconic innovations in the future.
For additional information about the Longines 2021 novelties, you can read our articles via the following links:
- Silver Arrow
- Avigation BigEye Titanium
- HydroConquest Two-Tone
- Legend Diver Gradient Dials
- Dolce Vita Sector Dial
For more information, please visit www.longines.com.